Sunday, April 24, 2005

On comedy: You might be an idiot if...

Okay. Let's take a breather. I didn't necessarily have a specific vision of what this blog would become, other than a vehicle for commentary on a variety of topics, but, obviously, it's been overwhelmingly pope-related thus far. There are other "pope" blogs out there, believe it or not, but I've certainly done my bit, and, as I mentioned yesterday, there's yet more to come.

But let's change it up a bit. Roger Waters once commented that the biggest problem with The Wall -- Pink Floyd's masterpiece and, in my view, one of the greatest albums of all time, perhaps rivalled only by Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band -- is that it lacks a sense of humour. Which is to say, it lacks comedy. Can I not say the same thing about The Reaction? Too much gravitas, not enough laughter. And when my favourite TV shows are Seinfeld, The Simpsons, The Family Guy, and The Daily Show (not to mention great BBC comedies like Yes, Minister, Yes, Prime Minister, and the Blackadder series), and when I can make the case that Woody Allen is one of the true geniuses of American cinema (with Annie Hall and Manhattan among my top-15 favourite movies of all time), I wonder if I'm being true to myself (and diverse enough as a blogger) with all this deadly serious talk of world-historical events, limit situations, moral absolutism, and the dictatorship of relativism. (Not to mention John Bolton, who's not funny at all.) Alas... perhaps not entirely.

So let's talk comedy, and begin with a trivia question:

Who is the best-selling comedy recording artist of all-time?

Jerry Seinfeld? Bob Newhart? Richard Pryor? Bill Cosby? Lenny Bruce? George Carlin? Steve Martin?

Uh, no. Based on album sales, the #1 comedy artist of all time (in the U.S.) is:

Jeff Foxworthy.

Yup, Jeff Foxworthy. As in "You might be a redneck if..." In total, he has sold -- wait for it -- 15 million albums. Yup, 15 million albums. According to a recent piece in Slate, Foxworthy has successfully tapped into the surge of country music -- really, the surge of country-music culture that includes Nascar and other such red-state amusements detested by elitist coastal liberals (such as the author of The Reaction) -- that has in recent years refashioned the American entertainment industry as much as hip-hop (Clinton, Gore, and, to a much lesser extent, Kerry tapped into this surge in order to try to prove their all-American bona fides, so mainstream has the country-music culture become -- unlike hip-hop, which is often perceived, wrongly, as un-American, and, rightly, as somehow a threat to mainstream culture -- not necessarily a bad thing). His 1997 sitcom, a shameless effort to capitalize on his country-music credentials by going "mainstream," may have failed miserably, but, according to Slate, he now markets himself as a spoken-word country artist, rather than as a straightforward comedian, hosts a popular country-music radio show, and plays "a wide range of casinos, country-music gigs, and rodeos". His albums can be found in the country-music sections of record stores, alongside the genre's superstars, rather than in the abandoned recesses of the comedy section. And he has aligned himself with... Wal-Mart, evil-of-corporate-evils, where his albums are "prominently displayed".

I don't know why this interests me. Probably because I expect more from comedy than self-referential redneck humour that appeals to good ol' Bush voters in the former Confederacy. I don't expect Lenny Bruce, but is comedy-as-social commentary too much to ask for? Or comedy-as-political satire? Or comedy-as-reflection on the human condition? Or even comedy-as-limit-pushing observations of the world? Good comedy -- even good physical humour, as in the work of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton -- comes from the fringes of society, which is why, it has been argued, so many of America's leading comedians have been Jews and Canadians. Even Seinfeld's comedy about nothing offers subtle commentary on (and criticism of) the myriad banalities of modern life -- actually, it's comedy about everything. But Foxworthy speaks to those who have no interest in questioning themselves or the world around them. For them, comedy is a diversion -- a healthy one, perhaps, but still a mindless diversion. They're rednecks, after all, and they live in oblivion. Jeff Foxworthy is their comedian. To me, he's a harmless, good-natured, and occasionally amusing nuisance. More troubling, though, he's a cultural indicator of the state of America in 2005.

It's enough to make you cry.

Bookmark and Share


Post a Comment

<< Home