I’m PC’d Off !!

Rick at Radio Station 3

 

There has been a lot of talk the past few years about comedians not wanting to perform on college campuses because they feel that their audiences are way too sensitive about political correctness.

In an interview last year, Jerry Seinfeld said: “A lot of people tell me, ‘Don’t go near colleges, they’re so PC.”

Responding to criticisms about the lack of diversity on his show “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” he said: “This really makes me angry.  People think it’s the census or something; it’s gotta represent the actual pie chart of America.  I have no interest in gender or race or anything like that.  To me, it’s anti-comedy.  It’s more about PC nonsense, than are you making us laugh or not.”

In an interview in New York Magazine, Chris Rock said he stopped playing colleges because they are too conservative in their social views and “their willingness not to offend anybody.”

Universities and colleges across the country have been at this for years. Speakers with the“incorrect” point of view are shouted down or “uninvited” from engagements.

Importantly, the PC controversy is not about language; it’s about content.

Gilbert Gottfried noted: “Imagine if the most brilliant comedians in history were working today.  They’d never stop apologizing.  Charlie Chaplin would have to apologize to all the homeless people because of his Little Tramp character.  W.C. Fields would have to apologize to alcoholics. The Marx brothers would have to apologize to mutes.”

It’s the responsibility of comedians to make fun of things; to engage in sacred cow tipping. By being politically correct,you’re closing your mind to a different point of view.  I hate to think that someday laughter and harmless fun will be as prohibited as dancing was in that town in “Footloose.”

Two very funny and talented friends of mine performed for students at a prestigious liberal arts college last year and each of them told me how unresponsive the audience was to much of their material regarding topics such as religion,politics and sex, because it was considered to be politically incorrect.

How attitudes have changed! The comic anarchy of Marx Brothers’ films enjoyed a resurgence on college campuses thanks to film retrospectives in the late 1960s.  At a time of student unrest and campus protests, it’s easy to see why their irreverent humor, attacking authority figures, would connect with that age group.  Duck Soup satirized nationalism. In Horse Feathers, Groucho is the president of a university who displays a cavalier attitude toward education.

In a Salon interview last year, Patton Oswalt said it bothered him that “the liberal progressives have now become the scolds. We were the Grouchos!…and we’re turning into the Margaret Dumonts on a lot of levels.  That lets the misogynists and homophobes and racists seem like the rebels.”

And, as he put it, “Comedians have always been the best conduit to the forgotten, to the outsiders, to the inarticulate. We speak for the underdogs, for the most part.  That’s what most comedians do.”

I think political correctness has been sorely misused over the years.  People who want great literature such as Huckleberry Finn and To Kill A Mockingbird banned from schools and libraries because of racial slurs are missing the point of the stories.

Carlin was the master of “sociological” comedy; shining a spotlight on the hypocrisies in human behavior.  He warned about the greater threat to free speech: “Years ago, we all got to expect that censorship would come from the right wing, but to expect it from the left wing — from the politically correct people on the campuses — that caught me by surprise.”

Entertainers have been battling political correctness for many years.  The Motion Picture Production Code, (known as the Hays Code) started enforcing a set of rules governing American filmmaking in 1934 , stifling American cinema for over three decades.  Citing that that no picture should ever”lower the moral standards of those who see it” Among many prohibitions, it stated that seduction is never the proper subject for comedy.

It prohibited interracial romance, revenge plots, and the showing of a crime method clearly enough that it might be imitated.  Under those limitations,most everything that Shakespeare wrote would have been banned.

For some paradoxical reason, jokes tailored for certain groups often don’t get laughs from these assemblages even though they are more likely to “get” the jokes.

For example,religious jokes don’t go over well in certain church groups. People who could actually understand a punchline that involves Deuteronomy immediately express horror, shock, and ire at the mere mention in a comic set-up of God, Jesus, Catholics, the Pope, Original Sin, Gosh Darn, Jeezum Crow, or “what’s the deal with the communion wafers?”

My comedy routines are clean.  There is more bad language in the average confessional than in my act, but I have encountered opposition with some of my topics.

I performed at an institution of higher learning earlier this year and, although most of my set was very well-received, when I went into a routine that involved religion,it was like the air was suddenly sucked out of the room.

People want to replace “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays,” but think nothing of shopping for a month or more in “celebration” of their respective holy day.  After all, nothing says “Happy Birthday,Jesus” like a gift from Victoria’s Secret.

With the Christmas shopping season already upon us, should the stores caution their Santas to say “Ha, Ha, Ha” instead of Ho, Ho, Ho?  Perhaps “Don we now our jolly apparel?”

In the 1977 movie Oh, God!, George Burns, portraying God, delivered an apt quote from the French satirist Voltaire:  “God is a comedian playing to an audience that’s afraid to laugh.”

 

The Jest Wing

Rick at Radio Station 3

 

In the 2006 film Man of the Year, Robin Williams plays the comedic host of a political talk show (ala Jon Stewart) who runs for President of the US as an independent candidate and gets just enough votes to win.

Why not?   Americans can always use the laughter that a good comedian can provide.   Besides, it would be difficult for a foreign dignitary to be argumentative during a UN General Assembly meeting if the POTUS was making him laugh so hard that milk was spurting out of his nose.

President Obama will soon be vacating the White House and we will be losing the first president that was the funniest person at any White House Correspondents Dinner. He has comic timing that Jack Benny would have admired. And he certainly has learned how to deal with hecklers: “Is this an audience or a Congressional session?”

In the 1940 presidential election, Franklin Roosevelt, in addition to Wendell Willkie, had a comedic challenger: comedienne Gracie Allen.

Gracie and her husband, George Burns, were one of the most successful comedy teams on radio. Gracie was an intelligent woman who excelled at playing dumb with fractured logic and word play. As a publicity stunt for the Burns and Allen Show, she announced on their radio program in March of 1940 that she was going to run for the presidency as the candidate of a new third party, the “Surprise Party.”

When Gracie entered the race she said that she’d been laughing at presidential candidates for years and so decided she should run herself.

As part of the campaign, Allen wrote a short book, “How to Become President” in which she had speech templates such as: “How glorious it is to be here among my friends, for you are my friends, at least until the election, in this fair city of ______, the garden spot of the great ______ (APPLAUSE)

It seems that many modern politicians have taken a page from Gracie’s book. She offered useful advice such as: “If your opponent looks too honest call him a visionary. And if he smarter than you, you can work wonders with such things as ‘crafty’ and ‘clever.’

Gracie was the only candidate to encourage the American people to take pride in our national debt, boasting that “it’s the biggest in the world.”

Although it had been conceived as a radio gimmick, her campaign quickly took on a life of its own. The Union Pacific Railroad, which was assisting in the annual celebration of Golden Spikes Day in Omaha, Nebraska that May, offered to provide a campaign train for Gracie so she could make a whistle-stop tour, and Omaha volunteered to host her nominating convention.

Shortly after, she was invited by Eleanor Roosevelt to appear at the Women’s National Press Club in Washington D.C. as guest of honor, and she used the occasion to announce the Surprise Party convention.

Between Hollywood and Omaha the Allen campaign train made more than thirty stops, including Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, and Denver.

Thousands of enthusiastic fans showed up at the nominating convention at Creighton University on May 17 to unanimously nominate Gracie Allen for president of the United States. She told them she didn’t want a vice-presidential running mate because she didn’t want any vice on the ticket.

Gracie even received the endorsement of Harvard University, which was quite a coup considering that Roosevelt was an alumnus of the school.

In addition to receiving several thousand write-in votes on Election Day, Gracie Allen did win an election that year. The citizens of Menominee, Michigan elected her mayor, although she had to decline the post because she was a non-resident..

Before there was Colbert or Stewart, there was Pat Paulsen. Paulsen, the doleful-looking comedian who ran several tongue-in-cheek races for the Presidency, was a regular on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour starting in 1967. On the show , he delivered double-talk editorials on issues of the day which prompted the Smothers Brothers to suggest that he launch a satirical presidential campaign in 1968.   He subsequently became a household name by announcing his candidacy under the Straight Talking American Government (STAG) Party ticket.

The joke took on a life of its own, as he campaigned in one election after another, with commentary such as: “All the problems we face in the United States today can be traced to an unenlightened immigration policy on the part of the American Indian.”

Paulsen’s campaigns were rooted in comedy, although never lacking serious commentary. He used the theoretical campaigns to attack the double-talk of political candidates. Responding to questions on social issues he responded: “To get to the meat of the matter, I will come right to the point, and take note of the fact that the heart of the issue in the final analysis escapes me.”

Although he shared his thoughts with a dry, deadpan delivery, his observations were insightful.   During the 1972 campaign he said: ”The fault lies not with the individual but with the system, and that system is Richard Nixon.”

Commenting on Bob Dole’s proposal to cut taxes by 15 percent, he said: ”I think we should just tip the Government if it does a good job. Fifteen percent is the standard tip, isn’t it? If they don’t do a good job, give them less.”

In 1992 he beat out Ross Perot to come in second to George Bush in the North Dakota Republican Primary. In that year’s primaries he received a total of 10,984 votes.

In the 1996 New Hampshire primary Paulsen received 1,007 votes, finishing second to President Clinton’s 77,797 and beating out all 19 of the other Democratic fringe candidates.

Despite the fame it brought him, he later had second thoughts about his 1968 campaign because the election was so extremely close. Although he ran the campaign as a jest, he actually ended up with about one percent of the vote. He regretted it because the votes acquired by him might have otherwise gone to Hubert Humphrey.”

Paulsen received the International Platform Association’s Mark Twain Award for his outstanding contributions to topical humor. A fitting honor, as the author, whose humor took many a scathing stab at government, once noted that political morals “are not merely food for laughter, they are an entire banquet.”

 

The Comedy of Terrors

Rick at Radio Station 3

 

Ever since socially marginalized arena performers were given a “thumbs down” by emperors, accompanied by ear-piercing cries of “Slay him” from the audience, entertainers have been dealing with hostile crowds; none more than stand-up comedians.

 Jerry Seinfeld tells the story of when, in 1979, while he was onstage at Catch A Rising Star in NYC, a heckler threw a drink glass at him, just missing his head and shattering on the brick wall behind him. Expecting the guy to be escorted out of the club, Seinfeld was surprised when the emcee came up on stage and said “Jerry, come on, let’s go! You gotta get off.” The righteously indignant comic said “Me? I’m not going anywhere!”   The audience supported him, yelling “Throw that guy out. Not Jerry!”

The emcee was insistent and finally Seinfeld, realizing that his set had been ruined anyway, left the stage. The club’s bouncer hustled him outside, where he explained to Seinfeld that the person who threw the glass was a hit man for the mob. Nobody wanted to throw him out, so Seinfeld had to go.

A few months later, Joe Piscopo confronted the same guy from the stage, who ended up grabbing Piscopo and breaking his nose.

Jackie Mason was a comic who often seemed to invite loathing and violence.   In 1964, he was banned from the Ed Sullivan Show after he was accused of giving Sullivan “the finger” when the host, afraid that Mason’s set was running too long, gave him the one-minute signal from offstage.

Veteran comedian Jack Carter knew him very well; his wife, Roxanne, even handled Mason’s publicity for a while; but he didn’t have a high regard for him. “He’s schmucky. He’s nasty with women,” Carter said.

London “Times” writer Philip Collins tells the story about Jackie Mason making a joke in a Vegas club in 1966 about Frank Sinatra’s marriage to the much younger Mia Farrow:

“Mason received a threatening call and three shots through the balcony window of his Vegas hotel. Undeterred, Mason said on stage that he had no idea who fired the shots. All he had heard was someone in the background singing “Doobie, doobie do”. A few weeks later, Mason was attacked and left with a broken cheekbone.”

Carter had his doubts about the hotel shooting: “When he got shot in Vegas – he went out and shot the window out himself. Supposedly someone was shooting at him. He planted the whole thing.”

On another occasion, in Miami, Mason was pulled out of his car and beaten up in a parking lot.   “Everybody wanted to hit him, Carter said. “You gotta stand in line to hate him.”

Often, the vitriol directed at comedians was by other comics.

Actor and comedian Dick Gautier tells of an encounter with Irwin Corey whom he says is “incredibly brilliant and I knew him pretty well, but he is a terrible human being.”

Gautier was sitting in a NYC club with Enrico Banducci, owner of Frisco’s legendary “Hungry I” nightclub, helping him look for some new acts. “Irwin Corey walks in with his manager. His first words were, “What the [expletive] are these guys doing here!  I mean, that’s how we were greeted.” Corey ripped into Gautier, insulting him. “I grabbed him by the lapel, said Gautier, “and I picked him up off the floor. I said, ‘Keep this up and I will throw you out the window.’ There was an open window and I carried him over to it. From then on he’d say, “Hi Dick, how are you?”

 Gautier also had a run-in with Buddy Hackett. Gautier, who had appeared in bit parts on Buddy Hackett’s TV show “Stanley” in 1956, said he was “mean from the ground up.” In 1960, Gautier was starring in the musical “Bye Bye Birdie.” Hackett had just starred in a Broadway show called “Viva Madison Avenue” which had closed after only two performances. When he found out that Gautier, who had been an extra on his TV show, was now the lead in “Birdie” which was getting rave reviews, he was furious. One night, when he crossed paths with Gautier at a restaurant, “He took his keys and he threw them at me,’ said Gautier. “He said, ‘Hey, Dick, bring my car around, would ya!’ I said, “Certainly, Mr. Hackett.” I took the keys and went back to my theater; back to rehearsal. He looked around everywhere for his keys and couldn’t find them. Four hours later he comes storming in, “Where are my [expletive] keys!”

 Hackett not only had a volatile temperament, but he was also an avid gun collector; not a great combination. Hackett once shot out the windows of a car that was parked in his reserved spot at the Sahara Hotel when he was performing there.

 Hackett also seemed to have an ongoing problem locating his car keys. After leaving a Vegas bar one night with Shecky Greene, both drunk, Hackett started insulting him. During their argument, Hackett pulled out a gun. Greene knocked him down on the ground and, putting his foot on his throat said: “If you get up, Buddy – I’m going to kill you.”

He took the gun and Hackett’s car keys, threw them into the desert, and drove away. A few hours later, he gets a phone call from Hackett. ” I said, “Buddy? Where are you?” He said, “I’m in the desert. I’m looking for my car keys. I can get another gun. But I need my car keys.”

 In the early 1930s, Ted Healy, the vaudeville performer who created The Three Stooges, tried to shoot comedian Georgie Jessel backstage at a Chicago theater. He thought that Jessel, who allegedly was the original architect of the hangover cure called a Bloody Mary, had named his concoction after Healy’s girlfriend, wealthy heiress Mary Warburton. A drunken and enraged Healy fired a pistol at Jessel, narrowly missing him. Shortly after, the Stooges, tired of Healy’s violent behavior both on the stage and off, left him and formed their own act.

Too violent for the Stooges?!   I think a lot of their detractors owe the 3 Stooges a big apology.   Dragging a saw across Curley’s head is starting to look like a reasonable approach to a difference of opinion.