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Posts Tagged ‘comedy’

Opinions

I’m opinionsourcing this post again, which I think is what I decided to call that thing where I save a bunch of links about a topic, intending to write something cogent and insightful and full of citations later on, but then give up and just post a bunch of links and say “Here, all of this, that’s what I’d have said if I were a more effective human being.”

For instance, The Onion had a thing at the Oscars. (I’m so articulate, you can see why I’m keeping my own creative contributions to a minimum here.) I somewhat agree with Charles at Popehat, also think Matt Kirshen has a point, and am on board with a great deal of the Flick Filosopher’s thoughts.

I’m less interested in Seth McFarlane’s performance. Greta Christina has good words on that. The idea that jokes can’t be powerful and never make serious points is obviously ludicrous; what I keep coming back to is that the implicit premise of the joke is crucial in determining whether it’s worth taking offense at. I get most frustrated about this among discussions of “rape jokes”; the simple fact that rape is the subject matter of a joke isn’t enough to determine whether or not it’s funny, or offensive. If the premise, when you unpick it, is that rape is whimsical or comical, then it might be worth raising a fuss; Louis CK, meanwhile, provides an example of how to joke around the theme of rape without any horrendous or abusive subtext. (That wasn’t even the routine I was looking for when I typed “louis ck rape” into YouTube, but it’ll do.)

Anyway, I’m not meant to be opinionatifying my own thoughts tonight. Onward.

It’s also important to note that workfare continues to be some serious bullshit. The government are still pushing to force unemployed and disabled people into unpaid work, despite legal setbacks, increasing evidence that the scheme doesn’t work, and Iain Duncan Smith being an unutterable shit.

That was my own opinion sneaking in there again, wasn’t it? Sorry.

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The video below is of a recent Saturday Night Live sketch.

In case it’s vanished by the time you read this, like several other versions have, it’s a trailer for a fake movie called Djesus Uncrossed, a suitably over-the-top parody of several Quentin Tarantino films, featuring Jesus Christ as a merciless, sword-happy, gun-toting god of vengeance. The juxtaposition of two ideas that don’t obviously mesh well together isn’t a ground-breaking comedic construction, but it’s nicely done. It plays on Tarantino’s style of film-making and directly takes off a few specific scenes, and seeing the lamb of God played by a psychotically violent Christoph Waltz is jarring in the sort of way that makes things humourous. There’s nothing revolutionary about any of this.

Some Christians have decided that it’s the worst thing ever.

And I’m not even exaggerating to make them sound ridiculous.

NBC has produced the worst possible attack on the person and character of Jesus Christ.

Never be surprised at the level of evil man can devise.

If I were a better writer or any sort of cultural analyst, I’d have something to say about this sort of thin-skinnedness, and this capacity for such stupendous missing of the point. Rather than just pointing it out and inviting you to join me in staring in dumb bemusement.

Bryan Fischer, director of the American Family Association, felt the need to obliquely threaten the makers of the sketch with Jesus’s actual vengeance. Other people cried at that sketch because of how mean it was to their omnipotent overlord. Good grief. Nobody tell them what the Romans did to him two thousand years ago; they might have an attack of the vapours from which they’d never recover.

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While I was offline for a month, I kept a note of any links and news stories worth commenting on. Now that I’m back, I’m aiming to post two short items a day here, about stuff that happened during my online absence, until I’ve cleared the backlog. This is one of those.


At the start of December, Christina Martin wrote a blog post in which she got uppity and moaned about some so-called offensive comedy on Channel 4, and decided to be all over-sensitive about Frankie Boyle and someone called Morgana. This whole big fuss kicked off, just because these comedians made a few jokes about how shit the mentally handicapped are, and invited millions of viewers to join them in laughing at disabled people’s comical inability to conform to more familiar patterns of behaviour.

Honestly, the political correctness these days is out of control. It’s getting so you can’t even pull someone out of their wheelchair and punch them in the face before stoning a few gay people to death and raping your wife any more without offending somebody. People are so touchy.

I forgot what my point was.

Oh, yes. The point of the above entirely unfair characterisation was that, whenever there are complaints of offense being caused in the name of humour, there’ll always be a crowd who refuse to accept any kind of compromise. They’re adamantly decided ahead of time that any decision not to make a particular joke at the expense of someone who can’t defend themselves is nothing more than pandering and over-sensitivity by woolly liberals, not to mention that utmost of horrors, censorship of their free speech.

The point was that some people fail to differentiate between “over-sensitivity” and, y’know, “sensitivity”.

And if someone from a minority demographic who have it pretty tough at the best of times (or someone not unreasonably speaking for them) says that these jokes are hurtful, and damaging, and perpetuate an unjust social disparity amounting to discrimination and bullying, then the least you can do is shut up and listen long enough to honestly consider whether they might be right.

I know a lot of people whine about being offended just because they’re thin-skinned and don’t know how to change the channel. But that’s not the only reason people complain that something’s offensive. Sometimes things really are unkind and unnecessary.

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So last night I went to the latest of Robin Ince’s science-themed, rationalist, comedy and music shows, A Night of 400 Billion Stars (And Maybe Some String Theory). Here are some scattered thoughts about it, loosely strung together in a way that can’t really be called a “review”.

Robin Ince is still utterly superb. The many hours of sleep he hadn’t got over the last couple of days since Glastonbury didn’t seem to slow him down at all, although I’m pretty sure he did introduce the show at the very start as “A Night of 40 Billion Stars”, which might have meant we were being short-changed on an unprecedentedly vast scale. (Seriously, that’s 360,000,000,000 massive balls of roiling nuclear energy which were on the bill but weren’t provided. If that doesn’t merit a partial refund, I don’t know what does.)

The music was pretty consistently good, I thought. None of it spectacular, but a nice mix of stuff. I spent much of this morning muttering “Schnapps… Schnapps…” and feeling haunted by Martin White’s scary eyes. Darren Hayman was fun too, and Gavin Osborn, though I’ll probably have forgotten their names and what they were singing about fairly soon.

The comedy was what mainly made it worthwhile, though, with most of the great stuff coming from the young female performers (and not just because I’m a young male comediphile). I don’t remember seeing Josie Long’s name on the bill, so she was a lovely surprise. Lucy Porter was as adorable as ever, and completely won at life both for a Tycho Brahe / Michael Jackson joke, and for a poem which was almost certainly the most lyrically awesome thing to happen to the periodic table since Tom Lehrer. Someone I didn’t know, and whose name I’ve just had to look up to find out that it’s Helen Keen, was a lot of fun to listen to talking about her list of favourite rocket scientists throughout history. Something about her style of speaking was a little reminiscent of Boris Johnson, which in my book (but possibly not everybody else’s) = awesome.

And, speaking of odd celebrity comparisons which are probably as undeserved as they are unflattering: Christina Martin (her wot invented the God Trumps card game that Robin Ince played with someone from the audience who’d brought her own deck along) is also fab, and I don’t want to say anything derogatory about her because she’s really nice and very funny and a splendiferous force for good in the world, but this is supposed to be about recording the thoughts I had about stuff, so I’m going to say it anyway. Something about her reminded me somewhat of a Catherine Tate character. Not any particular one, just generally. There’s not really anything to it, just something in her style of delivery happened to prod my brain into making that connection. My flatmate looked at me like I was a freak when I suggested it, though, so it’s almost certainly just a quirk of my oddness than anything she needs to worry about. Sorry, Christina. You’re much funnier than her. I’m subscribing to the New Humanist right now. Please don’t block me on Twitter.

The only quibble of any import that I had was about the odd chunk of recycled material. Robin Ince barrels along with all his material at such a rate, and straddles the divide between being funny and scientifically informative so expertly, that it hardly matters, but there were a few lines I’d heard before at the godless show at Christmas (or possibly his stand-up gig more recently), and the closing extract from Feynman’s book was the same one as had closed the previous show. You have to know that a fair slice of your audience are going to be return visitors like me, who’ve seen the last show already, right?

And Simon Singh’s always great to hear speaking, but I’d been assuming that we’d get to hear something about the BCA case, as that’s what’s extremely topical in his life right now. I know there’s only so much that he’s at liberty to talk about, but some sort of update or summary of thoughts might have been good, of the type that he’s been giving in some of the interviews he’s done lately. (I didn’t manage to attend his recent appearance at Skeptics in the Pub, and kinda want to know exactly what I missed.) He’s still fun to see, but anyone who was there at the Christmas show doesn’t really need to revisit the Katie Melua story again, especially when there’s spine wizards to be mocked (a task mostly left up to Robin, and which he took to with his usual gusto).

He did get his gherkin out, though. I couldn’t see it when it went orange, because the podium was in the way, but I’m told it was an impressive sight.

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I’ve had some disordered thoughts about politics and humour floating around for a while, which I’m going to try and flesh out a bit here.

I’m a big fan of comedy, both as a consumer and as an aspiring creative phenomenon and global sensation. And, lately, I’ve also been engaging in the occasional foray into the scary and confusing political arena. And although the latter is still pretty uncertain territory for me, there’s a lot of room for fun where the two cross over. In particular, without Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, I think the US would be in a pretty depressing state right now that it’d be hard to feel optimistic about (at least from over here across the pond, where those two between them are giving me the majority of my international news).

The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are both enjoyed primarily by a liberal and/or politically left-wing audience. The people watching them tend to share certain values in common, so when Jon makes a joke about, say, gay marriage and the general Republican stance thereon, most people watching will agree with the fundamental principles the joke is based on, at least enough to find it amusing. If you’re a Republican against gay marriage, though, it’s not likely to go down so well; even if you perfectly understand the construction of the joke, you’d get bogged down in the fact that it makes light of your concerns against gay marriage, and seems to consider your position comical.

What made me think of this in particular now was reading this article, and seeing this trailer for a film called An American Carol. It’s a political satire with more right-wing leanings than most, and the fact that Bill O’Reilly features heavily as himself probably tells you a lot.

But there’s one scene in this montage, starting at 0:33, where the character Rosie O’Connell (see what they did there?) claims that “Radical Christianity is just as threatening as radical Islam”. We then cut to a shot of a panicking crowd on a bus, and a woman in sorta Christ-y attire apparently blowing herself up with the cry “Seventy-two virgins here I come!”

Now, there’s a few reasons not to be rofling your socks off at this. For a start, couldn’t they have thought of anything more Christian-themed for her to shout, rather than just lifting the seventy-two virgins thing directly? Seventy-two virgins have no role in Christian doctrine, that I’m aware of, so it would have been funnier if she’d been shouting something about… I dunno, whatever the hell a Christian might consider a noble cause to die for. The implicit message is that a Christian is unlikely to blow up a bus because they believe they’ll be rewarded with seventy-two virgins in the afterlife – if the message was that a Christian is unlikely to blow up a bus because they think St. Peter will let them into the gates of Heaven, then they’d be making more of an actual comparison between the two religions, and I think the satire would work better. This cartoon wouldn’t make any sense if the atheists depicted were really behaving like Christians, to the point that they were doing all these things for the sake of God.

But that’s a technicality. Actually, the joke in the movie is constructed entirely competently according to the rules of comedy, and reasonably well executed. It’s almost even funny, and very similar conceits (such as “Hey, what would a Buddhist suicide bomber look like?”) have been used in a number of sketches and comic routines before, often to good effect. The only thing stopping it working for me here is my personal political stumbling block, much like a Republican who might not “get” Jon Stewart’s jokes about Republicans.

It’s not that anything dear to me is being mocked or offended in an unacceptable way. I’m not a fan of either Rosie O’Donnell or Michael Moore, the two high-profile liberal celebrities being most obviously lampooned in the clips from the film I’ve seen. But the gag is founded on the concept that the very notion of fundamentalist Christians being dangerous is a laughable one. It takes the idea of “radical Christianity as a threat”, affects to imagine what that would look like, and decries the result as ludicrous and inherently comical. And although this is a fine formula for effective comedy, which has made me laugh in very similar forms before, it doesn’t work for me here, and when a part of me automatically chirps up with a “But, but…” of complaint in place of the intended guffaw, another part of me knows exactly how certain Republicans feel when they see Jon Stewart not understanding their family values and being fundamentally wrong about this whole gay thing.

Because come on, radical Christianity as a dangerous force is not a comical or ridiculous concept. Even without going into the history of the Dark Ages, the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the general principles of ostracising, persecuting, attacking and slaughtering dissenters even among the religion itself, modern Christians do some pretty messed-up shit which unquestionably falls under the heading of terrorism. There are plenty of them willing to attack abortionists and abortion clinics, or murder whoever obstructs what they see as their righteous quest, or blow shit up to make a point about the “homosexual agenda”… I could go on, but it seems so painfully obvious that this 2-billion strong religion does have a dangerously fanatical wing to it that there’s hardly any point. And now it’s supposed to be funny, watching a Christian murdering people because of irrational levels of devotion to her religion, much like the way that’s actually happened dozens of times before?

Okay, this really wasn’t meant to be a screed advocating any particular political viewpoint. I just thought it was an interesting thing to notice about comedy, that it may depend heavily on whether the viewer agrees with certain philosophical principles behind a joke, even if that’s the only thing that changes. I guess this relates to how easily the laughs came at the recent Republican convention when the words “community organiser” were mentioned, without any actual clever satirical commentary needing to be provided. Or the way sometimes Jon Stewart almost doesn’t need to say anything funny about a Fox News clip for it to be hilarious. How much of what we find funny only tickles us because it’s reinforces a worldview?

Eh. I dunno. I’m pretty sure Fox’s 1/2 Hour News Hour doesn’t seem funny to me because it’s retarded, not just because it doesn’t line up with my politics. Who the fuck is Rush Limbaugh, and what does he want?

Oh, and in other news, the Large Hadron Collider’s broken. Fuck. Looks like a faulty electrical connection, which would probably be easy enough to fix aside from the fact that a lot of things in the LHC, like electrical connections, are kept unbelievably cold. So, because the people who can fix it are being bloody inconvenient, and insisting that they won’t work in conditions 1.7 degrees above absolute zero, it’s going to take a while to sort it out. Upwards of two months, it looks like. So it goes.

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