Cranky co­me­di­ans

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION - By Nathan Rabin Nathan Rabin is a free­lance writer, the for­mer head writer of the A.V. Club and the au­thor of four books, most re­cently “You Don’t Know Me but You Don’t Like Me.”

On his pod­cast, co­me­dian Todd Glass re­cently ad­dressed the ar­gu­ment that the po­lit­i­cally cor­rect thought-con­trol po­lice would have de­stroyed the ca­reer of his icon Ge­orge Car­lin. Glass coun­tered that if Car­lin were alive to­day, he would have evolved with the times in­stead of hold­ing on to the lan­guage of the past.

That’s not ter­ri­bly re­al­is­tic. If Jerry Se­in­feld and Bill Ma­her’s now-fre­quent out­bursts are any in­di­ca­tion, great co­me­di­ans are no bet­ter than any­one else at adapt­ing to shift­ing mores.

Se­in­feld made head­lines re­cently be­cause he said he was no longer will­ing to play col­lege cam­puses, which he said felt stif ling be­cause mod­ern stu­dents are too po­lit­i­cally cor­rect. On “Late Night With Seth Mey­ers” last week, Se­in­feld men­tioned one joke in par­tic­u­lar that doesn’t f ly any­more — about how the hand ges­tures re­quired to ma­nip­u­late a smart­phone make iPhone users look like gay French kings.

“I did this line re­cently in front of an au­di­ence — com­edy is where you can kind of feel, like, an opin­ion — and they thought, ‘What do you mean, gay? What are you talk­ing about gay?’... And I thought, ‘Are you kid­ding me?’”

Ma­her has been on a sim­i­lar tear. On “Real Time With Bill Ma­her” this month, he re­ferred to Cait­lyn Jen­ner as a “he” and then pat­ted him­self on the back for be­ing bold enough to taunt the “pro­noun po­lice.”

Both co­me­di­ans seem to think they are tak­ing stands against op­pres­sive touch­i­ness, but when I watch them rant, I think of old men yelling at kids to get off their front lawns. They see that their jokes don’t get the re­sponses they once did, but in­stead of blam­ing them­selves, they blame the world.

In an in­ter­view with ESPN Ra­dio, Se­in­feld talked about his wife telling their 14-year-old daugh­ter that, in the years ahead, she might want to spend more time in the city so she can “see boys.” The daugh­ter re­sponded that her mother’s as­sump­tion was sex­ist.

It’s telling that Se­in­feld didn’t ask his daugh­ter why such a com­ment was sex­ist but in­stead de­cided that she “just wanted” to use words such as “racist,” “sex­ist” and “prej­u­dice.” With­out both­er­ing to ex­plore his daugh­ter’s think­ing, Se­in­feld de­cided that kids her age “don’t know what they’re talk­ing about.”

There is no healthy ex­change of ideas in the scene Se­in­feld de­scribed, no de­bate. The mom is sex­ist. The daugh­ter and her friends don’t know what they’re talk­ing about. Noth­ing is learned; no­body’s mind is opened. It’s like an episode of “Se­in­feld.” Or maybe an episode of “Leave It to Beaver.” Se­in­feld’s lament boils down to: “Kids these days!”

Se­in­feld be­lieves his com­edy is apo­lit­i­cal — that his ob­ser­va­tional style ex­ists out­side the left­right spec­trum. And he clearly re­sents young peo­ple try­ing to im­pose their own con­cep­tions of prej­u­dice where he feels they do not be­long.

Ma­her, in sharp con­trast, sees ev­ery­thing through the lens of pol­i­tics, but de­spite bas­ing his ca­reer on ex­press­ing strong opin­ions in a de­bate-style for­mat, he seems in­creas­ingly un­in­ter­ested in other peo­ple’s ideas.

On his show over the week­end, he com­plained, “I used to fight with this au­di­ence all the time, be­cause we used to get the au­di­ence strictly from lib­eral sources; then we got the au­di­ence like from ev­ery­where and I’ve had a much bet­ter time the last cou­ple of months.”

His point, es­sen­tially, was that he used to have to deal with an au­di­ence that dis­agreed with him and pushed back; he has solved that sup­posed prob­lem.

Se­in­feld and Ma­her are per­haps as un­com­fort­able with mod­ern main­stream sen­si­tiv­i­ties as with the mod­ern ex­pec­ta­tion of in­ter­ac­tion be­tween an en­ter­tainer and the au­di­ence. Both men came up in a vastly dif­fer­ent com­edy en­vi­ron­ment than the one that ex­ists now, in which the main peo­ple they had to an­swer to were book­ers at clubs and tele­vi­sion shows (and those book­ers were over­whelm­ingly white, male and het­ero­sex­ual).

But now ev­ery­one with a Twit­ter or Face­book ac­count has a voice, at least in the­ory. If a teenager thinks Se­in­feld is out of line when he im­i­tates stereo­typ­i­cally gay hand ges­tures, he can try to rally peo­ple to his side.

The co­me­dian Pat­ton Oswalt is a coun­terex­am­ple to Se­in­feld and Ma­her. He has em­braced Twit­ter and so­cial media both as a medium for jokes and opin­ion but also as a fo­rum for healthy de­bate. He is an eter­nal stu­dent of cul­ture who has made a point of learn­ing and grow­ing as an artist and a fan.

Con­tem­po­rary com­edy of­ten takes the form of a con­ver­sa­tion rather than a one-way ex­pres­sion of ideas and in­for­ma­tion, and cranky older co­me­di­ans who opt out of this di­a­logue risk be­com­ing relics of an ear­lier era.

Dou­glas Goren­stein NBC

LONG-TIME per­form­ers Bill Ma­her and Jerry Se­in­feld have re­cently spo­ken out against po­lit­i­cal correctness.

Jeff Daly Invision / AP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.