Monday, April 27, 2009

Janet Albrechtsen, P J O'Rourke, the humorless left, the need to lighten up

Poor old Janet Albrechtsen is deeply upset. It seems people on the left have no sensa huma, as she explains in her cogent opener for Why can't some on the Left lighten up?

Like a game of Where’s Wally for simpletons, it’s never hard to spot those on the hard left of politics.

This particular week they were the ones who refused to share a laugh with us.

Yes folks if you're on the hard left, you have no sense of humour. No, don't say you have a different sense of humour to Dame Slap, you simpletons. You have no sense of humour at all. Fortunately this also means that where once you were accused of having a herd or sheep mentality, you can now avoid her clarion call to act like a herd of sheep, by the simple expedient of failing to laugh when she laughs. 

But of course failing to laugh is a thought crime. If you don't laugh with us, you are against us. You must laugh now, you filthy swine, why do you not laugh? You will laugh on order, or you will be convicted of hard leftism and sent to a re-education gulag, where I promise you, you will learn to laugh, and laugh loudly.

The occasion for mourning the lack of a herd mentality sense of humour in the hard left? 

When conservative funny man, PJ O’Rourke stepped on our shores this week and regaled us with the humour for which he has become rightly famous, we knew that some could never bring themselves to laugh at jokes aimed at the Left. It’s a shame really. Humour is so often a unifier. Who could not laugh at Tina Fey’s impersonation of Sarah Palin?

Humor's a unifier? Then why is it I don't see that many conservatives laughing along with Lenny Bruce. Or Jon Stewart? Or Steven Colbert? And does it say something about me that I thought Tina Fey's impersonation was pretty easy and pretty weak humor, of the kind you'd expect from a show whose best days are a decade behind it (just as you need to watch the first eight seasons of The Simpsons for real humor, and forget the last decade or so).

Humor's a personal thing, and to each their own as to what makes them laugh. Some prefer Keaton, some like Chaplin. Some like both. Whatever.

But hapless Margot Saville apparently committed a thought crime of the worst order when she decided to send up O'Rourke at the sacred Centre for Independent Studies' annual John Bonython lecture. It's a bit like spitting in church, rather than rollicking with laughter in the aisles as they elevated the host, and chanted free markets good, taxes and government bad.

Saville had the temerity to conclude that O'Rouke wasn't even very funny, and then she made fun of the audience.

It was ... a robust collection of conservative, white, middle-class sixtysomething men, bursting out of their pin-striped suits. The room looked like the seal pond at Taronga, with large, blubbery mammals moving around very slowly, occasionally emitting a loud honk.

Saville even compared the MC and Vice Chancellor of Macquarie University Steven Schwartz to Rif-Raf in the Rocky Horror Show. And accused the audience of doing a time warp. Gasp.

Now you might think that a fairly feeble attempt at humor, but Dame Slap is indignant, and withering. You can't do humor about a gathering dedicated to humor. It's just not on. And besides it's rather lax.

Though it may not have been her intention, Saville did a brilliant job of presenting herself as a stereotypical, disgruntled leftie journalist, envious of those who have succeeded in life, lacking in humour when the jokes poke fun at the Left and, dare one suggest, rather lax on basic reporting.

As it transpires, the audience that gathered last Tuesday evening to listen to O’Rourke was anything but a homogenous group of “white, middle-class sixtysomething men”. The room was filled with men and women, young and old. Presumably Saville preferred to paint the evening as a gathering of overweight and aging conservative men in order to present the conservative cause as aging and unhealthy.

Yes, you nasty person Saville you, Dame Slap was in the audience and she was having ever so much fun, laughing and laughing and nary a thought for Where's Wally simpletons, as O'Rourke made fun of lefties and everybody chuckled and chortled and were of a like mind. And there were young women present! 

Hippies had nothing on this wickedly funny laugh fest. Sure he might have been peddling his usual stale stereotypes and scoring snide ideological points, in the now entrenched in concrete O'Rourke manner, but it's not the role of Saville to try the same routines. That's stealing. She should have just settled back and had a few laughs.

Okay, Dame Slap, so tell us some of the great one liners and bon mots that were delivered on the night. Surely you wrote down these treasured pearls, perhaps smudging them a little as the tears poured from your eyes and you rushed to get them on paper.

Huh? Not one. Instead we have to rely on The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Humorous Quotations to tell us that O'Rourke is the most quoted living man! WTF, but okay, let's roll with it, let's knock them in the aisle with a couple of steamy rip snorters that'll put Richard Pryor in his place, and show why PJ is numero uno:

... it’s not hard to explain why given that his legendary one-liners about the problems of big government include “feeling good about government is like looking on the bright side of any catastrophe. When you quit looking on the bright side, the catastrophe is still there” and “when a government controls both the economic power of individuals and the coercive power of the state ... this violates a fundamental rule of happy living: never let the people with all the money and the people with all the guns be the same people”.

Well slap my face with a raw haddock. I'm glad they show the man at the top of his form, but I find them about as funny as Cheech and Chong doing a weed routine, or a barf joke in South Park. Actually the barf joke in Team America isn't that bad, in its own endless way, and as for those fornicating puppets ...

But okay we've established that Dame Slap wouldn't know how to justify O'Rouke's status with a couple of gags, and that she doesn't think Saville's funny. What's  left? Well personal abuse is one of our solid standbys in the ten commandments of commentariat argumentation, so let her rip:

While Saville’s acid tongue is perhaps what we should expect from the author of an adulatory account of Maxine McKew’s defeat of John Howard at the last election, O’Rourke’s standing as both commentator and funnyman is usually recognised even by his philosophical opponents. Indeed, this past week, even media figures not known for sharing O’Rourke’s political views, ABC men such Adam Spencer and Richard Glover, Tony Jones and even Kerry O’Brien, have managed to share their shows with O’Rourke – and enjoy it. It seems there are few so humourless as the freelance, bitter and twisted brigade.

Oh desperate stuff. Saville's just an acid tongued adulator, while the wonderful PJ shared the stage with people from the ABC, that notorious den of lefties, even that notorious star fucker Kerry O'Brien who just loves to suck up to big time showbiz folk. If even the ABC likes O'Rourke, where does that leave a pathetic freelancer?

O’Rourke is a giant among humourists because his wit packs a philosophical punch that is remembered even when the laughter stops. But if you don’t much care for the philosophy, you can at least share the joke. So lighten up, Margot. You might even enjoy it.

Huh? Well at least revealing that Albrechtsen has absolutely no understanding of humor and how it functions. If you don't care for the philosophy, you can at least share the joke? Oh so that's why I've always found the fundie Christian stand  up comedians doing the rounds of the temples so hilariously funny. I just forgot the dumb ass, bird brained philosophy and got on with the joke. But what if the philosophy is the joke, and I happen to prefer The Life of Brian?

Sadly, the PJ O'Rourke show largely missed me this time, perhaps because of my deep showbiz suspicion that when you're failing and flailing at home, you do a tour of the colonies. O'Rourke isn't the comedian or the sharp edged humorist he once was, and even the most cursory look at his recent writing would suggest he's inclined to go on cruise control. And why not rest on your laurels, as you can always rely on mindless adulation from simpletons in the colonies.

It's no surprise O'Rourke was out here playing to the conservative crowd at the same time that Cheech and Chong were playing the Enmore, and I can't imagine that there was much crossover - though according to Albrechtsen, the conservative crowd should have been displaying their profound sense of humor, unlike the left, by packing the Enmore to the rafters. After all, the boys are giants of weed humor, with a philosophical punch that kicks in like a mule high on a toke of White Widow. But strangely I had as little inclination to check them out as to watch O'Rourke. Age is a joke killer for which there's no sharp comeback.

About the one thing I did read was P.J. O'Rourke: stimulating, like an untaxed leech, and it was about as funny as the smell of a wet sock left under the bed for a week to grow mould.

In the column O'Rouke does a routine about Robin Hood and taxes and running off with a man's wife and how statistically speaking, no one pays taxes:

Let me give you a little math on this. The annual US federal government expenditure is close to 3 trillion dollars. There are about 300 million Americans. Federal expenditure is something like $10,000 per year per person. (Slightly less than in Australia.) So an American family of four is getting $40,000 a year spent on it by the federal government. Which means this family of four would have to be paying $40,000 a year in federal income tax just to break even.

After using all possible income tax deductions plus the customary amount of cheating on taxes, that means a family income of over $160,000 a year. Which makes this family among America’s wealthiest families -- in the top 5%.

Give my figures a plus or minus 5% margin of error and you see that, statistically speaking, nobody pays taxes. We’re all on the teat. We’re sponges. The citizens of every Western democracy are a bunch of blood-suckers. And the G-20 remedy for this recession is like the medical treatment back in the days of Adam Smith -- apply more leeches!

Call me Margot Saville if you like, but I just don't find this funny. Indeedy it's incredibly lame and weak and unfunny. A few Crikey readers took it seriously, and proved it was mathematically nonsense, but actually more to the point, this kind of mathematical fallacy comedy routine has been around for centuries, and even Abbott and Costello did it so much better. But I did enjoy one reader's short review of this kind of boom tish:

If that ain't the weariest schtick. Did someone pay good money for this geezer to come out here? Not a lot of stimulus left in O'Rourke's old package.

Way back when - I guess we have to go as far as the eighties - O'Rourke was sharp, savage and funny, and he stayed that way for a goodly while, showing longer lasting resilience than a lot of humorists. But Keaton died an alcoholic, and Chaplin ended up making A King in New York, and now O'Rourke is reduced to touring the colonies to lap up the applause of Dame Slap and other loyal fans.

Me, I'd rather spend an hour or two watching Eddie Murphy back when he offended everybody in a sassy hard edged style, way before he became the cute donkey (even if I liked the first Shrek, though maybe not so much as Toy Story). But that's the way it is with humor. It's the toughest game in town, and it's hard to stay on your perch. 

And the more Albrechtsen rails like a pork chop about her hero and his denigrators, the more convinced I am she actually needs to lighten up a little, and cut back on the acid tongue and try a little humor without an overt political intent, though I guess that'll be hard for the author of a mindlessly adulatory piece of fluff about the wonders of PJ O'Rourke.

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