Saturday, June 6, 2009

Miranda Devine, the Chaser Lads, American humor, and smile, you're on Candid Camera

I'm not a regular watcher of The Chaser - their comedy stylings really don't grab me that much - but if there's one thing guaranteed to make me watch with renewed interest, it's the news that Tim Blair and Miranda the Devine hate, fear and loath them.

We've already looked at Tim Blair's love of running funny trollcats about the Jews doing 9/11 while berating the Chaser lads for tastelessness, but Miranda the Devine hits a new plane of hysterical denunciation in Skit hits the fan and no one's laughing.

The lads have got a lot of payback coming from their doings during the Howard years. The end result for their sketch involving dying kids making wishes? A two week suspension by the always enfeebled and hopeless ABC, and death threats. That's right death threats as a side product of talkback radio and tabloid hysteria. Why it puts the Chaser lads right up there with Charlie Chaplin doing Adenoid Hynkel.

This late-breaking bout of righteous indignation, mind you, from a woman who held up that execrable pile of dung Ladette to Lady as an exemplar of ambition for young women who want how to learn how to sow in the parlour in a refined way while the men retire to the study for a good port and a cigar.

It says a lot about the Devine that she seems to have no memory of Allen Funt, who began his routine Candid Microphone way back in 1946 on ABC radio, and then did some theatrical shorts in the good old days when you could watch the Three Stooges before you saw the feature. Funt shifted the routine over to television in 1948 - and thereafter spent a lifetime deceiving and abusing people on camera in Candid Camera. 

Yep, it's that hoary, the old gag of sticking a dollar to the pavement and filming people trying to pick it up, or throwing a pie in their face to see how they respond (if you're interested, though I can't think why, there's a few Candid Microphones on YouTube, and the Internet Archive has one Garry Moore Show with an Allen Funt installment, but rights issues have given Funt a low profile on the tubes). Of course Funt never did sick kids in the modern way, even if it was gleefully pointed out that the Chaser gag had already been done by The Onion (and that the Chaser lads have been ripping off the Onion lads for years).

I never did cotton on to Funt as a humorist, but it seems like it's all news to the Devine:

Unfortunately, nastiness is a new entertainment genre ...

Yeah, right, ever since that rich guy first slipped on a banana peel in ancient Greece, and then Punch bashed the shit out of Judy. Mortification and embarrassment has always been a staple of certain kinds of comedy, and always will be, and you can even see it in Devine's own professed sensa huma.

Well, at least since May 28, 2009 when Miranda the Devine was in stitches about that funny chk-chk-boom girl sending up that fat wog shot the skinny wog. Laugh, fuck, I've never had so much fun at a shooting in the street, it was unstoppably hilarious and soooh funny. And we were at the same time overwhelmed by the total awesomeness of Susan Boyle: 

It would seem impossibly hokey if it were the climax of a Hollywood movie. But because the fairytale is real, Boyle and her fuzzy eyebrows so guilelessly, unfashionably authentic, and the reaction of the audience so warm and spontaneous, the video elicits a wave of emotion. A woman who says she has "never been married, never been kissed" is loved by millions.

There are lots of explanations for why Boyle struck such a chord, not least, perhaps, being a neat moral to her story which resonates in these superficial times - that you shouldn't judge a person by their appearance.
But then she came second and had a nervous breakdown. What a loser, how cruel life is, how reprehensible this kind of shallow entertainment:

Unfortunately, nastiness is a new entertainment genre, which includes TV shows such as Australian Idol/American Idol/Britain's Got Talent, in which a token cruel judge lacerates contestants. It was behind the Susan Boyle phenomenon, because she overcame the judges' scathing judgment of her looks. But even when stage-managed redemption is added, the emotional roller coaster damages contestants and desensitises the audience, eroding empathy.

So yesterday that Susan Boyle. So where should we look on the box for entertainment of a proper uplifting kind?

By contrast, Channel Ten's MasterChef, which does so well in the ratings, manages to plumb emotions without malice. Its judges are respectful and kind, buoying the spirits of emotionally fragile contestants rather than exploiting their vulnerability.

Likewise, other Australian comedians - from Kath & Kim and Frontline, to Chris Lilley and Hamish & Andy - poke fun without spite.

Um, okay, sure, whatever, love to watch with you some time. Look, ah, I've actually got to go to the dentist right now, which somehow seems preferable to watching clever dicks like Kath and Kim send bogans up shitless, as if wearing ugg boots was somehow a style crime instead of a hymn to warmth in a Melbourne winter. But each to his own I always say. And I'm sure MasterChef is a triumph of comedy and emotions without malice, can I just take your word for it, because frankly that root canal appointment really has my name on it, and I just can't wait, it's so much fun.

To be fair, the Devine does try to be fair:

To be fair, for comedians trying to be edgy and anarchic, it's easy to step over the line between humour and bad taste, which has always been part of the Chaser's appeal.

But to be fair, the Devine is also dumb. How on earth does she reconcile criticising the Chaser for their "dying children needing to make realistic wishes" sketch with a suggestion that a lavish travel budget and  the Chaser's new desire for respectability and a prospective international audience has taken its toll. Huh, like doing sketches that totally alienate the commentariat, and its audience and the Devine's own straw poll of 14 year old boys? That's a desire for respectability? Or Devine blather for the sake of blather?

But it does suggest that one of the main gripes is that the lads now have a bigger budget, and they stayed with the ABC and all those basket weavers instead of seeking the credibility of commercial television on network Seven, like Kath and Kim. Bloody child hating socialists.

Meantime, it seems Devine's almost completely unaware of traditional American comedy, which has always relied on being able to make fun of hicks in the sticks. She seems to date the phenomenon to about the emergence of Borat and gets terribly upset about the treatment dished out to Americans:

Take the pranks in an American diner and hardware store in last week's show, or this week's skit tricking Americans into eating hay.

Americans are easy targets, not because they are stupid or gullible, but because they are polite and tolerant of eccentricity. Living in a large melting pot, they are used to encountering people with habits, behaviours and values different from their own, so are more accepting of bizarre antics that would raise the ire of a less diverse culture. This is one of America's greatest qualities, and those who sneer at it are exposing their own lack of sophistication.

Eer Miranda, The Onion, Mad magazine and Cracked and their ilk and their tasteless desire for tastelessness are quintessentially American. May your cat piss in the ashes of your dead maiden aunt in the urn on the mantlepiece if I mislead you. Or your boyfriend greet you with semen smeared in his hair like a new kind of gel.

I suppose it's true that if you step out of line with an American you never know when you might be staring down the barrel of a gun, and that does induce an unseemly amount of politeness. But the idea that American comedy is polite, or that Americans don't have a taste for vicious humor is somehow to sidestep Allen Funt and every stand up comedian from Lenny Bruce onwards. And to suggest otherwise is to sneer at Americans as if they lack sophistication.

They love to pay out, and over a scotch in private do they ever pay out. Scabrousness is a key American virtue. Here's Richard Pryor, and beware mfs, there's a dose of mfs in the sketch, and there is of course more on YouTube:

No comments: