The Vast Right Wing Conspiracy WWSD : What Would Sam Do?

November 24, 2010

 

Following my recent article on the dust up over the use of the word “gay” in a joke in the movie “The Dilemma” I engaged in an e mail discussion with  Big Hollywood editor John Nolte. The question that John posed to me was in the new era “everything is deeply offensive to someone” could guys like Sam Kinison, George Carlin and even Saint Lenny make it today?  Could three of the greatest comic voices ever survive in today’s comic environment?

My first impulse was to say a quick yes, give John a virtual eye roll, and get back to making funny Facebook status updates about the TSA. Then I considered his question a little more deeply. I was too young to have known or seen Lenny Bruce and only got to meet Carlin three times so I didn’t know him well. Sam, that was different. I got to know him pretty well back in the late seventies in Texas. We stayed friends and even worked together a few times through the years. I’ll get back to Sam in a minute.

Lenny Bruce got arrested a number of time for his language. Back in the sixties few people objected to making jokes about ethnic jokes. The word “gay” still meant filled with joy and to most Americans a “fag” was a Lucky Strike. Lenny got in trouble for his scatological references. “Cocksucker” was a big one. Most of the stuff Lenny suffered for seems mild in comparison to today’s cable fodder. However, one of Lenny’s greatest bits, which heavily features the notorious “N” word, couldn’t be broadcast today even on cable. Today it couldn’t even be written in a transcript without serious repercussions. It is however one of the most brilliant bits of comic social commentary ever performed. Dustin Hoffman does it justice in the movie, “Lenny.” Lenny also foreshadowed today’s political correctness in another bit featured in the movie when he substituted the word “blahblah” for “cocksucker.” Quoting Hoffman as Lenny in the movie, “It’s the dirtiest bit I have ever done and they can’t touch me!”

Carlin had his transformation for the slick ex-adman comic the hipster we all know in the late sixties and early seventies. His most famous piece featured the “seven words you can never say on television.” Ironically, all seven are now heard with regularity on television, in movies, on Broadway and in teen conversations. Later in his career the seven words became about seven hundred. I heard him do an extended version of the original which took at least fifteen minutes on stage. If he did the bit today he would have to change the bit to , “ There are only five words you can’t say on TV , “N” word, “F” word, “R” word, “G” word, “  and Islamic Extremists!”

Sam was different. He seemed to invite harassment. Reviews of his show that called him obscene and offensive he wore as a badge of honor. He sometimes sent them out with his press kit! He defied authority at every chance. Once, at The Annex, a small club where we started he smashed a wooden stool on stage during a bit. The club manager told Sam he had to pay for the stool and warned him that he would be charged for future damages!  The next time Sam went up he took the new stool and smashed it against the wall and flipped some money down on the stage. He told the manager to get a few stools because he would need them! As I remember it that event which led to Sam being banned from the club for awhile and the infamous “crucifixion for comedy” incident.

At times I think he wanted people to hate him, it was good for business! He would antagonize those who protested his antics and language. He demeaned women onstage because he knew how it enraged NOW and other feminist groups. They would scream about it and the tickets to Sam’s shows became the hottest around. Some of his most famous bits sent howls of through the gay community even back then. His famous “Rock Hudson” bit where he imitated Mr. Hudson performing numerous acts of filatio and then regretting the last one which Sam imagined gave him AIDS was universally panned by the politically correct even back then. 

If Sam were starting today would he have a chance? You know it! Genius is a hard thing to stifle and Sam was a comic genius. Sam also would have succeeded today because back in the eighties he was already aware that those who presumed to speak for “the masses” were usually out of touch. He never worried about what people thought of him. He spoke his mind and used words he knew his audience would understand. As I am traveling today I am imagining what Sam would have to say about the TSA and enhanced pat downs. I would give just about anything to watch him go through an airport today and “engage” the security. That would be national news.


The Vast Right Wing Conspiracy: The Dilemma’s Dilemma

November 15, 2010

 

The movie “The Dilemma” isn’t going to be released until January but is already generating big press. In case you haven’t heard in an early trailer for the film one of the stars, Vince Vaughn, who plays an auto designer, says,

“Ladies and gentlemen, electric cars are gay. I mean, not ‘homosexual’ gay, but, you know, ‘my parents are chaperoning the dance’ gay.”

Even though Universal withdrew the trailer after protests director Ron Howard say he will keep the line in the film. Now more protests are threatened unless the joke is cut from the movie. This line has sent gay activists into a tizzy and has now made any reference to “gay” in a humorous way the moral equivalent of carrying Mein Kampf into a synagogue. One gay activist is quoted as saying the joke promotes “hate and homophobia.” Ellen DeGeneres and Anderson Cooper say it is a form of bullying. Mr. Cooper of CNN has said, “We’ve got to do something to make those words unacceptable ’cause those words are hurting kids!” Good for you, Andy! I am sure that you will be apologizing to all of the Tea Party activists you giggling called “tea baggers” indirectly calling them “gay” now that you have seen the light.

I am sure the people at GLAAD would have come down on Mr. Cooper and Bill Maher had they realized what they were saying. They were probably just really busy for a year or so and missed that “joke” all over TV and the internet. Thankfully the folks from GLAAD have finally spoken up and are trying to end “gay” jokes! I say “bravo,” it’s about time to end all of this “attack” humor!  

We have to take a stand and stop letting comedy and comedians offend people. Let’s get a whole list of banned words and topics together. Let’s see, we have the granddaddy of all banned word, a word so bad we can’t even print it we can only refer to it as, “the ‘N’ word.” Then we have the “f” word and I have to be honest I don’t know if that is “fag” or “fuck”.  We also have another contender for the “f” word, “fat.” As someone who has struggled with a weight problem all of my life I find any reference to “fat” in jokes offensive! In fact I find those “phat” references offensive too! Would “fag” be any less offensive to gay people if it were spelled “phag?” So let’s knock off the fat jokes. I am sure thin people find jokes about being skinny hurtful as well so they are o-u-t! Short, tall, unattractive, blond and any other reference to any appearance feature must be banned as well.

Then we have the “r” word. We wouldn’t want and actor calling an electric car “retarded” now would we? Jokes about people with or any reference to any type of limited abilities are now forbidden! We also need to be sensitive to how smart people are portrayed so jokes about geeks, nerds and dweebs are banned! As a Southerner and hillbilly let’s put an end to all of those hurtful references to how stupid people are in the south. No more NASCAR or incest jokes. Then too, we will have to agree to stop making jokes about New Yorkers and folks from Jersey. No jokes about California or its “dude” culture. In fact let’s just stop jokes about where people or from or how they behave!

I think it goes without saying that any ethnic reference is gone! Outlawed too is making fun of people’s religion, politics or educational background. No reference in any joke will be made to a person’s economic status. This can be hurtful no matter how much or how little a person has. Did I miss anything? Age? No “Geezer” jokes. Relationships? Off limits! No jokes about anything!   

A long time ago I was doing as TV show and had a joke about Daylight Savings Time and how in Indiana they didn’t observe it. “The days are boring enough without being any longer,” was the punch line. The producer asked me to cut the joke because it might offend someone in Indiana!  I told him that every joke offends somebody and if he could tell me a joke that didn’t I would cut the line without complaint. I got to do the joke.

As a comedian I know two things for sure; there is no such thing as a victimless joke and everything offends somebody. That is the whole point of comedy. Comedy is supposed to make fun of something. Great comedy makes us uneasy and makes us question are assumptions. Paraphrasing Twain, we are supposed to make hamburgers out of someone’s sacred cow. Once we start saying, “You can make fun of everything except…. (Insert your favorite set aside here) or “You can use any language you like except… (Insert any word that could possibly offend anyone here) it isn’t only the end of comedy it’s the end of free speech.


The Vast Right Wing Conspiacy: Patton!

November 10, 2010

November 11th is Veterans Day and I will be doing three things. I am calling my Great Uncle Art today to say thanks for his service. I will also call my older brother to say the same thing. Then I will sit down with my son to watch my favorite war movie, Patton. The film has been called by many who served with one of America’s greatest military men an accurate depiction of the general and of the war.

The opening of the movie, if you have never seen it is one of the finest in cinematic history. George C. Scott stands in front of a huge American flag and delivers a sanitized and edited version of Patton’s speech to the Third Army. Inspiring and angry the original speech was filled with profanities which the film’s producers felt were too harsh for the 70’s American film audiences. By today’s standards it would seem quite mild. The scene shows the power of Scott’s acting talent. Alone on a stage he captivates the audience with the power of his acting and voice.  Other lines from the original speech are used through the movie like when asked where he was going Scott, as Patton, says he is on his way to Berlin to personally, “Shoot that paper hanging son-of-a-bitch.”

Another thing the film shows is that political correctness is not a modern invention. Patton, who never played it safe or minced words, was removed from command for slapping a soldier whom he thought to be a coward. It can be argued that this may have cost American lives. Patton wasn’t one to learn a lesson or be intimidated. Later politically intemperate remarks about continuing his campaign to Moscow landed him in further trouble.

Scott may have been the perfect actor to play the General as he was also mercurial and often unpredictable. He refused the Best Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of General Patton. This was not part of some seventies anti-war or anti-establishment protest. He had earlier refused his nomination for his role in the movie “The Hustler.”  Scoot thought the Academy Awards to be a competition and thought his craft above that.

The movie also was one of the first to show the behind the scenes rivalry between Patton and English General Montgomery and the political divides inside the Allied Forces in World War II.


The Vast Right Wing Conspiracy: My Favorite Halloween

November 2, 2010

I grew up in a small town in eastern Kentucky. The world was different then, more innocent. It was still three weeks until JFK was shot. We were in Viet Nam but only as advisors. Nobody had ever hijacked an airplane; suicide bombed a pizza parlor, or asked what the meaning of “is” was. Parents weren’t as worried about perverts and molesters as they are today. We used to go trick-or-treating alone for hours covering many neighborhoods.  There was one house, however, that never got a visit from a ghost or pirate. That was the old white house on the corner of our street. It sat way back off the street in a grove of huge dark pines. The house and the yard were not kept up very well. All of the neighborhood kids told stories about the old guy who lived there. The commonly agreed upon story was that he was an ax murderer. We all believed that he had ax murdered his wife and was just waiting for his next victim to come knocking.

This particular Halloween I was nine years old. Me, my older brother and two of our friends had gone out earlier and had made quite a hull. The four of us were returning to Iroquois Avenue with our pillowcases full of candy. We stopped under the street light out in front of the old white house at the corner. We looked at bags of candy corn and sweet tarts. Then we all turned and looked at the white house. The pale blue light of a television illuminated one window far off in the trees. Suddenly my brother started walking towards the three cement steps which led to the long sidewalk and into the pines. 

“Don’t do it” we cried!  “He’ll chop you up.”

All we could hear was the sound of my brother’s shoes on the sidewalk and then a knock on the door from the darkness. The door creaked open and the old man’s voice floated through the night air.

“ Wha do you wan?”

“Trick or treat!”

There was silence and then the screen door opened and shut, followed by footsteps from dark which got quicker as they got closer. My brother broke out of the trees and into the halo of the street light. He opened his pillowcase and on top of his candy was a five dollar bill! I could not get to the door fast enough. I pounded the door and the old man answered.

“ Wha do you wan?” he rasped as the strange smell on his breath wafted over me.

“Trick or treat!”

He walked away from the door and into a back room. He returned in a few seconds and I opened my bag. I ran down the path and into the light. I opened my bag and there on top of my candy was a tomato!

When we got a little older we learned that the old man wasn’t an ax murderer but an alcoholic. His wife had died some years before and he had found what comfort he could in the bottle. The yard, the garden and the house didn’t matter to him any longer.

That night, I never did figure it out. Was he just drunk and giving out whatever came to mind at the moment?  Or was it part of his plan. To the first kid brave enough to come to the door, five dollars! To the next greedy punk, a tomato!