Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tim Blair, Kevin Rudd, Right Wing Humor and Tough Bikkies

(Above: John Cleese catching a Tim Blair moment in the chops).

Why is it that right wingers have no sense of humour? Worse, why do they try to show they have a sense of humour?

Okay, let's take a step back. Most people have a sense of humor, left or right or in the middle, but most people also know it takes genuine skill to be a professional comedian. There's no easy laugh. 

Every laugh is a hard won payoff to experience and skill, and I often think the training starts as far back as primary school, when comedians start learning the trade as the class clown, often as a way of avoiding being bullied or bashed up. So I guess what I'm really talking about is the way professional comedians manipulate their audiences to milk a laugh. Scoring a laugh is the ultimate reward, the orgasmic pay off. And as a general rule, scoring a laugh, and doing political humor rarely mix, or if they do they require exceptional skill (for a neat example, see Christopher Buckley's skewering of Newt Gingrich in The Audacity of Poping).

There are a few comedians - a very few - who are both right wing and funny. But usually they started off as professional comedians, and then they allowed their politics to emerge. A few comedians even try to be fundie Christian or Islamic, as if somehow being religious means that will make their comedy exceptional and funny.

A lot of comedians simply don't have any political skew to their comedy - funny is funny, whether it's a toff slipping on a banana or a working class joe. And a lot have what might be called a Charlie Chaplin, little tramp tinge, as opposed to the kind of stoic streak exploited by Buster Keaton.

Then there's the kind of humor often described as undergraduate or sophomoric, the kind you might see in a second class university end of year revue, where a lot of old routines are revived, stereotypes are wheeled out and cheap punchlines deliver cornball payoffs. Mad magazine took it down to primary school level.

Then there's humorous writing which goes a step below the undergraduate, and is simply, resolutely unfunny, as funny as a whack across the chops with a flounder. 

Tim Blair is a master of this art. He takes an incident, which say in the hands of a Seinfeld addressing a soup Nazi in his kitchen, could be extremely funny, and he wrings every last bit of humor out of it, so that it becomes just a sludge of unfunny soup.

For example, we all know about PM Kevin Rudd losing it over a meat-less sandwich. And we all know the rumors about Chinese spies targeting Rudd's email and mobile phone. So far, so good. Running them together in a routine isn't such a bad idea.

But in Blair's hands it all goes flat like a souffle that won't rise, with funny Chinee man stuff right out of the 1890s Bulletin, and fish in face stuff that might have worked if it had been in a Monty Python fish-slapping dance in 1972.

Here's a sample, with Qi and Wu listening in on the Ruddster as kick-arse Rudd takes knife from stupid running-dog subordinate to teach them serious lesson, and Wu admires kick-arse number one authority man taking blade to office flunky with chopping sounds:

Qi: Stoic subordinate not make protest sound at all! Ashamed even to cry in face of powerful leader Rudd.

Speaker: There! That's how you do it. Now, the next time I order watercress sandwiches, I want the crusts cut off before they're brought to my table. Do you understand? Have I made myself clear?

Wu: Crusts? Sandwiches? I am confused. What does he mean, Qi?

Qi: It is clearly deep code, Wu. This one knows every page of trick book. Extreme clever wiliness.

(Several hours pass)

Qi: Wake up, Wu! The SpeakerSpy 5000, it crackles to life from Rudd airplane!

Speaker: I ordered flounder. Not this. Does (thwack!) this (thwack!) look (thwack!) like (thwack!) a (thwack!) flounder?

Wu: Quick, Qi! Commence sonic analysis for thwack noise!

Qi: Inputting now for diagnostic testing. Aha! Results: "98 per cent certainty of fish striking terrified Western face."

Wu: What kind of fish?

Qi: It says: "99 per cent certainty: Sole."

Wu: Sole look like flounder but is not flounder. Ordinary man not notice difference. We deal with a superbeing.

Qi: He talking again!

Speaker: (siiippp) This isn't Bewley's Irish Breakfast tea! This is (siiippp) Twinings Irish Breakfast tea! Get out of my sight!

Wu: He make Communist Party secret assassin seem like gentlest ladyboy. Rudd is one tough biscuit!

Dearie me, that's about as funny as a limp dick in a harem. Well you might find it funny, and good luck to you, but I wonder if it's so resolutely unfunny because Blair has no empathy with either his Chinese spies or the hapless Rudd. 

One way or another, good comedy writing requires some kind of truthiness behind it, as well as an ability to exploit paradox. There's a strain in Blair's writing, like he's suffering from some kind of constipation. There's too much anger in the sub-text. He wants to slag off the Asian fiends and the fiendish Rudd as much as he wants to be funny about them, and the result is forced, contrived, and silly. You couldn't put it into a university revue and reliably count on laughs, unless you reverted to a lot of slapstick.

Not sure how Blair might get rid of the blockage - electric eels work best on plumbing - but he needs to study the way a grumpy old man like Larry David can turn out Curb Your Enthusiasm, and be funny creating 'Larry David' moments.

Comedy isn't the best place to grind an axe. Chaplin was at his worst when he got sentimental about life and his little tramp, and at his best when he made fun of anything and everything he found amusing, from eating a leather shoe in style to faking out a boxer in the ring.

Yet the Daily Terror keeps publishing Blair's comedy routines, and he doesn't get any better. The world's a funny place isn't it, which isn't quite the same as saying that all the world, or Tim Blair in particular, is funny.

Still I guess it's better than letting him write endlessly about Islamic decapitations. Oh, he still does that too? Ah well, guess if he's trying to be funny, decapitations are at the hilarious end of the scale and maybe some day he'll lose his head and strike comedy gold ...

You can catch all Blair's comedy routine here under the amazingly funny header The majesty of Kevin Ludd, but be warned, you might well emerge thinking you lack a sense of humor. For once don't blame yourself, blame Kevin Rudd, one tough biscuit, and Tim Blair, one tough cookie, and Chinee cha siu baau, velly jolly steamed buns.

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