Send out the clowns


Cut drug- and wife-abusing,

motorized scooter-driving,

multiple sclerosis-suffering

Richard Pryor this much slack:

At least the former funny man

and first-ever Mark Twain


recipient has a shaky handful of

reasons why he hasn't really

made anybody laugh since 1980,

when he spontaneously combusted

while freebasing cocaine.

Indeed, despite the regrettable

decision to share his great pain

with audiences by making films

like the compassion-eroding Jo

Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling,

it was nigh impossible to watch

the recent Comedy Central

telecast of the Twain award

tribute and not want to upgrade

the cinematic neutron bomb

Superman III, in which Pryor

played a nebbishy computer whiz,

to at least a half-star rating

in movie guides. Even Pryor's

starring turn in the trilogy of

terror that is The Toy, Brewster's

Millions, and See No Evil, Hear

No Evil didn't fully earn him

the fate he's currently


But where Pryor has a doctor's

note to excuse the last couple

of decades, other comics who

rose to prominence around the

same time as he did and, like

him, aspired to the rank of

social satirist—or at least a

notch up from Jerry Lewis—are

not so easily forgiven. It's a

world gone mad: a world in

which the phrase "presidential

seal" has become a Three's

Company-level double entendre, a

world in which ultra endomorph

Representative Henry Hyde could ever have

gotten married let alone laid by

a woman not his wife, a world in

which people are recklessly

partying like it's 1999. Well,

somebody ought to pay. And it

might as well be a bunch of

middle-aged clowns who no longer

inspire anything but pity and

its kissing cousin, contempt.

If it is heart-breaking to see

Pryor wheeling around in

electric carts best left to

retirees browsing at Wal-Mart

and prop comics such as

Gallagher, then what sort of

misery does it induce to see

George "Shit Piss Fuck Cunt

Cocksucker Motherfucker Tits"

Carlin slide into

ponytail-wearing senility? Back

in the Pleistocene Era, Carlin

occasionally got a rise out of

audiences with his outraged

attempts at speaking truth to

power. Now, though, after years

of playing straight man to

Thomas the Tank Engine on

Shining Time Station and

starring in a mercifully

short-lived Fox sitcom that

featured fewer punch lines than

a typical episode of When

Animals Attack, Carlin has taken

on an even more important

mission: speaking truth about

long-distance savings. Shit,

piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker,

motherfucker, and tits, indeed.

Carlin and Pryor are not lacking

companions at the Rest Home for

Toothless Old Comics Who in

Retrospect Actually May Never

Have Been Funny. They can while

away the days with the likes of

Cheech & Chong (the former now

playing second banana to Don

Johnson's Nash Bridges; the

latter still doing pot jokes for

ever-dwindling audiences),

Robert Klein (semi-fresh off his

long-running zhlob role on the

mercifully canceled Sisters),

and Lily "One Ringy-Dingy"


Or they might amble over to the

wing built especially for the

original cast of Saturday Night

Live, the once-upon-a-time

"dangerous" program that

prominently featured both Carlin

and Pryor and has proven to have

a shelf-life longer and more

radioactive than a pound of

plutonium. While John Belushi

and Gilda Radner had the good

timing to shed their mortal

coils before completely

destroying their reputations

(though both tried gamely by

starring in films such as

Continental Divide and Haunted

Honeymoon), the others have not

been so lucky. They survive as

comic Nosferatus, dead but still

with us, haunting late-night

reruns and video remainder bins

across the country. Barring the

infinitesimal chance that the

next sequel to Vacation will

reverse public opinion, Chevy

Chase's comic legacy is his

unintentionally hilarious

attempts at rehab and a

late-night talk show. (It's hard

not to picture the Oh, Heavenly

Dog! star passing most evenings

playing Russian roulette while

tearfully mumbling his SNL

signature line: "I'm Chevy Chase,

and you're not.") Then there's

Dan Aykroyd, who climbed so high

with Ghostbusters only to fall

so far with Blues Brothers 2000 and a

Super Bowl half time appearance

with Jim Belushi and John

Goodman that was the same sort of

spectacle people leave Bosnia to

avoid. Aykroyd's most recent

"project," a sitcom in which he

plays a minister, may still be

airing, but only those among us

with a taste for traffic

accidents would know for sure.

The other regularly employed SNL

original, Third Rock from the

Sun's Jane Curtin, late of Kate

& Allie (a show whose multi-year

run was still not long enough to

establish fully who was Kate and

who was Allie), is simply

marking time until the

International Court of Justice

swears out its arrest warrant.

Here's hoping that the two other

original SNLers, Laraine Newman

and Garrett Morris (Bill Murray

filled the seat vacated by Chevy

Chase), are being treated well

at whatever homeless shelter

they currently call home.

Another early affiliate of SNL,

Steve Martin, has beaten a

slightly different path to the

same dreary destination. The

ex-wild-and-crazy guy, who once

spoke in a stoned manner of

"getting small," devoted album

sides to banjo playing, and made

clever movies such as Dead Men

Don't Wear Plaid and The Man

with Two Brains, has fully

achieved his goal of becoming

Woody Allen West. That is, he's

a "serious" artiste now, having

appeared in a Broadway—yes,

that serious—production of

Waiting for Godot, penned his

own dramedy about Einstein and

Picasso meeting in Paris, and

contributed to The New Yorker,

all without ever once inspiring

laughter, amusement, or

entertainment—or for that

matter, any insight whatsoever

into the existential human

misery to which he has

contributed significantly (Sgt.

Bilko is a surer sign that God

is dead than anything Jean-Paul

Sartre could cook up). In short,

Martin has become every bit as

mummified—and in

clean-and-sober hindsight, every

bit as unfunny—as the King Tut

he once sang about with such

reckless abandon.

Twenty years ago, back in the

days when Richard Pryor still

did recreational drugs, Martin

released a poorly received album

called Comedy Is Not Pretty. It

has taken us this long to

appreciate the fuller truth of

that title, to understand that

however homely these people

might have been back then, they

have aged with all the grace of

a jack-o'-lantern left out on

the porch long past Halloween.

If comedy is not pretty to begin

with, then aging comics,

especially crying-on-the-inside

clowns, are positively ghastly.

For further proof of such a

claim, you need only turn your

gaze to the local multiplex,

where Robin Williams darkens the

night as one of the great screen

villains of all time,


advocate Patch Adams. If it has

already been a long, strange

trip from playing Mork from Ork

to an enema bulb-wearing

healer, we can only shudder when

contemplating what comic

ugliness is in store for us in

the 21st century.

Nick Gillespie is editor-in-chief of reason. This story originally appeared in Suck, and can be viewed in that format here.