Smithers vs. Smalley


Harry Shearer on Al Franken:

Al is, of course, literally a Democratic court jester. He clearly wears his endorsements where his wit should be. I'm a satirist. My job is to make fun of all of them. People who supposedly practice the art of satire and then retire to the councils of power to write jokes for their leaders—people like Al Franken—really ought to have their satirist cards revoked.

Shearer's opinion might be colored by the lousy experience he had on Saturday Night Live back in 1979-80. Even so, the fellow's got a point.

NEXT: Iraqi Blues

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  1. And what’s the point? That a satirist oughtn’t have a point of view?

  2. He`s as good as he can be.

  3. that a satirist should be sufficiently self aware to not become what he mocks.

  4. God Shearer is a bitter guy. Read that Shales book on SNL to get a better sense of his nastiness. Anyway, he seems to be mad at Franken for what? Actually stepping into the political ring and getting his hands a little dirty?

    I’ll side with the guy who sees something wrong and tries to fix it rather that the guy who sees something is wrong and just makes fun of it.

    I do find Harry Shearer to be hysterically funny however.

  5. And what’s the point? That a satirist oughtn’t have a point of view?

    That power corrupts — and proximity to power corrupts comedy.

  6. I agree 100%. When was the last time Franken, Miller or Garofalo were funny? Last time I saw Janeane Garofalo on Bill Maher, she was shrill to the point of being painful to listen to.

  7. I disagree with Franken’s partisanship, but God Almighty, that man can still be damn funny.

    “My wife doesn’t want me to do anymore USO shows overseas because she thinks it’s too dangerous. ‘Bill O’Reilly doesn’t do USO shows,’ she says. But I say, ‘Now honey, that’s not fair. Bill O’Reilly doesn’t have any talent.”


    He’s started a new segment on his show called, “Fighting Hannity’s Lies With Lies About Hannity.” It started off with a recording of Sean Hannity being his usual twerpy self, but telling a pretty flagrent lie about Kerry (as if you have to make them up). So Franken said that until Hannity goes a week without telling a lie, every day he would make up a lie about Hannity. The first one was, “Sean Hannity believes the Jews caused 9/11. But not just the Jews. The Jews who run the media.” He repeated the lie several times, prefacing it each time with a reminder that it was a lie, wasn’t true at all. I laughed out loud, not because he was “getting” Sean Hannity, but because I thought it was a particularly funny lie.

    But that’s just me. If you don’t think it’s funny, I understand and won’t hold it against you.

  8. Miller is still funny, but he has lost some of his edge. He does take some well-deserved potshots at the administration, but he isn’t the stand-by-your-man type that Franken and Garofalo have become.

  9. I don’t think taking sides has to make you less funny (or artistic or interesting), but it usually does. While I find talk of revoking others’ “satire cards” a tad noxious (the absurdity of such notwithstanding), I nevertheless agree that throwing oneself into the fray on one side or another creates a certain degree of taint for a comedian–or for any artist or for any person, for those matters. Is it worth the taint to “do good?” That’s the perennial question of the value of politics that everyone’s gotta answer for themselves.

  10. Harry needs some new material. He’s been on the “Franken’s a court jester” jag for months.
    Following is from an interview with LA CityBeat in January:

    Q: Have you picked on Bush more than you did Clinton?

    A: No. The guys who have the guns are always the target. That?s sort of the rule. Everyone else is just running around talking. They are the ones who are actually doing something, changing people?s lives for better or for worse. Other people the media calls ?satirists? don?t work that way. Al Franken is basically a paid court jester for one side of the argument. You?ll never hear him saying something funny about Al Gore, ever. It?s the same with Ann Coulter or Michael Moore or Bill O?Reilly ? they are all in the same business: ?Yay for our side, boo for the other side, come on, troops, let?s go.? Just mindlessly getting the testosterone going. Which is not a knock on testosterone. It?s a perfectly fine hormone.

    Full story:

  11. Right on Harry – and Jesse. One thing I will add, if it makes sense, is that comedic appeal is a useful tool for political gain. Think Michael Moore – otherwise intelligent people see Bowling for Columbine and come out thinking Charlton Heston is an unfeeling, shoot-em-up asshole, for one small example. Michael Moore claims to be a satirist, but has a devious political agenda. Beware the funny men who work for the Party!!

  12. Well, Mark’s Shearer quote stole my thunder right as I posted. Just listen to your good honest pal Harry, folks.

  13. “Proximity to power corrupts comedy” is too banal a point to comment on; it’s just as accurate to say that a fear of involvement corrupts comedy. Needless to say, Al Franken and Dennis Miller wear their affiliations on their sleeves, but at least they’ve taken sides, and occasionally draw laughs with their own material.

  14. Both Franken and Miller can still be funny from time to time. (Garafalo hasn’t been funny since she left The Larry Sanders Show.) But each has gotten a lot less interesting. Miller in particular used to be more nonpartisan — not in the sense of not having opinions, but in the sense of cutting down deserving targets in both parties. He’s had a right-wing streak for a long time — he’s never had patience for liberal pieties about crime, for example — but he only just started cozying up to the GOP. And it’s really hurt him.

  15. The problem with partisan satirists is that they end up pointing out departures from their dogma, rather than departures from common sense or reason. The departures are only funny to someone else who has internalized the dogma and mistaken it for reason or taken it for common sense.

  16. “You?ll never hear him saying something funny about Al Gore, ever.”

    No? How about Al Gore’s policy vis-a-vis the stick up his ass?

  17. Les,
    I didn’t hear the Sean Hannity bit you spoke of, but considering a ton of folks who are “down” with Al Franken/Air America DO think “the Jews” are at least partially responsible for 9/11 and everything that has followed, I can’t imagine it could have been all that funny.
    Oh well, there’s always South Park.

  18. Penn & Teller’s “BULLSHIT” on Showtime is hilarious and overtly Libertarian.

    Hmm . . . maybe why that’s why I tihnk it’s hilarious.


  19. There’s very few reasons in this world to be partisan about anything. Politicians do it professionally because it’s part of the job. TV’s Yammering elite do it because of that 25-45 year-old 9th-grade-level-civics-educated-yet-highly-opinionated demographic that remains untapped for most other commercial ventures.

    When a comedian does it he’s no longer a comedian. He’s a comedian/pundit or a comedian/politician.

    And as we know from AD&D (2nd edition), dual class characters lose half their levels in one class when they add another. They will never be as good as they could have been otherwise.

  20. In Janeane Garofalo’s defense, I must say that I saw her on The Daily Show the other night, and while her words inspired no yuks her haircut was absolutely hilarious. Who told her that Florence Henderson’s Brady Bunch ‘do was worth emulating, anyway?

  21. MC Me,

    Yes, there’s always South Park. Thank God. I don’t I don’t even believe in Him!

    But I think the people you mentioned who are down with Air America don’t think “the Jews” are in any way responsible for 9/11, but rather the Israeli government. That’s not to say that I think the Israeli government is responsible at all for 9/11, but lots of folks, myself included, are highly critical of Israel while knowing that Israel doesn’t mean “the Jews,” but rather “the people running Israel,” or “some Jews.” Which, by the way, is my favorite Rolling Stones album.

  22. Al Franken is a big fat idiot.

  23. I actually watched the Dennis Miller show yesterday. I probably doubled his audience. It’s not the crapfest everyone warned me about, though his material was only so-so. Of course, he’s got less time and money than he did on HBO or SNL, so you can only expect so much. But what surprised me is his guests were quite mixed, representing various viewpoints. Miller might favor Bush (sounds like a beer commercial) but his show is more open than that.

  24. Everyone in the business knows Harry Shearer is difficult to work with. At least, however, he has the talent to back it up.

  25. But Penn & Teller actually ARE funny. Thus disposing with the notion that one cannot be partisan and funny at the same time.

    Ditto for James Lileks (unquestionably conservative), libertarian Dave Barry, and conservative PJ O’Rourke.

    The problem with Franklin is that he ain’t funny (well looks aren’t everything).

  26. (Garafalo hasn’t been funny since she left The Larry Sanders Show.)

    Garofalo was funny in Mystery Men, as was everybody else in that scandalously neglected masterpiece.

  27. “Garofalo was funny in Mystery Men, as was everybody else in that scandalously neglected masterpiece.”

    I completely agree. And it certainly didn’t hurt that it had the incomparable Tom Waits. I can’t wait to see the new Jim Jarmusch movie Coffee and Cigarettes.

  28. “Scandalously neglected!”
    — Tim Cavanaugh, REASON Magazine

    Isn’t that on the DVD cover?

    I loved that movie, too, btw.

  29. OK, For years I’ve been trying to figure out why anyone ever though Denis Miller was funny. I get peeved whenever someone claims his humor is intellectual. In no way is Miller an intellectual. His stuff comes across to me as “Ha ha, I read a book once. Isn’t that hilarious?” or “Here’s a few random thought from my old high-school notebooks. Ha ha remember high-school when you used to have to read stuff?” His punch lines are literature allusions but they are inappropriate and disconnected. As far as I can tell he’s making fun of smart people by saying stuff that stupid people think smart people say. Can anyone who thought Dennis Miller was funny give me an example of him being clever? or otherwise explain what the fuck is so funny about quoting Shakespeare out of context?

    PJ O’Rourke is very libertarian and not at all conservative. Also hysterically funny.

  30. “Coffee and Cigarettes”? Isn’t that all of Jarmusch’s movies?

    Shearer has a point, but crikeys, what’s so noble about not having a discernable opinion at all? If to-hell-with-them-all cynicism is the hallmark of a good satirist, why do I get the feeling nobody really wants to be a full-time cynic’s friend?

    If you’re a Chinese satirist and you mock the Communist Party, do you have to be equally withering toward pro-democracy activists? If you’re a Burmese satirist and you really sock it to SLORC, do you have to tell nasty jokes about Aung San Suu Kyi too?

    Franken’s problem as a radio host is the starfucking, the way he lobs softballs not so much at people he agrees with but people he goes to dinner parties with. If a guest is one of his “friends” you won’t hear a single prickly question, wven when it arrives sauced and garnished on a silver platter. During his first day on Air America, he groused about the Nader campaign and then during several minutes of pleasantries when Ben Stein called in to welcome his buddy to the airwaves, there was not a peep about GOP stalwarts’ notable bankrolling of the Nader 2004 campaign, including the check to Nader from Stein himself.

  31. Who said it was wrong to have a point of view? As far as I know, Penn & Teller, P.J. O’Rourke, and Dave Barry do not write gags for the powerful, or pull their punches when the wrong pol is making a fool of himself.

    Mystery Men was a letdown. It was funny at the beginning, then unaccountably began to take its plot seriously.

  32. Franken’s wasn’t funny on SNL–he was just terribly agressive about getting his stuff on. No wonder his former partner can’t stand him. Shales’ book sucks. Find the earlier one.
    Franken just likes to hang out with the cool guys.

  33. franken has had a few moments…as a peformer he’s a pretty good writer, and as a writer….you catch the drift.

    Franken when he entered the political arena, was witty and clever because he was an outsider taking a definitive point of view. It was fresh. Now, he’s one of the 20 most important Dems in the party, whose viscerally connected to the party framework. He’s taken preaching to the choir to new heights.

    Miller, when he had his show on HBO, and even in the days post 9-11, was fresh because he was a guy riffing away from the entertainment industry norms of default liberalism. Now, he’s getting comfy with the right and hes not as fresh.

    that said, miller’s chops were always way sharper than Franken’s. I spent some time writing comedy–did ok–and no one i knew in New York thought Franken was good, including SNL writers. A lot of those same writers respected Miller’s work, at least professionally.

  34. I just want to say that I had the unfortunate task of interviewing Franken for a magazine three years ago–in fact in the ensuing article I specifically called Franken a “court jester.” (Not that I’m accusing Shearer of stealing my line, it seems obvious enough).

    I can tell you from interviewing him and a number of acquaintances, even his friends find him bitter and unpleasant much of the time. Franken surrendered his comedic objectivity a long time ago and as a result his “satire” is polarizing and not funny. If you find Franken funny, you probably already agree with him. That’s not what great satire is supposed to do. Satire is supposed to shake foundational beliefs and question dogma. If your humor has dogmatic ends, it loses its bite. It’s not that you can’t have a point of view, but that you need to be enough of an independent voice that people see honesty rather than agenda. A large part of the reason that Franken isn’t funny is that he turns into a complete ass if you question the independence of his views. He just gets combative and forgets all about being funny.

    Bill Hicks was wayyy to the left for me, but he still makes me think. My sister is about as much of a stereotypical liberal as you can get and loves PJ O’Rourke. I don’t know any honest conservative who really thinks Franken’s books are funny. Maybe that means he’s just not funny. I would suggest that these other political comedians/humorists are funnier because they present and craft their comedy from a more independent vantage point that greater numbers of people can relate to. Franken lost this perspective and ergo he’s not funny.

  35. I should also mention that the differences in Franken and Miller’s politics are qualitative as well. Franken is a 1977-vintage Nation magazine guy. His entire worldview is run through the Upper West side…its just so done, so utterly bought and paid for.

    Miller, although he’s trending right on NAt’l Security issues, has libertarian views on drug legalization, gay weddings, abortion and a few other things, if I recall. Haley Barbour, he ain’t.

  36. I’ve had no TV since I threw it out in 1971, but have heard Franken in Imus. There he used and horribly mispronounced “roman ? clef” and the German word “Jude” in a single interview. Well!

  37. Comedy’s like music and other art forms. Ultimately you can’t really say with any certainty “this comedy works because…” or “that’s not funny because…”

    I think that Bob Odenkirk is funnier than Jimmy Fallon (and most other comedians). Most Americans disagree with me. But no one’s right or wrong. There aren’t any formulas that make something funny. Something either makes you laugh or it doesn’t. Dennis Miller makes me laugh sometimes. So does Al Franken. Bill Mahr, too. And I’m happy when they do.

  38. anyone know any good libertarian jokes?

  39. No way was Mystery Men “scandalously neglected.” It was a big-budget comedy with a promotional budget to match. I personally think it tried to do too many things and ended up doing nothing well. But there’s no denying it was given a fair chance, and was rejected by both critics and audience. If you want to talk about a neglected film, compare it to The Specials, a similarly-themed film with a much lower budget.

    There were a few nice moments in Mystery Men, none of them belonging to Garofalo.

  40. I checked out P.J. O’Rourke’s new book today at Barnes & Noble. While he still has his moments, he’s defintely run out of steam in recent years. Still, I like his book better than Franken’s.

  41. Satire tends to be, historically speaking, reactionary. Making fun of the latest trends is the most common type of satire, starting with Aristophanes and going on through Swift. For some reason, we’re in an age where people think the norm for satire is making fun of the old and hidebound.

  42. No way was Mystery Men “scandalously neglected.” It was a big-budget comedy with a promotional budget to match. I personally think it tried to do too many things and ended up doing nothing well. But there’s no denying it was given a fair chance, and was rejected by both critics and audience.

    Well I say Potato, you say Potahto.

  43. Jennifer: that makes twice now that you’ve posted something I agree with (the other time was a thread discussing the soul destroying institutional aspects of public schools). I think Garafolo deliberately tries to make herself look as unattractive as possible and I just find that annoying. “Listen to me! I must be smart cos I’m ugly, and I have no fashion sense!” You shouldn’t have to look like Nicole Kidman to get on TV, but neither should you have to look like Ruth Buzzie (in her hairnet lady character from Laugh In).

    And she hasn’t been funny since her early days in standup comedy. Back then I thought she was pretty talented. The Queen Helene mask joke has stuck with me for years.

  44. FWIW Joe, it’s clear to me that pov is not the same as partisanship. One can prefer left of center policies, even overtly prefer Democratic electoral victories, yet not actively focus one’s work on achieving those electoral victories. And I think doing the latter compromises your integrity to a degree. Now, there’s pros and cons to everything, and maybe working for a particular election result is worth the taint; that’s something we all have to decide for ourselves, as I said earlier in this thread. And if someone can overcome the limitations that partisanship inevitably brings on one to be as funny as ever, well then more power to ’em. I haven’t read the whole thread, but I doubt anyone has made the facile equations you’ve attributed to them, certainly not Jesse, as far as I can see. But while it’s not absolutely inevitable (what in the world is?) for partisanship to “hurt” or “corrupt” (words Jesse actually used) a comedian’s work, there’s good reason why that’s likely a common outcome.

  45. Interesting point, Pavel! I generally try to avoid generalizations, but that’s as good a truism as any! I hate comedy that depends on agreeing with the comedian’s pov, partisan or not! (Note: I’m not familiar with Franken’s latest work and have no idea nor opinion on whether it falls into this category or not!)

  46. Captain,

    My lack of knowledge of the history of which you speak notwithstanding, I would venture to guess that the change you describe might be a reflection of a change in the satirist’s audience, perhaps because of both changes in society and the technology of delivering the satire.

  47. Jesse, given the number of people who have read your statement exactly the same way I did, maybe you didn’t make your point clear?

    Sorry, but I can’t see how anyone could mistake the phrase “proximity to power” for “having a point of view.” Especially when I followed it up with a comment that distinguished “not having opinions” from “cutting down deserving targets in both parties” and another comment that began, “Who said it was wrong to have a point of view?”

  48. If a comedian is tackling hecklers at a Howard Dean rally and seriously challenging people to fistfights in the media over partisan issues, as Franken has recently, that’s a comedian who has strayed from comedy.

  49. David Duke is a malignant narcissist.

    He invents and then projects a false, fictitious, self for the world to fear, or to admire. He maintains a tenuous grasp on reality to start with and the trappings of power further exacerbate this. Real life authority and David Duke’s predilection to surround him with obsequious sycophants support David Duke’s grandiose self-delusions and fantasies of omnipotence and omniscience.
    David Duke’s personality is so precariously balanced that he cannot tolerate even a hint of criticism and disagreement. Most narcissists are paranoid and suffer from ideas of reference (the delusion that they are being mocked or discussed when they are not). Thus, narcissists often regard themselves as “victims of persecution”.
    Duke fosters and encourages a personality cult with all the hallmarks of an institutional religion: priesthood, rites, rituals, temples, worship, catechism, and mythology. The leader is this religion’s ascetic saint. He monastically denies himself earthly pleasures (or so he claims) in order to be able to dedicate himself fully to his calling.
    Duke is a monstrously inverted Jesus, sacrificing his life and denying himself so that his people – or humanity at large – should benefit. By surpassing and suppressing his humanity, Duke became a distorted version of Nietzsche’s “superman”.
    But being a-human or super-human also means being a-sexual and a-moral.
    In this restricted sense, narcissistic leaders are post-modernist and moral relativists. They project to the masses an androgynous figure and enhance it by engendering the adoration of nudity and all things “natural” – or by strongly repressing these feelings. But what they refer to, as “nature” is not natural at all.
    Duke invariably proffers an aesthetic of decadence and evil carefully orchestrated and artificial – though it is not perceived this way by him or by his followers. Narcissistic leadership is about reproduced copies, not about originals. It is about the manipulation of symbols – not about veritable atavism or true conservatism.
    In short: narcissistic leadership is about theatre, not about life. To enjoy the spectacle (and be subsumed by it), the leader demands the suspension of judgment, depersonalization, and de-realization. Catharsis is tantamount, in this narcissistic dramaturgy, to self-annulment.
    Narcissism is nihilistic not only operationally, or ideologically. Its very language and narratives are nihilistic. Narcissism is conspicuous nihilism – and the cult’s leader serves as a role model, annihilating the Man, only to re-appear as a pre-ordained and irresistible force of nature.
    Narcissistic leadership often poses as a rebellion against the “old ways” – against the hegemonic culture, the upper classes, the established religions, the superpowers, the corrupt order. Narcissistic movements are puerile, a reaction to narcissistic injuries inflicted upon David Duke like (and rather psychopathic) toddler nation-state, or group, or upon the leader.
    Minorities or “others” – often arbitrarily selected – constitute a perfect, easily identifiable, embodiment of all that is “wrong”. They are accused of being old, they are eerily disembodied, they are cosmopolitan, they are part of the establishment, they are “decadent”, they are hated on religious and socio-economic grounds, or because of their race, sexual orientation, origin … They are different, they are narcissistic (feel and act as morally superior), they are everywhere, they are defenseless, they are credulous, they are adaptable (and thus can be co-opted to collaborate in their own destruction). They are the perfect hate figure. Narcissists thrive on hatred and pathological envy.
    This is precisely the source of the fascination with Hitler, diagnosed by Erich Fromm – together with Stalin – as a malignant narcissist. He was an inverted human. His unconscious was his conscious. He acted out our most repressed drives, fantasies, and wishes. He provides us with a glimpse of the horrors that lie beneath the veneer, the barbarians at our personal gates, and what it was like before we invented civilization. Hitler forced us all through a time warp and many did not emerge. He was not the devil. He was one of us. He was what Arendt aptly called the banality of evil. Just an ordinary, mentally disturbed, failure, a member of a mentally disturbed and failing nation, who lived through disturbed and failing times. He was the perfect mirror, a channel, a voice, and the very depth of our souls.
    Duke prefers the sparkle and glamour of well-orchestrated illusions to the tedium and method of real accomplishments. His reign is all smoke and mirrors, devoid of substances, consisting of mere appearances and mass delusions. In the aftermath of his regime – Duke having died, been deposed, or voted out of office – it all unravels. The tireless and constant prestidigitation ceases and the entire edifice crumbles. What looked like an economic miracle turns out to have been a fraud-laced bubble. Loosely held empires disintegrate. Laboriously assembled business conglomerates go to pieces. “Earth shattering” and “revolutionary” scientific discoveries and theories are discredited. Social experiments end in mayhem.
    It is important to understand that the use of violence must be ego-syntonic. It must accord with the self-image of David Duke. It must abet and sustain his grandiose fantasies and feed his sense of entitlement. It must conform David Duke like narrative. Thus, David Duke who regards himself as the benefactor of the poor, a member of the common folk, the representative of the disenfranchised, the champion of the dispossessed against the corrupt elite – is highly unlikely to use violence at first. The pacific mask crumbles when David Duke has become convinced that the very people he purported to speak for, his constituency, his grassroots fans, and the prime sources of his narcissistic supply – have turned against him. At first, in a desperate effort to maintain the fiction underlying his chaotic personality, David Duke strives to explain away the sudden reversal of sentiment. “The people are being duped by (the media, big industry, the military, the elite, etc.)”, “they don’t really know what they are doing”, “following a rude awakening, they will revert to form”, etc. When these flimsy attempts to patch a tattered personal mythology fail, David Duke becomes injured. Narcissistic injury inevitably leads to narcissistic rage and to a terrifying display of unbridled aggression. The pent-up frustration and hurt translate into devaluation. That which was previously idealized – is now discarded with contempt and hatred. This primitive defense mechanism is called “splitting”. To David Duke, things and people are either entirely bad (evil) or entirely good. He projects onto others his own shortcomings and negative emotions, thus becoming a totally good object. Duke is likely to justify the butchering of his own people by claiming that they intended to kill him, undo the revolution, devastate the economy, or the country, etc. The “small people”, the “rank and file”, and the “loyal soldiers” of David Duke – his flock, his nation, and his employees – they pay the price. The disillusionment and disenchantment are agonizing. The process of reconstruction, of rising from the ashes, of overcoming the trauma of having been deceived, exploited and manipulated – is drawn-out. It is difficult to trust again, to have faith, to love, to be led, to collaborate. Feelings of shame and guilt engulf the erstwhile followers of David Duke. This is his sole legacy: a massive post-traumatic stress disorder.

  50. What the fuck was that?

  51. when i recall discovering “reason” and “spy” magazines both through “utne reader” almost two decades ago, it sickens me to see the champions of american exceptionalism, whether it’s bush or miller, assailed in these comments

    dunno whether it was ‘non-conservative’ o’rourke’s book “give war a chance” or some other, where he argues that republicans have the superior sense of humor, but franken’s bad conscience from selling out the last, best hope of human liberty for a fleeting sense of superiority over the unwashed masses makes his laughter ring hollow

    the AA crew belong in radio entertainment about as much as some of the usual suspects in these comments belong around “reason”–i wish you all would leave indy media to the revolutionaries (‘neo-cons’ if you like) instead of infesting it with hackneyed has-beens from the wussified, welfare-statist ghost of the democrat party past

  52. Stop arguing with Jesse already, will you? He was obviously president of his highschool forensics team.

  53. Mystery men was a a good movie, only saved from mediocracy by the line at the end “we are number one, all others are two or lower”

  54. “Order, order! Do you kids wanna be like the real U.N., or do you just wanna squabble and waste time?” – Principal Skinner

  55. Model UN…interesting…so there’s truth to the rumor that Jason Schwartzman, a la Tom Wolfe & Michael Lewis, spent weeks observing Jesse Walker in Reason’s offices before Rushmore was filmed….

  56. Al Franken on 70s SNL == Will Forte on 2004 SNL. (I.e., really unfunny and grating.)

  57. Mystery Men, the movie, was pretty funny. Bob Burden’s comic, and the strip it spun off from, Flaming Carrot, was hilarious!

    Bill Macy was great as the Shoveler, but when isn’t he fine?

    Libertarian joke:

    Q. Knock, knock!
    A. Flussssshhhhhhh!!!!!



  58. You know, if you folks just make jokes when people reveal that they were once in Model UN, no one will ever have the courage to come forward with such dark childhood secrets.

  59. You did a brave thing, Jesse. On the bright side, at least it disqualifies you from having been a card carrying teenage Randian.

    And since we’re in AA mode…

    My name is Pavel, and I was a Fed Challenge finalist.

  60. Kudos for bringing up Burden’s work. “Mystery Men” wasn’t a bad movie, but it can’t touch the old comic book.

  61. I was always kind of “Eh,” about Mystery Men, but Ben Stiller’s line, “OK, everybody heard me say ‘Reset button,’ right?” never fails to crack me up.

  62. I think Garofalo and Franken are hilarious, because…I’m the audience they’re shooting for. They don’t tell jokes Republicans find funny? Boo-fuckity-hoo.

    “That power corrupts — and proximity to power corrupts comedy.”

    Niche marketing, rather than a bland, catch-all strategy, is corrupt?

  63. I always thought Mystery Men was a misinterpretation of the Tick, not Flaming Carrot.

  64. Libertarian joke from PJ O’Rourke:

    The typical Libertarian Party meeting
    consists of 19 high school math professors
    arguing about how to privatize the sidewalks.

  65. I’m also the Franken/Garofalo target audience, and I don’t find them all that funny. Likewise much of David Cross’s new album (which is, in fact, titled “That’s Not Funny,” although I’m pretty sure that was meant ironically).

    Part of the reason is that if you take those political positions seriously, there’s not much room for comedy that focuses squarely on those positions: if you think that Iraq is a disaster, the “Bush is an idiot leading us into disaster” routine is not that funny. (For the same reason, I suspect, there are no comedians on the right doing pro-life material.)

    Another part of the reason is that at least some comedians on the left (I am thinking of Garofalo and Cross here) indulge conspiratorial thinking. By way of example, I think Dick Cheney’s judgment on Iraq may have been affected by his affiliation with Halliburton, but I don’t think anyone can seriously claim that Cheney proposed the Iraq war primarily as a way of flowing contract money to Halliburton. Comedy built on that premise strikes me as somewhere on the level of bad editorial cartooning. Maybe if I believed the premise, I’d find it funny.

    Dennis Miller occasionally surprises me but I find him mostly annoying. (Miller indulges the right’s version of conspiratorial thinking, which is the bizarre fantasy that all liberals are cowards who want to surrender to Osama or Castro.)

  66. Becoming partisan creates a credibility gap in the comedy by adding a “dish it out but can’t take it” feel to the point of oversensitivity. I know libertarians are statistically irrelevant as a party, but libertarians seem to have no problem making fun of their own candidates.

  67. The problem with Franklin is that he ain’t funny (well looks aren’t everything).

    Leave me out of this.

  68. I’m funnier than all of you put together.

  69. Alkali’s last assertion needs clarification and refinement: One can observe the statements and actions of Schroeder, Chirac, Zapatero, Annan, and organizations representing a significant pecentage of Western liberals and reasonably conclude that: Following their advice amounts to de facto surrender to an enemy that will kill tens of thousands of people while we’re busy following Edward Said’s advice about mollifying the Arab street.

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t take Said’s advice…but in parallel we have to kill the people who are trying to get enriched uranium to use on us.

  70. Q. How many libertarians does it take to change a light bulb?

    A. None, the market will take care of it.

  71. I recall that I rather enjoyed Al F’s Stuart Smalley movie, though I never got a laugh out of any of Al F’s SNL performances, in fact, I recall that some of them were pretty bad.
    Conservative comedians are pretty rare, aren’t they?
    Most comedians have a liberal/leftist oientation and the ones that are funny tend to keep their political activism out of their routines.
    Durable humor doesn’t rely on narrow context.
    The funniest political humor I recall is Dana Carvey’s impression of Ross Perot in a SNL pre-election special. But then, Ross Perot was kinda funny.

  72. Niche marketing, rather than a bland, catch-all strategy, is corrupt?

    I guess it doesn’t matter how many times I say this isn’t about having a point of view — some of you folks are going to keep throwing darts at that strawman. Have fun.

  73. Just so we’re clear, “strawman” does not mean “phrasing my argument in an unflattering manner.”

  74. it’s not about having a POV. it’s about being a ball-licking sycophant to whatever your cause is. which is why miller, who was borderline almost-funny for a few years, is no longer funny. franken, who has never made me laugh, has the same problem.

    and i do think satire requires some detachment and, more importantly, an ability to look at your own “team.” refer to mr. swift for a demonstration.

    i have a libertarian joke: there will be a libertarian president in 2012.

  75. “Ditto for James Lileks (unquestionably conservative), libertarian Dave Barry, and conservative PJ O’Rourke.”

    I have read funny stuff from Barry, but O’Rourke has not been funny in years. Every time I have been pointed to Lileks, I find a bunch of pointless self-involved drivel. I can’t understand his appeal.

  76. Just so we’re clear, “strawman” does not mean “phrasing my argument in an unflattering manner.”

    And just so we’re clear, what you “phrased” has nothing to do with anything I wrote.

    Clark: I’m with you on Lileks — surely the most overrated writer in the blogosphere — but he did make me laugh once, after the French government got Woody Allen to appear in one of those “please don’t hate us” commercials. “They also got George Plimpton to appear in an ad,” he wrote, “making it official: French understanding of American culture is taken entirely from a 1968 issue of Playboy.”

  77. jon stewart, of the daily show, is the only funny pinko of the bunch

    wrong and myopic, his show is still laugh-out-loud funny

  78. It’s sad that David Cross looks like he’s diving into the same Garofalo pool. He has been incredibly funny in past (Mr. Show, HBO standup).

    When you become such a booster for one side that you won’t poke any real fun at your own (jokes about being too nice or too smart don’t count) for fear that it will help the “bad guys”, you lose credibility as a comedian (as odd as that sounds). Miller hasn’t gone nearly as far in that direction as Franken and the rest.

  79. Heminator, Isn’t Bill Hicks the guy who used to rouse the anti-smoking crowd in the audience and then call them nazis or fascists as he lit up on stage?

    Warren, I know PJ leans libertarian but I’m not certain that he actually defines himself as a libertarian.

    Jesse, ooops, you are so right, P&T, Barry, & PJ differ from Franken mightily on that point.

  80. Joe, do you really think that retaining a non-partisan stance such that one is open to satirizing all points of view and all politicians without having to fear damaging one’s “own” side is tantamount to a “bland catch-all strategy”? I sure as hell don’t think so, and I don’t see one iota of logic in that! Now, that doesn’t mean that what Franken is doing is somehow evil or nefarious, and for all I know he may be as funny as ever (haven’t paid enough attention myself). And if you think what he’s doing is the right thing, fine, feel free to say so. But it just doesn’t follow that anyone who’s not overtly partisan is bland!!! I think you can probably make your points a lot better if you avoided letting your defensiveness push you into self-caricature. Not that you asked for or wanted my advice… 🙂

  81. I was just pointing out a couter-example to the “neutral=funny, pov=unfunny” formulation. I think a comedian’s funny factor is unrelated to the arc of his fire.

    Jesse, given the number of people who have read your statement exactly the same way I did, maybe you didn’t make your point clear?

  82. Will Forte is the only reason to watch SNL anymore.

    Also when he’s not being political, David Cross can still do very funny stand-up.

    I don’t know that Al Franken wuld argue with the court jester label. I’d say he thinks of himself as an intelligent, truth telling court jester.

    Also, he and Tom Davis do get along a bit better these days and Davis may even appear on his radio show (according to the nytimes anyway).

  83. Actually I think I’d go so far as to say that good comedy is inconsistent with the act of “agreeing” with anything.

    The best satire teeters on the edge of nihilism without going over.

    Of course that’s just my opinion…I could be wrong. Heh.

  84. Academic Decathalon AND Debate Team!


  85. Shearer was on in ’84-85 but I think Franken wasn’t around then.

  86. “telling a pretty flagrent lie about Kerry”

    A “lie” of course being a “lie” by the definition of the Daily Howler, like, “Kerry said he would raise taxes” when in fact he said he would raise taxes on some people, or somesuch.

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