The Providence Journal: January 5, 2006
Hide the women and children--it's comedy hour! It's not just the profanity, but the insufferable self-righteousness and awkward anger that make top comedians like Bill Maher, Jon Stewart and Howard Stern increasingly unfunny. The laughs are still there, but now what often follows a punch line is a viscous political diatribe launched from a smug posture of entitlement.
Is there anything more uncomfortable to watch than a political roundtable discussion between comedians and actual hard-working, serious people? The genre started at ABC with Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect, and has now been copied by other shows like Jon Stewart's Daily Show and continues on Maher's HBO program Real Time.
Whether the guests are scientists or politicians, it's like observing a discussion between spoiled children and their earnest parents. The children (comedians) stomp and scream presumptuous, juvenile pronouncements, while the parents make exasperated pleas for common sense and some sense of reality. Comedians used to rail against the establishment, but with the rise of America's pop culture society, comedians have become the establishment. Howard Stern, who has in the past taken on figures like former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, the Federal Communications Commission and the evangelical political movement, is now to be paid $500 million by Sirius Satellite Radio to basically launch an entire new industry. The last few weeks he has been making the rounds like a CEO, talking up stock valuations, market growth and IPOs.
No longer content to be mere court jesters, today's comedians have the money, and now they want the power. Jon Stewart's scolding and Bill Maher's disapproval may boil over one day like that of the comedian Al Franken. The talented comic of Saturday Night Live fame started out writing funny books like Rush Limbaugh is a Big, Fat Idiot, and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, but now is considering a run for a U.S. Senate seat in Minnesota, and has a book out boringly titled The Truth.
The world can be a complex and dangerous place, but even more so when comedians get so angry that they're no longer funny. Soon, instead of laughter gentle ribbing, and what the late, great Richard Pryor started--comedy without jokes--there will be just screaming, finger-pointing or what the English call Prime Minister's Questions.
Smirking around the corner is the next generation of insufferable vulgarians. At the top of the heap is Sarah Silverman with a new music video titled Give The Jew Girl Toys, a strange, maudlin satire of Christmas materialism that gives new definition to the phrase "self-hating Jews." If and when she runs for office, look out organized religion!
There is not a fine line between being a comedian and being a political leader, but today's pop culture society seems to think so. Perhaps one day there will be a comedian-president just as there was an actor-president. Heading the list could be the Boston comic Denis Leary, and his stand-up routine regarding police and fire unions. If old-fashioned protectionism, entitlements and bare-knuckled strike violence is ever back in favor, Mr. Leary could ride his angry routine all the way to the White House. But throw in a few laughs for old times sake.
The great comic George Carlin, now rehabbed from drugs and alcohol, has put on 20 pounds and is suddenly dead serious about the deficit, global warming and weapons of mass destruction. It turns out that after all the years of laughter, he calls himself a "disappointed idealist". Perhaps the laughter has gone to his head.