Thursday, July 16, 2015

"An Unexpected Connection"

I am wrapping up yesterday’s blog post, maybe two paragraphs to go.  I can definitely see the Finish Line.  I am the trail horse, smelling the comforts of the barn.

My “Topic of the Day” is “Jewish Comedy”, a follow-up to an earlier post concerning the direction of comedy, that direction being irretrievably splintered. 

Nobody laughs at the same thing anymore.  (Not even at Donald Trump, who should be a ridiculous clown-joke to everyone but surprisingly is not).  Risking the pejorative label of curmudgeonliness, I (courageously) opine that the current fractionalization is a shame.

But wait, you say, “Jewish Comedy” is itself a sub-section of comedy, so what are you talking about?  I am talking about a sub-section of comedy that is stylistically committed to universalism.  Although members of an ethnic minority, Jewish comedians – of an earlier era at least – promoted a genre of comedy that would appeal to everyone.

Minorities do not do that anymore.

With the fragmented structure of the marketplace – due to proliferating platforms and delivery systems – it was determined to be good business to give formerly overlooked minorities their individualized voice.  Finally granted that voice, the now liberated minorities – ethnic, gender or whatever – were determined to take advantage of the opportunity, crafting comedy favoring sectarian distinction over the slings and arrows that discombobulate us all.

They could easily have gone in the other direction, but they didn’t.  Freedom that could have bred unity bred instead sectionality.  (That is not exactly the right word.  I had it there for a second; I know it begins with an “s.”  But when I was typing my way to it, the correct word flew right out of my head.  Maybe it will come back to me later.  I hope so.  I’m not sure I can live with “sectionality.”)

Okay, so I am saying that the liberated formerly disenfranchised opted for sectarianism.  (Was that the word?  Maybe.  I don’t know.  Anyway…)

That’s when it came to me.

It was a ponderous observation, hardly suited to the lightweight agenda of “Jewish Comedy.”  Inserting it in the blog post would be like sticking an anvil into a birthday cake.  (If it were a smallish anvil.  Or a largish birthday cake.)

Still, it was an interesting analogy, and it arrived the way the “good stuff” always shows up – materializing in my consciousness, spontaneous and unbidden.

A wise man once told me, “Everything is like something else.  What is this like?”  It took no intellectual effort, working this out.  My mind tapped me gently on the shoulder and said, “It’s like that.” 

And I was pondering throwing that nugget away?

As the first President Bush – or at least his imitators – used to say:

“Couldn’t do it.  Wouldn’t be prudent.”

Though the idea missed the cut yesterday – feeling too much like putting a college professor in a sandbox – I am presenting it separately today.

I shall keep it short, because I know it’s summer, not the time for serious thinking, more the time for going outside. 

It occurred to me – two paragraphs from the end of yesterday’s post – that a similar phenomenon to the fragmentation of comedy had taken place – try not to get whiplash from the abrupt change of venue – in the revolutions going on throughout the Middle East.

“Really?  You are actually making that analogy”

I can’t help it. 

Equating changes in comedy with the barbarious Arab Spring?”

The idea came to me.  And it appears to apply.

“If you say so.”

Hear me out, okay?  Dictators who had kept a lid on things for decades were toppling from power, the former voiceless citizenry, rising to the fore.  The limitations have been lifted.  They could do anything they wanted. 

And how did they elect to employ their new freedom, these longstanding victims of majoritarian disregard?  Did they band together for a new and harmonious existence?

Nope.  They formed homogeneous subgroups and beat the shit out of each other.

Let me be clear here.  I am not for a moment arguing for dictatorship and its illusion of happiness, enforced by censorship, oppression, intimidation and abuse. 

But lemme tell you something.

This isn’t good either.

Liberated people seem to dislike unity.  With an available alternative, they choose the sectarian “Us” over the collective everyone “Us.”

And I really don’t get it. 

Universal comedy. 

Universal identification. 

How come they’re not popular?

Unless we’re confronted by dinosaurs, and then:

“We are all in this together.”


Wendy M. Grossman said...

I meant to ask yesterday how you think about women in comedy. Women are not a minority, but they are often thought of as one, and female comedians live with the idea many male comedians seem to have that "women aren't funny". There's a great book, WE KILLED, about the history of women in comedy, and several of the pioneers - Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller in particular - talk about the difficulty of getting laughs if they look too attractive. Diller noted that as a young thing she had a gorgeous figure, which she found it necessary to hide under, basically, a burlap sack (plus that WIG!). It's a great book, and I strongly recommend it to you. In any case, you discussed the comedy of many minority segments, but not women, and I was interested in the lacuna.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

PS: There's also a great documentary that was shown at Roger Ebert's Film Festival a few years ago on black female comedians and the Chicago clubs they performed in. Also highly recommended.

Pidge said...

One of my family's favorite Sam Levinson stories was the one where an unexpected guest showed up to the home at dinner time and young Sam's mother felt obliged to invite him to stay. She took the kids aside and told them she didn't have enough meat to go around and she'd like them to decline when it was offered. Which they obligingly did. Then, when it came time for dessert, she announced, "All those who didn't have meat don't get dessert!"
We rolled in the aisles....or at least, on the broadloom!