Thursday, July 15, 2010

Appropriately Inappropriate

Ever laugh at something inappropriate and realize that because it’s so inappropriate it makes you laugh harder? Breaking some kind of taboo by jesting at something off-limits doesn’t fill you with shame, but propels you toward making a mockery of it.

I’ll give you an example. Wouldn’t it be funny if the voices in the movie Schindler’s List were dubbed as Muppets?

When Ben Kingsley delivers the line “The list is life,” a Kermit the Frog voice comes out. Oskar Schindler could sound like Fozzie Bear.

That’s so wrong, isn’t it?

What the fuck is the matter with me?!

Why do I labor to see humor in the most inappropriate things? Why do I continually throw sexual innuendo at everything and hope something sticks, like the panties of a sorority sister riding her first Sybian?

See? I just did it again!

I blame my parents. They gave me an appreciation for comedy without realizing it. When I was little, I discovered my father’s record collection. It was mostly doo-wop bullshit, but what attracted my attention wasn’t the music. He had comedy records stashed away, with comedians like The Smothers Brothers, Flip Wilson and Bill Cosby.

Bill Cosby’s “Wonderfulness” was my favorite. I liked how Cosby talked about his childhood, about building and racing go-karts, about getting his tonsils out at the hospital and about booby-trapping the living room by smearing Jell-O on the floor because he was scared the monsters in his favorite radio horror program would attack him.

When I was 13, my mother gave me a copy of Cosby’s album “Bill Cosby: Himself.” Most kids got a football or basketball when they turned 13. I got Cosby talking about raising his kids, going to the dentist, the stupidity of drinking to excess and anecdotes from his childhood. I memorized each routine on that album and repeated them verbatim at school in the cafeteria to my friends.

That’s where the comedian in me began.

I learned to make people laugh at an early age and enjoyed it, though I was too unpopular to be the class clown. I was more of the class clown’s understudy. If the wiseass kid who made the teachers and students laugh became sick, I’d fill in.

At Heritage Junior High, I was the only 8th grader to do spot-on impressions of Ronald Regan and Michael Jackson. This was in 1983 when both were still popular and not the subject of senile or pedophile jokes.

As a side note, I can’t figure out why some Republicans lionize Reagan like he was the American Winston Churchill. I understand he worked with Gorbachev to end the Cold War, but besides that speech at the Berlin Wall and lying about the SDI, what did he actually do? People forget that the guy was senile in the end. He let his crazy astrology-worshipping wife run the country. Reagan just sat around eating jellybeans while the Iran-Contra scandal raged around him. But now he’s some kind of national hero? Republicans in the ‘80s must’ve loved bad B-movies and big deficits.

See? I just tore apart a former Commander-In-Chief for being a senile relic.

I’ve been told there are sacred cows in comedy.

A comic should never joke about three things: child abuse, domestic violence and rape.

Let me see… child abuse, domestic violence and rape. Sounds like the Catholic Church, doesn’t it?

Incidentally, there’s nothing in the Bible prohibiting sex with children. Nothing at all. Homosexuality is forbidden, along with bestiality and letting your semen hit the ground. Yet the text is clear: “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” Leviticus 18:22

A man and a child are two different things. Perhaps the church uses this loophole to justify boffing choirboys. Maybe there should be something in the Bible prohibiting sex with kids. If they make that official, maybe then Father Pedo might not troll around for prepubescent victims to violate aboard the Magical Chloroform Bus of Shameful Secrets.

Not only that, but the Church covers up sexual abuse, like these kids had it coming. But what do you expect in a place where every Sunday you’re on your knees half the time?

See? I just offended Catholics. I called the functionaries of a religion a bunch of child molesters.

Surely there’s some group that’s too taboo for comedy, some belief, practice or religion that must not be crossed no matter what.


Okay, don’t make fun of the Muslim faith. Islam is the only sacred cow out there, as Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the South Park creators learned when they received death threats for depicting Muhammad in a goofy bear costume.

So I won’t make fun of Islam.

But I will go after the terrorists:

Why do terrorists wear smelly, dirty clothes? Because if they shit themselves during a failed suicide bombing, nobody would notice!

See? I went after the terrorists just to prove a point about comedy, which is this:

All good comedy (and even bad comedy) contains a kernel of truth. That’s why politically incorrect stereotypes are funny, because they’re based on factual elements and traits. Blacks don’t tip at restaurants. Jews are whiny. Asians drive like crap. Republicans are gun-toting fundamentalists. Democrats are passive hippies. Rednecks are stupid. People from the northeast are snobs.

Surely these stereotypes aren’t literal. Not all Jews are whiny. Just the ones from New York.

What I’m seeing is a return to stereotyping. Politically incorrect humor works because it’s inappropriate. It shatters the polite norms of the last 30 years and shoves them in your face, exposing them for the ridiculous bullshit they are. Laughing at the inappropriate derides the stifling societal taboos.

As I grew older, I became a fan of George Carlin and Bill Hicks, two comedians who used the beer-stained pulpit of the comedy club to rage at stupidity, the establishment and an America that had lost its way. They were both Holden Caulfield with a megaphone, shouting at the phonies and blasting the pretentious and asinine conformists responsible for war, commercialism and fear mongering.

Carlin and Hicks weren’t jokesters or safe comics; they actually had something to say. They both delivered their messages in a blunt, scathing way that occasionally eviscerated the sacred cows.

Both were intelligent, quick-witted and deftly punished those who needed it.

Carlin had a great aphorism that applied to comedians: “I think it’s the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately.”

Just because a truth is uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s off limits. Sometimes those lofty truths or conventions should be scrutinized or ridiculed just for the hell of it, whether it’s politics, religion, sex or something dark and forbidden.

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