If you want to be offensive be funny, not lazy

I first heard of Andy Ihnatko when I saw him on Robert Llewellyn’s Carpool.  By way of introduction, here’s the episode. 

I started listening to the Ihnakto Almanac podcast soon afterwards.  His topics range from comics, movies, culture to technology and back again.  I’m not interested on all of those subjects, but as I look back over the 68 podcast titles I now realise that I’ve been greatly influenced by his suggestions and I’m not even a comic book guy (more of a manga otaku).  So far he has apparently influenced me to do the following actions:

  1. Bought Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs
  2. Watched Hugo in 3D (I never go to the cinema.  Last film was Death at a Funeral, original not remake)
  3. Supported my local comic book store (Of course I’d support Dee’s)
  4. Bought Stan Sakai’s 47 Ronin… and wondered why comic books are so short!
  5. Considered buying The Big Bang Theory box set.  (Channel 9 makes every one of their programs so uninviting on the promos that I’d not considered it worth watching.  My PeopleMeter records and pristine remote control button will attest to that channel not featuring in my TV viewing.)
  6. Looked for an old DVD of Ground-hog Day
  7. And finally, while listening to the podcast, bought Jonathan Coulton’s rendition of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby Got Back from iTunes to cock a snoot at his being ripped off by Glee and Fox.

If he calls for revolution, I’m not sure what I’m going to do!

Who thinks Family Guy stinks?

In his podcast No.67 God Is Great, Markdown Is Okay, “Family Guy” Stinks Andy let fly on the lazy humour of Family Guy.  Listen from 15:40 “Stephen Freeman…” and the next 20 minutes.  Andy explained why he stopped watching Family Guy and why it is racist, sexist and advocates violence against women and children.

In the spirit of his increasing influence on my life (spooky!) his rant made me think about the humour that I like and why.  A lot of the comedy I like is edgy.  Why do I like Harry Enfield when he says “Women!  Know Your Limits!” but shudder at early Eddie Murphy (as even Eddie Murphy does these days) that is vaguely similar?  Why do I laugh uncontrollably at the torrent of filth that is Derek and Clive?  When Ricky Gervais defends the duo by saying, “Contrary to popular belief, swearing is both big and clever” is that justification enough?

Regular readers will know that I’m no shrinking violet when it comes to writing letters of complaint about offensive comedy. So I decided to comment (not complain) to some guy who does a podcast while thinking about why what I like might be offensive and OK at the same time…

#67 and Family Guy

[edited a bit to add videos and links and fix sppeling]

I’m with you to a point. I too can take only so much of Family Guy. When South Park deduced that Family Guy was written by manatees in a tank fill of balls, in which no subject no matter how pointless could be avoided, it was right.

But if comedians aren’t lazy, then edgy material can be very funny.  Apropos of Peter beating up Lucy being lazy and seriously unfunny… the funniest fight scene between a man and a woman is in The IT Crowd Series 3 Episode 4 “The Speech” when April (who used to be a man) and Douglas (who thought April said that she was “from Iran”). Their brawl is so violent that they destroy “the Internet”.  That, or the sex scene in “The Tall Guy”.

There’s lots of humour that is not racist when taken in context. Racial, but not racist. Dave Chappelle’s comedy is racial in context, but not racist. He uses stereotypes and “edgy” material to help us in the audience think and talk about the issues.  Or just laugh.

“Stereotypes are a real time-saver” – The Onion

Hung Le is a Vietnamese-Australian (you know… dreadlocks, plays the violin http://www.hungle.com.au/ ) who is also racial. He is self-deprecating (like most Australian comedians) but not self-degrading.  Both Dave and Hung exploit our knowledge of stereotypes to make their gags work, but they’re not inviting us to think of them as bound by those stereotypes. I’m guessing that a doctrinaire racist would not find their humour funny because it is more empowering than degrading.

“How do you know when your house has been burgled by a Vietnamese person? Your dog is missing and all of your homework has been done.” – Hung Le

Adam Hills was born without a right foot and does a mean impersonation of the T-1000 Terminator in the liquid nitrogen.  He’s has been around for a while but his coverage of the 2012 London Paralympics on “The Last Leg” has broken down a lot of barriers. (Arguably, the “Meet the Superhumans” advertising campaign for the Paralympics and then the Paralympics did the heavy-lifting first and then The Last Leg hoped through the rubble.)

Years ago he joked to some maimed veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq that ‘…[your country] is going to have the best Paralympic team in 2012!”, to which some “normals” overreacted.  But the soldiers themselves shared his view and some even looked forward to competing.  The Last Leg was sometimes awkward to watch, but was always funny.

“What an amazing country Canada is. They’re bilingual, they have same-sex marriages and they have Braille on their banknotes. Canada is the only country in which two blind French lesbians can get married and pay for it in cash.” – Adam Hills

Watch Monty Python or The Goodies or the Q series from Spkie Milligan for a lesson in how not to write for female characters. Funny shows, but their humour was of a very different time. Sexism by omission? Can we defend the élite to make such jokes?

Apparently, yes. Derek and Clive (Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) were unremittingly offensive. When an older brother or older friend played you a tape of “The Horn” your mind was blown by inconceivably offensive material delivered by seemingly well-educated people.  What other comedians would use the phrase “wandered out of the Garden of Gethsemane” in a dirty joke? Even some “right-on” and “alternative” comedians are like the rest of us in awe of their special brand of tasteless material covered in bits of sick.

CLIVE: No, no it said, “And lo! Jesus suddenly got the horn and wandered out of the Garden of Gethsemane and f….d himself stupid for twenty-eight years.” And that bit got left out ’cause, erm, I think it was Matthew thought it would be a bad idea, bad for the image. – Peter Cook

Back to Family Guy… I agree that it is lazy comedy. It’s like that time I thought that I was asking Princess Di “when is it due?” when I was actually talking to Mother Teresa.

I’ll say it… “Ted” was a not a conventional rom-com, but it was a good-hearted movie.  Seth MacFarlane can write good female characters.  There… he doesn’t have to be lazy. I even watched Ted again as the recent unpleasantness unfolded after the Boston Marathon as an odd form of tribute to the spirit of the city and its people.  (And because I don’t have Good Will Hunting on DVD.)

It is possible to be edgy, challenging and confronting and still be funny.  Not everyone will find it funny and some may be offended.  In the same way that your maiden aunt may laugh at a dirty joke that is funny and not laugh at a dirty joke that is just dirty.

And if nothing else, the paradox of Family Guy and similar programs on Fox and Fox News proves something about my erstwhile compatriot Rupert Murdoch… he’s in it for the money.

I’m not quite sure what to make of Sarah Silverman though…

Worthy of a response

This morning I downloaded Dr Karl’s Science talkback and The Ihnatko Almanac No. 68 Palpatine as Your Role Model over 3G; I’d forgot to sync while I was in Wi-Fi.  I even tried waiting at my back fence to hope for some signal before the morning bus came.

On the way home I heard my letter mentioned.  Listen from 50:40.  I got home and sure enough, there’s the email Andy sent to me.

So I thought, I’d better write a blog post about this.  Because that’s what Andy said I should do.

Let’s give Adam Hills the last word.