Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Not Funny

A comedian can get away with a lot, so long as he is funny.  David Chappelle is now a Muslim terrorist.  I'll bet Dave didn't find that funny, did he?

My stinking hippie brother got his PhD in puppetry.  Pretty silly stuff, but he found a job running a puppet museum making big bucks.  So all you millenials with "liberal arts" degrees - hang in there!  Maybe by the time you are 60, such a job will open up for you.

But as much as I mock my brother, I have learned a lot from him.  And he pointed out that puppets have been used, historically, to say things that people can't get away with saying. The court jester has a puppet that says horrific things about the King - and everyone laughs, because the puppet said it, not a person. The jester would be beheaded if he said these things himself.

Jeff Dunham, who is a "vent" (ventriloquist) has some pretty controversial acts, including Achmed the Dead Terrorist ("I Kill You!") and until recently, a black character named "Sweet Daddy D" who was an unfortunate combination of black stereotypes.  Dunham is a bit to the right, which dispels the notion that only leftists can be funny.  But like any good comedian, he skirts that fine line between what is acceptable and what is outrageous, and then crosses back again before anyone notices.  Maybe "Sweet Daddy D" was a bit too over-the-top in this age of Black Lives Matter.  A black comedian could get away with it - not a white comedian.  Maybe Dave Chappelle can take up venting.  Just a suggestion, Dave!

Dave Chappelle grew up in a white suburb of Washington DC, and went to a mostly white high school and hung out with a lot of white friends.  His comedy has been very popular with white folks who want to be hip, and back in the day, he was kind of funny.  Much of his humor was of the racial variety, and being black (in theory, anyway) he could get away with "crossing the line" and then crossing back - particularly since his white audiences found it funny.  And being a white black man, he wasn't threatening to white audiences.

But he kind of freaked out and disappeared for a while - coming back all puffy-faced like he had been binging on the high-carb institutional food at the mental hospital.  He converted to Islam, got married and had two children, who he named Ibrahim and Suleyman, and now lives in White Bread, Ohio, on a big-ass farm.   And he's gone all conservative on us.  He hasn't strapped on a suicide vest just yet, though. 

Oh, Dave, it was a joke!  Don't you find it funny?  No, it wasn't funny - that's the point.

Not hard to understand - Islam is a pretty conservative religion.  So is Catholicism.  If you want to believe that stuff, you have to move to the right - at least a bit. And his latest "controversy" isn't about his faux blackness or massive pot use, but about some oddball comments he made about "transgender" people - which he has been doing for a long time now, but for some reason it is now just being noticed.

If you read my blog, you'll realize I am just as mystified by the whole thing as Mr. Chappelle is.  I mean, if you want to wear a dress and mutilate your genitals (crosses legs and winces) go right ahead - provided you are over the age of 18 and you don't expect the rest of us to pay for these million-dollar operations.  Asking children what their gender is?  I am not comfortable with that anymore than I am comfortable with encouraging children to "come out" in high school.  This stuff can wait until you are age 18 - there will still be time to figure this all out.

And no, I don't think you are "homophobic" or "transphobic" if you are uncomfortable around gay people or transgender people.   Being around things that are alien to some people can make them anxious - this is a pretty normal reaction.  A lot of people are afraid of clowns.  That doesn't make them horrible people.   Clowns are creepy - which is why they are featured in a number of horror movies.

On the other hand, I don't hate transgender people.  It's a complicated issue, to be sure, but just bashing trans people isn't funny.  And that's the number one rule in comedy you can never, ever break:  Not being funny.

A few years back, Michael Richards, who played "Kramer" on Seinfeld was doing stand-up comedy in California.  Like so many people who were stars on successful television shows, he found it hard to get work, once the show wrapped.  And apparently, his stand-up wasn't all that great.  He was being heckled by some black members of the audience, and he tried to riff off that, but it went horribly wrong. "The white man is speaking!" he said, and someone recorded that with a cell phone and his career was shot.

There is a stand-up comedian out there who makes a thing about skewering hecklers.  I think he even plants fake hecklers in the audience so he can take them down.  It is pretty funny (although tiresome after a while).  I guess if you are a comedian you have two choices when it comes to hecklers - you either drop the mike and leave the stage, or you cleverly skewer them.  Richards did neither.  Instead he committed the ultimate crime a comedian can commit: He wasn't funny.

Racial humor is touchy.  Handled deftly, you can cross that invisible line and make a joke - and make a point - and than race back to the safety zone before anyone realizes what you just did. The best of comedians get away with this.  The worst?  They are no longer comedians.

When it comes to politics, well, that gets touchy too.  I recounted how we went to the Grand Ole Opry the other day, and one of the Gatlin brothers started going off about "cancel culture". It wasn't funny, and we didn't come to see a political pundit - we came for the music.  And granted, Country music can be somewhat conservative, but it is still music.

On the flip side, the "Dixie Chicks" went off on George Bush a few years back, and were roundly criticized by those on the right for their stance, and for politicizing their music.  Lately, they have changed their name to "The Chicks" as they felt "Dixie" was racist.  Kind of pointless, as their career has sort of petered out, but then again, maybe that was the point - to create a news story and get publicity.  Either way, it came across as silly, even if their heart was in the right place.

I hear that the Winn-Dixie grocery chain is changing its name to "Winn" too.  Just kidding.  They are offering a $20 gift card if you get your booster shot, though.  Something to think about.

Chappelle's comments about transgender people may have had some valid points, but the way he presented it, it failed because it wasn't funny - it was just a politcal rant that came across as mean-spirited and not funny, just uncomfortable.  And now Chappelle has doubled-down on the whole thing, just like a Fox News commentator, claiming he is being persecuted and "cancelled" and playing the victim card.

Boy, has he changed!  From suburban race-comic stoner to righteous Islamic political commentator!

And yes, you can go political with humor, although it gets tiring.  George Carlin went all political - as does Bill Maher.  Both get tiresome really fast, as they get all self-righteous and blather on about their political views - and assume everyone agrees with them.  But after a while, it isn't funny.  And again, the only crime you can commit in comedy is not being funny.

Of course, like with the Dixie Chicks, maybe the real reason for the "controversy" is to garner publicity.  Some folks will watch the Chappelle special just to see what the fuss is all about. Others will watch it to be outraged.  Still others will watch it because they are indeed "transphobic" and want to root for "one of us!"   It will be disappointing to the right-wingers when they find out Chappelle has gone all Islamic on them.  Because, you know, Muslims.

The funny thing is, this Netflix special wasn't the first time Chappelle told transgender jokes, or the first time he got flack for it.  In fact, it seems he has gone out of his way to be anti-trans over the years, relishing the fact that he pisses off trans people. Consider this 25-minute-long compilation of Chappelle telling trans jokes and whining about how trans people don't like him:

Maybe he's going to go all Eddie Murphy on us.

It reminds me of an old Eddie Murphy comedy special I saw on Netflix years ago.  Murphy came out on stage in a red leather jumpsuit of sorts and then went off on a rant about how "All you faggots are looking at my ass!" or something along those lines.  Again, it wasn't funny, just uncomfortable.  And for the record, Eddie Murphy is the most unattractive black man on the planet.  And no, he doesn't have a nice ass.

But his jokes about gays came around to bite him on the ass - so to speak - when he was arrested with a transgender prostitute.  He initially tried to claim he was just "giving her a ride" and then claimed he didn't realize he/she was transgender.  But then he finally broke down and admitted he was into it.

So you have to wonder what drives Chappelle.  He seems to be making a "thing" about this transgender deal, for a long, long time, and only just now has he been called out on it.  Perhaps as a black man and a Muslim, he is finding it hard to come to grips with his own urges.

It is unfortunate, but in the black "community" there is this exaggerated sense of machismo, which we see in the "playa" and "gangsta" posturing that is prevalent, for example, in rap music.  So it is doubly hard for black people who are closeted to come out, as the cultural bias is that much stronger.  Not only that, but fundamentalist Baptist is the most common religion among many blacks, so there is a lot of preaching from the pulpit against homosexuality.  Needless to say, that is also the norm among Muslims as well.

But again, I think it is like with the Dixie Chicks - Chappelle's comedy is past its sell-by date.  Comedy, like music, is a young person's game.  The best comics and the best musicians are under 30 - as Chappelle was, in his prime.  You get older and you get off drugs (as Richard Prior and Steve Martin did) and you are no longer funny - just some old guy trying to recapture the lightning.

As they say in the entertainment business - "There's no such thing as bad publicity" and the only thing worse that bad publicity is to be ignored.

Yea, I don't "get" a lot of what this fuss is about transgender people.  I am not sure why some folks feel they need to alter their bodies to try to mimic another gender.  I mean, before this surgery was possible, how did people get by?  There have always been effeminate men and "butch" women and they seemed to do OK in the past - and even thrive.  But I am not sure making a comedic career out of beating up on them is a good idea.

Particularly when it isn't funny.

POST SCRIPT:  Of course, this has turned into a hot-button election issue in the Virginia Governor's race.  It seems that in a Loudon County school, two high school students - a boy and a girl - were meeting in the girl's restroom for sex - consensual sex, at first.  No, that isn't right, but it has nothing to do with transgender people.

Anyway, the boy apparently took it too far, and the girl says she was forced to perform oral sex in the girl's room. The boy was arrested and is being tried for the crime. The uproar is that the County school commissioner didn't expel or suspend the boy, but sent him to another school.

The far-right is posing this as a transgender issue - claiming that "transgender bathrooms" allowed this rape to occur.  But I am not sure that is the case, as no transgender people were involved in this situation.

But it fits a narrative the far-right has been pushing for a long, long time, that transgender people are rapists, and if you let them in the "other" bathroom, they will rape little girls. And some right-wing activists had done dumb things like invading the ladies changing room at the local pool, claiming they "identify" as a woman, when they are clearly an overweight, hairy, and intact, incel.

What Chappelle should realize is that while he acts white, was raised white, and has a largely white audience, he isn't white.  And the people who are coming after the trans people will go after the gays next. Then the Asians, then the Jews.  But the blacks?  They are right up there near the top of the list.

...along with the Muslims.

If his "comedy" turns a few elections, he may live to regret it. Or is he a closet Trump supporter?

Oh, right, he is.

UPDATE:  The big difference between Dave Chappelle and Richard Pryor is that Pryor was willing to engage in some self-depreciating humor, particularly after his freebasing incident ("Pryor on Fire").  Chappelle seems to take himself far too seriously these days, playing the victim card and all, but perhaps this is because of his recent life changes.