Tag Archives: comedy

The Death of Humor?

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When I was younger and Saturday Night Live was just getting its start, I thought that the show marked the death of humor in America.

Yes, it was funny and yes, it introduced lots of fine new comedians who went on to brilliant careers.

But what bothered me was that as it filtered down to the general public, all people seemed to be doing were reciting lines and discussing skits from the show, not making humor on their own.

I’m pleased to say that I was wrong. Mostly. There is now the phenomenon of people passing along funny memes on Facebook, seldom taking the time to make their own. These floating bits of humor make their pervasive way into all our feeds, but our reaction to most of them is a snicker, a groan, and a click on the share button.

(Who makes all those memes anyway? If you look closely at who originated them, sometimes the answer is a radio station you never heard of. These businesses are trying to increase their interaction numbers by “click-farming.” Having a very responsive audience means more advertisers, which means more money. Simple as that.)

But truly, SNL marked the renaissance of comedy in America. Comedy clubs and ensemble comedy teams like Second City grew from humble beginnings into forces to be reckoned with. Stand-up comedians got their own Broadway shows and movies and HBO specials. Improv comedy became a thing. From this flowering of talent and innovation we got Whoopi Goldberg (remember when she was a comedian?) and Ellen Degeneres and Drew Carey, movies like Airplane! and TV shows like “Whose Line Is It Anyway?,” books like Christopher Moore’s Lamb and David Sedaris’s works, cartoons like The Simpsons and King of the Hill and (for those who liked that sort of thing) South Park. Even MAD magazine and The National Lampoon added to the mix. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and John Oliver and Samantha Bee became late-night staples.

But where, you may ask, is local humor, from people that you know personally? Local people, not Hollywood’s cream of the crop?

Just look around. Plenty of bars and comedy clubs have open mike nights that welcome not just singer-songwriters, but comedians as well.

And what about those singer-songwriters? Plenty take after Weird Al and make comedy music. Oddly, one place to find them is at science fiction and fantasy conventions. There they practice a style of music called “filk” (yes, it was once a typo, but now it’s not). Although many of the songs are about space travel and such, plenty of songs are humorous, such as Michael Longcor’s “Kitchen Junk Drawer” and Tom Smith’s “Talk Like a Pirate Day” (the official song of a yearly celebration made famous by humorist Dave Barry).

And written humor? You have only to look at past and present attendees of the Erma Bombeck’s Writers’ Workshop. There’s a book of essays by various participants called Laugh Out Loud (see http://humorwriters.org/2018/03/05/lol-2/). Past attendees have written and published books, including If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse? by Gina Barreca, Who Stole My Spandex? by Marcia Kester Doyle, Are You Still Kidding Me? by Stacey Gustafson, and Linda M. Au’s Secret Agent Manny. Their books are available on Amazon, even if they don’t yet have the following that their patron saint Erma had.

Even I have attempted humor at times. (https://wp.me/p4e9wS-Gc, https://wp.me/p4e9wS-5I, https://wp.me/p4e9wS-8W, https://wp.me/p4e9wS-7E, https://wp.me/p4e9wS-yn). I bet you can too, if you give it a try.

My specialty, though, is puns. Once when having breakfast with a friend I almost got thrown out a window. She had complained that her Eggs Benedict was taking an awfully long time.

“They probably had to go out and find a hubcap to serve it on,” I said.

“I know I’m going to hate myself for asking,” she said, “but why?”

“Because there’s no plate like chrome for the hollandaise.”

Okay, I didn’t make that one up, but I knew the perfect setup for it when I heard it. They say that in comedy, timing is everything.

Even if she had thrown me out the window, it would have been worth it.






Moonshine Fantasy

Watching Chopped on Food Network, I noticed that all the baskets contained some kind of moonshine and that the guest judge was from Outback Steakhouse.

Math may not have been my best subject, but I can put one and one together and usually come within spitting distance of two or thereabouts. I said to myself, “Self, I bet Outback is having some kind of moonshine promotion.”

I was right. Within a couple of days I began seeing the commercials. I have also seen “moonshine” for sale in the liquor stores. This is just wrong. The wrongness of it rattled around in my brain and caused this vision.

Me [in Outback Steakhouse]: Any specials today?

Server [perkily]: Why, yes! We’re featuring our new Moonshine Entrees!

Me: Tell me about them.

Server [still perky]: Each of our superb meats has been infused with the authentic flavor of moonshine!

Me: You mean it tastes like airplane glue and smells like kerosene?

Server [puzzled]: Why, no! It’s a sweet rich flavor that enhances all our dishes.

Me: So where do you get your moonshine?

Server [resuming perkiness]: It comes from our warehouse on the weekly truck so you now that every batch is fresh!

Me: Yeah, that’s about how long my uncle used to age his. But he kept it under the corn crib instead of in a warehouse.

Server [still trying]: We make sure the quality is consistent and always imparts that special moonshine kick!

Me [impressed]: So you know that it always causes the jake-leg wobbles and the blind staggers?

Server [beginning to fold]: Really, I don’t think…

Me: Yeah, that’s the other good thing about moonshine. After your kidneys shut down, it goes to your head and you can’t think.

Server [losing it]: Perhaps you should see the manager.

Me: If I can still see her, it ain’t the best moonshine.

Server [nearing tears]: It’s really nothing like that!

Me: Then you’re obviously not using my uncle’s recipe. It was a big hit at all the family reunions. He’d get plumb crazy and start firing off his single-shot rifle. Gives a person a sporting chance. Not like those AR-15s everyone has nowadays. Tell me, is this an open carry state?

Server flees, returning with the manager, who gives me a coupon for a free dinner. At the Olive Garden.

Of course, I wouldn’t really do any such thing. For one thing, it would be mean, and for another I can’t really afford to eat at Outback. And of course the dialogue probably wouldn’t go as I imagined. And I’d be thrown out on one of my ears.

But still…

Hillbilly Bashing

It seems that hillbillies – people from Appalachia or the southern U.S. – are the last remaining group of people that is acceptable for people to poke fun at, insult, and demean.

Every other stereotyped group has been taken off the comedy table. Indeed, most remarks about stereotypes are not permitted in polite company. You can get into trouble for saying black people are lazy. Italians are mobsters. Fat people are disgusting. The Irish are drunks. The Polish are stupid. The French are snobs. Blondes are dumb (and “blondes” is code for “blonde women“). Feminists are lesbians. Scientists and other geeks can’t get laid. Men are hopeless at child-raising and household chores (or if they’re not, there’s something wrong with them). I’m sure you could add your own examples.

But hillbillies are fair game. Whether you call them hillbillies, hicks, rubes, briars, rednecks, jethroes, bubbas, or peckerwoods, you can make jokes about how they marry their sisters, drink moonshine, screw livestock, and eat roadkill. Honestly, you’d think some people believe that Hee-Haw was a documentary.

Jeff Foxworthy made millions with his “You may be a redneck” humor. It was gentle, seldom-vicious, well-intended humor, but it was stereotypical nonetheless. And was it more acceptable or less because Foxworthy himself was a Southerner? I haven’t decided.

If you look at “reality” shows (I try to avoid them), you’ll get a whopping dose of “Let’s all laugh at the stupid hillbillies. We’re way better than they are.” Duck Dynasty. Honey Boo-Boo. Moonshiners. Hunters and fishers and survivalists. And someone is making a lot of money off these shows. I’ll give you a hint: The moneymakers don’t eat roadkill or have outhouses.

But let’s forget comedy and reality shows for a moment. We all know that’s just entertainment, not one culture actually demeaning another. Let’s look at real reality for a moment.

The other day someone posted about the contaminated water scandal in West Virginia. Many people who replied to this post were, well, less than polite. Here are some examples:

People in those communities need their own Martin Luther King, someone who can raise their spirits and challenge them. Someone who can bypass the whole political process (Me: so far, so good. But wait for it.)…. And because the people there are so fearful of minorities, this version of Dr. King will have to be white and one of their kin, while being aware of much bigger things and principles than Appalachia usually considers.

And this, regarding an elected official who ignored the disaster in his own state:

Yep, and $20 says he gets re-elected. Why? Have you LOOKED at the average citizen of West Virginia? 

And my favorite:

Don’t believe in science? Fine. How about being a good steward of the earth like that book you’re constantly jizzing yourself over says, you half-witted, superstitious dumb-fuck!

Admittedly, there were commenters who called out those who made such comments:

There’s a good chance the “average citizen of WVA” may be keeping your lights on and letting you post insulting things about them.


Extremists have a choke-hold on American politics–and this is true in more places than Appalachia.

And (again, my favorite):

Don’t make the mistake of confusing the politicians and the people. It would be a mistake to stereotype the people of Appalachia as ignorant and racist. You can find ignorance and prejudice in every corner of our nation. You can also find brilliance and humanity in every place as well.

Now I admit I have a vested interest. I was born in Kentucky and so were most of my relatives. And my family has produced teachers and coaches and civil servants and businesspeople and college graduates. And me. Someone who uses proper grammar and punctuation, and makes a living doing that. And yes, listens to country music, knows how to shoot a rifle, has milked cows and collected eggs, and has relatives nicknamed Jim-Bob and Spud.

My culture is as worthy of respect as any other. Appalachian people make beautiful art and music. They have become scientists and celebrities, inventors and innovators.

And let’s not forget that the Appalachian land has been exploited for its mineral wealth, with the profit flowing out to other regions. The farmers who try to make a meager living from land not really suitable for agriculture have had to become sharecroppers. If many people there are poor and undereducated, it’s not because they like it that way.

They may be different than you. But you are not better than they are. Show some respect. The ones who jeer and demean are the uncivilized ones.