Tag Archives: Comedy Central

Goodbye, Jon Stewart: Please Let the New Guy Be Funnier

Originally published by ANewDomain.net:

Jon Stewart’s decision to leave “The Daily Show” at what critics universally call the top of his game serves as another reminder of just how humor-deprived contemporary American television has become.

Stewart is, like his fellow Comedy Central alum Stephen Colbert and standup megastar Louis C.K., one of the most overrated talents of our time. Not that he isn’t fast on his feet – he is. Not that the camera doesn’t love him – it does. Not that he doesn’t understand timing – he does.

jon-stewartWhat Stewart isn’t is falling-down-on-the-floor hilarious. His fits and starts, lurching style of monologue elicits plenty of knowing guffaws and the occasional eye-rolling laugh at the expense of, typically, an ideologically inconsistent politician. But because he refuses to take the chance of alienating his audiences by offending them, he never risks falling off the high wire you have to climb in order to achieve comedy greatness.

If you want to be really funny, you have to be dangerous.

(To illustrate this point, I was going to cite a farm-based joke by Rudy Ray Moore, the black comedian and Blaxploitation filmmaker of the 1970s and 1980s, but it’s so outrageous and so obscene that I’m pretty sure I’ve never work again if I did. Now that’s some wickedly funny stuff.)

I remember – actually, as a cartoonist, I am traumatized by recollecting – a female friend telling me why she turned against the late great George Carlin.

She loved Carlin. She owned many of his albums. She had seen him in concert many times. She couldn’t stop talking about how brilliant he was. Then, she explained, he said one joke that offended her feminist sensibilities. After that, he was dead to her.

I was baffled and a little disgusted. “In baseball, if you hit the ball 35 percent of the time, you’re a God. So you need to tell me that George Carlin told thousands of jokes that you loved, gave you hours of pleasure and countless laugh out loud moments, but because of one joke, he was dead to you? You fired a guy with a .999 batting average!” (I’m more in the 30 percent range.)

He was.

Here’s the joke that pissed her off: “Have you ever noticed that the women who are against abortion are women you wouldn’t want to fuck anyway?”

Neither Jon Stewart nor Stephen Colbert nor John Oliver are ever going to say anything that funny. Or that mean. That’s not their business model. They walk between a very narrow set of lines defined by decades of political correctness.

Which is fine. Really. I don’t have a problem with what they do. The issue isn’t that they play it safe; the problem is that America is so starved for comedy that they manage to pass this bland stuff off as the real thing. The only reason that they have been so successful is that, following decades of horrible late-night tedium like Jay Leno, David Letterman and the inexplicably still on the air “Saturday Night Live” which, contrary to conventional wisdom was never very funny but is certainly much less so now.

“The humor that makes me laugh hardest is the material I know would offend or insult someone else,” wrote “Dilbert” cartoonist Scott Adams in 2008. “But offending isn’t enough. The audience gets more out of humor if the messenger is putting himself in danger.” Adams says it’s a universal law, and I agree with him. It certainly applies to me. My most outrageous work – on 9/11 widows, Pat Tillman, making fun of American soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq – is also some of my funniest. And it definitely put me in danger: I stopped counting the death threats at 1000. And I lost some good jobs.

Every now and then, someone has to kill a humorist to remind us how dangerous good humor can be.

Of all things, last month’s massacre of – whether you like them or not, outrageously funny – cartoonists at the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris reminded some Americans of what exists elsewhere, but has been lost here, or perhaps never existed: an over-the-top, ribald, take-no-prisoners culture of satire, particularly in print but also on television.

Every few years, I make the rounds in Hollywood trying to pitch TV show ideas. During the peak of the Bush years, and before the idiotic “That’s My Bush!,” I presented to executives all over Los Angeles my idea for a comedy, either live action or animated, that made fun of the Bush family and the president’s top officials. The hook was, Bush was actually a reluctant leader, didn’t want to be there, and was secretly brilliant but didn’t want to let on. His daughter Jenna was really running the show. Dick Cheney was a softhearted wimp who broke into tears over nothing.

Maybe the show was a dumb idea, I don’t know, I’m not a TV executive. But that’s not the point of the story. The point is, Hollywood was so satirically illiterate that they rejected the idea based on legal fears: they were worried about being sued by the first family. As I repeatedly explained, Bush and Cheney and their families were public figures, so it would have been possible to mock them six ways till Sunday without having to worry about a successful lawsuit. Besides, almost every other Western country on earth had some sort of comedy show that sent up their political leaders: France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, even, at the time, Russia. They were all quite popular.

I explained that, as an editorial cartoonist, I routinely say all sorts of terrible things about the president, and yet, here I am, not in prison, at least not yet. But the pitch meetings never got beyond the legal questions. That’s how safe TV has become: they don’t even know what the legal landscape looks like.

There have been some bright spots. But you have to wonder, would anyone greenlight “The Simpsons” today? How about “South Park”?

There is no denying the success of the Comedy Central approach. Millennial viewers who would never watch the evening news nevertheless enjoy, and learn from, the fake news format pioneered by Stewart and Colbert. But make no mistake: that is not hard-hitting political satire.

Louis C.K., who is undeniably much funnier than those two, nonetheless likes to keep things safe as well. Although these incredibly incisive when issuing humorists observations about divorce, relationships, parenthood and popular culture, he generally shies away from straight-ahead politics.

The fact that it hasn’t always been this way tells us that things can change. In the 1960s and 1970s, even the relatively tame Bob Newhart and Bill Cosby routinely delivered more trenchant humor than you’ll find on television today. Richard Pryor, of course, was a God. Hell, Lenny Bruce got arrested! That’s not going to happen to the big-time comedians that we are constantly being told are so funny today.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of great humor out there – but not on the national stage, not on network television.

So now that the big Comedy Central stars have left, Colbert to the blander than bland Tonight Show (notice how no one talks about him anymore?), Stewart to whatever he figures out, we have an opportunity to reconsider the fact that, as a humor-loving people, Americans have the God-given right to watch dangerously funny TV shows – and there has never been a time when they were more needed.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Pravda-ization of the News

No Context, But Propaganda Is Amusing

Try as they may to make the news as boring as possible, U.S. media outlets keep churning out hilarious “news” stories. Hardly a day passes without the release of some piece whose content is so ridiculous, its tone so absurdly credulous, that it makes us feel as if we live in a bizarre reincarnation of the propaganda-soaked Soviet Union.

Remember “Baghdad Bob”? Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, Iraq’s information minister during the 2003 U.S. invasion, kept denying reality, insisting that Saddam’s regime was winning even as attacking tanks appeared in the background of his camera shots. I had a Baghdad Bob flashback moment earlier this week while listening to NPR’s afternoon news program “All Things Considered.”

“President Obama toured the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington today joined by Holocaust survivor, author and Nobel Laureate, Elie Wiesel. Mr. Obama said the U.S. must never again allow such atrocities to take place,” said Melissa Block.

Whaaaaa…?

The implication is that Obama cares about protecting innocent people from state-run mass murder. That the U.S. has moral standing. But…but…

The U.S. is currently the world’s leading perpetrator of atrocities!

American wars against Afghanistan and Iraq have slaughtered at least two million people and injured many millions more. The U.S. maintains a network of “black site” secret prisons and concentration camps around the world. President Obama claims the right to assassinate anyone, including U.S. citizens, anywhere in the world, without having to explain himself to a court. We’re the #1 arms dealer on the planet. And, as a British newspaper has learned, the military maintains dozens of secret drone bases here inside the U.S., obviously for future use against the enemies of our increasingly oppressive police state.

The Obama Administration isn’t killing as many people as were killed during the Holocaust—but that’s not saying much. Does NPR think we’ve forgotten that the hands of our political leaders are dripping with blood? Or is NPR trying to compete with Comedy Central?

The report included an Obama sound bite: “And when innocents suffer, it tears at our conscience. Elie alluded to what we feel as we see the Syrian people subjected to unspeakable violence simply for demanding their universal rights. We have to do everything we can.”

When innocents suffer. Well, not all innocents, right, Mr. President? Like, we’re not supposed to lose sleep over the thousands of detainees—including children—in U.S. concentration camps at Guantánamo, Bagram, Diego Garcia, Thailand, and Bulgaria. All of who are, under U.S. law, innocent of any crime (because they’ve never been charged, much less convicted, in court).

Anyway, it’s not like the U.S. is doing “everything we can” for the Syrian resistance. Not that we should. But coverage like this—it really does hearken back to the glory days of Pravda and Izvestia.

It’s bad enough to be fed propaganda. But at least make an effort when you lie. This crap is insulting.

In the same report, Don Gonyea let loose this howler: “Mr. Obama announced new sanctions against nations that commit grave human rights abuses through technology that includes cell phone tracking and monitoring citizens on the Internet.”

What a kidder! Such awesomely dry delivery!

As the San Francisco Chronicle reported: “The President took aim at Syria and Iran, whose leaders have tapped compliant phone companies and Internet services to hunt down dissenters.”

Listening to and reading that, you could almost forget that Obama voted for FISA, which retroactively legalized Bush’s illegal domestic wiretapping program, which was carried out by the National Security Agency and—ahem—compliant phone companies such as AT&T. FISA also radically expanded the federal government’s right to listen to your phone calls and intercept your email without a warrant.

Obama’s own commission of “grave human rights abuses through technology that includes cell phone tracking and monitoring citizens on the Internet” is context worth mentioning in a story about Obama imposing sanctions on other countries that do the same things. Maybe something like this: “Mr. Obama, whose Administration vigorously asserts its right to track Americans’ cell phones and track them on the Internet, announced sanctions against other countries that do the same thing.”

They wouldn’t be telling us anything we didn’t already know. But here’s the thing—as ignorant and stupid as the American public is, the media thinks we’re even stupider and more ignorant!

If nothing else, our neo-Soviet media sure is funny.

(Ted Rall’s next book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt,” out May 22. His website is tedrall.com.)

Cartoon for January 17

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are scabs. If Americans who work had one tenth of the guts and integrity of their counterparts in other countries, they’d refuse to tune into their shows. That also goes for when, and if, the Writers Guild strike is finished. Once a scab, always a scab.

These two strike-breakers think they can justify their actions away with the sort of lame arguments they usually get paid to mock when politicians make them. Let’s take them one at a time:

1. Their staffers were in danger of losing their jobs if they didn’t come back on the air. That’s true. It could happen. It’s called collateral damage, and it sucks. It’s also called solidarity. For all of us to get ahead, we all have to pull together and suck up the hard times. The whole point of a strike is to cause enough inconvenience to force management to negotiate in good faith. If Comedy Central ordered Stewart and Colbert back on the air, they ought to have quit. That’s called integrity.

2. They’re talking a lot on the air about unionism and the strike. While that’s very meta, it doesn’t wash. The best way to make sure the corporate bosses feel the pinch would have been to stay off the air.

3. They were willing to strike separate deals with the Writers Guild. First and foremost, the Guild ought not to have negotiated separately with Jay Leno. One deal for everybody, or no deal. Nothing else works. As for Colbert and Stewart, they didn’t strike an agreement with the Guild. “Wanting” to is a laaaaaaame counter to this fact.

Today’s cartoon is a two-parter of sorts. Fellow Cartoonist with Attitude Matt Bors offers his take on Stephen Colbert. Check it out!

Click on the cartoon to make it bigger.