Sunday, May 4, 2014

TV criticism

I did not much like the fat-shaming (Christie), gay-shaming (Graham), and Botox-shaming (Pelosi) in Joel McHale's routine, or in general the lazy dependence on celebrity names (Biden, Kardashian) as a substitute for jokes that has largely taken over the whole field of standup in the last couple of decades (including of course Maureen Dowd's [jump]
column in the Times, though I have no evidence she actually writes it standing up). And there was something about the delivery that sounded as if he were really just using the occasion to try out material he was hoping to use in a more important gig, although I hear from TV watchers that in fact that's a part of his regular persona, to make a troll face at the audience after a particularly weak line ("U mad bro?")—suggesting that it's our mistake rather than his: It's just so not edgy on our part that we expect all the jokes to make us laugh instead of appreciating their formal qualities, like fashion yahoos who are less concerned with the social criticism of the clothes than whether they look nice, and that a really hip audience somewhere else will understand better what he's up to.

That said, there was a lot of stuff to admire, including a well-taken jab riffing off the president's wit:
"My favorite was when you said you’d close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay," McHale said. "That was hilarious… hilarious."
I thought he hit some of the sophistication he was aiming at when he turned a (needed) apology for the Christie fat jokes into a much more trenchant and funny series of gags on Christie's memorably dreadful January 9 press conference, though like the press conference it went on longer than it should have:
I am sorry for that joke, Governor Christie. I  did not know I was going to tell it, but I take full responsibility for it. Whoever wrote it will be fired. But the buck stops here. So I will be a man and own up to it just as soon as I get to the bottom of how it happened because I was unaware it happened until just now. I am appointing a blue-ribbon commission of me to investigate the joke I just told. And if I find any wrongdoing on my part, I assure you I will be dealt with. I just looked into it. It turns out I am not responsible for it. Justice has been served.
He was kind of funny on the subject of CNN, though Obama's joke was much funnier and better pointed:
I am happy to be here, even though I am a little jet-lagged from my trip to Malaysia -- the lengths we have to go to get CNN coverage these days! ... I think they're still searching for their table.
The president was also very funny and sharp on the subject of Rand Paul and his short friendship with the millionaire welfare sponge Cliven Bundy:
"I haven't seen somebody pull a '180' that fast since Rand Paul dis-invited that Nevada rancher from this dinner."

"As a general rule, things don't like end well if the sentence starts, 'let me tell you something I know about the Negro.' You don't really need to hear the rest of it. Just a tip for you -- don't start your sentence that way."
Obama has a kind of audience-trolling tic too, but he uses it in a different way, in a sort of innocent wonder at how cool he's just been—"Whoa, did I really say that?"—and it's endearing. On the more philosophical issues raised by the White House Correspondents' Dinner, I refer readers back to my piece on last year's edition.

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.

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