LowerManhattanite: "He Hoped He Was Funny...And Failed"
The unfunny *sshole's the one laughing--the comedian's the one thoughfully plotting his grisly murder
Thanks to LowerManhattanite for this great insight into Imus!
I found myself going through a few crates--U-Haul boxes actually, of old vinyl records this past weekend. Gearing up for the big spring ditch-uh...cleaning, the wife likes to see happen every early April. Having worked in radio for many years, I've found myself with duplicates of albums--a necessity for staple recordings because heavy use wears 'em out--but now, as I'm digitizing a lot of my rare and out-of-print vinyl, I can simply digitize these certain recordings and toss the dupes.
I came across the box with all of my classic Richard Pryor albums, and considered for a moment tossing them for space's sake, as I'd a few years ago received the box set of CD's of the albums. And then, like Bugs Bunny, realizing he was swinging a sledgehammer at a live bomb, I practically screamed to myself in utter disbelief, WhadddammIdoin'?" . These were the original dead sea scrolls of comedy! The books of laugh-your-*ss-off Revelations. The original, mother-f*ckin' "word", ya'll. Couldn't toss 'em. The comedy Gods would strike me dead. So, I thumbed through 'em. "Wanted". "Was It Something I Said". I chuckled to myself looking at the "band" titles, and remembering those bits like it was yesterday. And then, I stumbled across the seminal "Craps: After Hours" album from '72. That album was the comedic slap across the face with a glove, challenging the world to a duel it would later lose, Alexander Hamilton-badly to Pryor's nuclear arsenal of comedy perfection. I didn't have this one on CD, so I took it to my computer/audio area to digitize it . Carrying it to the stereo, it wasn't alone. I had pretty much the whole stack of Pryor classics, and took a minute to fan 'em out and look at 'em as I set things up.
I found myself laughing again at the "band" titles. And looking at the back of the brilliant "That N*gger's Crazy", I couldn't help but notice the title of the first track:
"I Hope I'm Funny."
Richard Pryor--at the peak of his comedic powers--and conversely, in the midst of a terrible, years-long bout with substance abuse--still had the self-awareness and humility to at least put that little bit of trepidation out there.
"I HOPE I'm Funny."
Those words stayed in my mind kinda peculiarly. They hung there askew on a hook of irony for me because in the background, I had the radio on, and it was tuned to 660 AM WFAN, the sports radio station. The top sports radio station in the country...and the radio home ...
...of Don Imus.
So those words, "I Hope I'm Funny", rang a little different with me at that moment--and now--from that moment on.
We're having that discussion again--Goddamnit. The one where classism, sexism and basic human respect come down their individual roads and criss-cross at that big 'ol traffic circle called racism--and yeah, crack the f*ck up as usual. The same conversation we had six months ago when Michael Richards floored it, hitting everything in sight and ending up *ss over tea kettle in racism's fountain in the middle. The same conversation where a lot of folks blithely told people "Keep moving...nothing to see here...it's just an accident." A mistake? An accident? Funny, that. Most "accident" scenes boast skid marks--an attempt to at least... stop, from the careening "accidental" offender. No such forensic evidence exists here. It was the usual headlong. pedal-to-the-metal plow, smack into the same old bullsh*t.
But this time--in Imus' case it seems, no mere suspension, querulous-voiced "apology" or duck-away rehab stint is gonna cut it.
Nor should it. And that's a good thing.
'Cause this ain't new sh*t by a mile. As a New Yorker, I've been exposed to Imus' "humor" for thirty-plus years, when he and Howard Stern first showed up at 66 "W-NNNNNNNNNN-B-C!" in the seventies. He and his gang of *ssholes have been doing this for years. Maybe I'm alone in this, but I recall vividly the flap over one of his idiot aide-de-camps--Sid Rosenberg--on Imus' show a few years ago "hilariously" referring to the tennis playing Williams sisters--based on their next-level athletic style of play--as..."animals"...and as being"better suited for National Geographic Magazine than for Playboy". Rosenberg was fired for this--for about two weeks--and then brought back by Imus when he--guess the f*ck what?--made an on-air apology. As former NBA star Derrick Coleman said so perfectly, "Whoop-de-damn-doo." On the show, Rosenberg would later refer to Palestinians as "stinking animals" and that the U.S. "Ought to drop the bomb right there, kill 'em all right now". No suspension for those words. And Imus' producer, the blotchy-faced, half-wit bigot Bernard McGuirk has spewed so much racist sh*t through his "Amos n' Andy"-esque "impersonations" of Maya Angelou, Spike Lee and Ray Nagin, not to mention his own proud wingnut persona, that there's just too much to mention--so just click here for a single recent, heinous sample. It's a daily thing. His job is to play the hyper-bigoted foil to Imus' faux-tut-tutting centrist--all in the guise of in-studio conflict--while still getting that "shockingly funny" sh*t out there. So it's him and Imus we're focused on today.
Let's go over the actual exchange from last week, shall we?
Imus In The Morning Program--April 4th 2007:
IMUS: So, I watched the basketball game last night between -- a little bit of Rutgers and Tennessee, the women's final.
ROSENBERG: Yeah, Tennessee won last night -- seventh championship for [Tennessee coach] Pat Summitt, I-Man. They beat Rutgers by 13 points.
IMUS: That's some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos and --
McGUIRK: Some hard-core hos.
IMUS: That's some nappy-headed hos there. I'm gonna tell you that now, man, that's some -- woo. And the girls from Tennessee, they all look cute, you know, so, like -- kinda like -- I don't know.
McGUIRK: A Spike Lee thing.
McGUIRK: The Jigaboos vs. the Wannabes -- that movie that he had.
IMUS: Yeah, it was a tough --
McCORD: Do The Right Thing.
McGUIRK: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
IMUS: I don't know if I'd have wanted to beat Rutgers or not, but they did, right?
ROSENBERG: It was a tough watch. The more I look at Rutgers, they look exactly like the Toronto Raptors.
IMUS: Well, I guess, yeah.
RUFFINO: Only tougher.
McGUIRK: The [Memphis] Grizzlies would be more appropriate.
Little bit more involved than just the "nappy-headed hos" comment when you read it out, ain't it? They're "hard-core", as in thugs. "Jigaboos", as in hewing to something other than the "pretty white girl" beauty standard. And to cap it all off, they're compared to animals--that old standby for the Imus show--"Grizzly Bears"--to be precise.
Now again...this isn't anything new for Imus and his crew of pointy-hooded sycophants. It's been a three decade-long series of diarrheic blasts of shock-geared bullsh*t (And take special note of the inability to tell the difference between one Spike Lee Movie and another. "School Daze" featured the infamous self-hate spoofing, satirical production number "Good and Bad Hair"--not "Do The Right Thing") from this guy. He'd become something akin to the old, spatter-shirted, muttering, miserly nut down the block that you eventually learn to sorta ignore. If you freaked out every time he randomly tossed a mildewed toilet seat out the attic window, you'd get tired. But imagine now, if you will, that the old nut has a steady stream of influential visitors to his house--a steady stream of powerful visitors sucking up to him. Say the mayor (Joe Lieberman) comes by--followed by the Governor (John McCain)--then the publishers of the town's two big papers (Kurtz and Fineman), et.al. All currying favor with the rich, old nut because in spite of his natterings, he knows people. He's got influence. That's what's so pernicious here. Imus was irrelevant for years until he refashioned himself as a Beltway megaphone. When the bigwigs realized he was "rich"--a.k.a.--a potential asset to be used, his status changed, and thus, his impact as well. Which is why his statements--and the statements on his show, which he did not even mock 'tut-tut" last week, carry the weight that they do. But, hey! As the "I"-Man said to an in-his-face Al Sharpton yesterday, his "agenda was to be funny".
Back to that whole "funny" thang again.
I've written on "funny" here, in dealing with Michael Richard's' wig-out, and on the failures of wingnut-geared comedy efforts in comments elsewhere. , and was ironically enough in the process of writing another one on wingnut comedy in general when this Imus hemorrhoid ruptured before all of our eyes. So I'll fold what I was writing on that into this. I'm no genius...but I know a little about comedy. I've gotten paid to write it for television for years. Performed it on radio, onstage and in the occasional comedy club. And as much an inexact "science" as comedy is--there is some pretty basic sh*t to it. It's rarely "discussed" analytically, because it sorta loses its magic when you deconstruct it. Doing so outside comedy circles is like watching an autopsy. Informative as hell, but clinical and un-fun to witness.
So...I'll try to go about it "Quincy"-style. to make it a little more palatable.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, you are about to enter the most fascinating sphere of yuks, haw-haws and titters--the world of comedic analysis"
What is "funny"? Well, it's a combination of things. The absurd. The sublime. Free-form rambling and...silence. It's a rubber face, and a frozen one all at once. A bold pratfall and a slowly levitating eyebrow. It's speed. A slow burn. Timing. Timing. Timing. It's brains. A quick wit--and simultaneously the idiot's vacant stare and accompanying remark falling from a drooped lip. It's born of pain, raised by anger, wizened through adult exasperation and seasoned by the cynicism of experience. It's the painter's gift--of whipping the verbal brush strokes that create a funny visual for an audience It's the writer/storyteller's gift of connecting, disconnecting and intentionally mis-connecting words that stimulate the collective cerebrum of a ready-to-be-brain-tickled crowd.
It's juggling, knife-tossing, acting, soliloquizing, contorting, debating, whispering and shouting all at f*cking once.
And very, very few people do it well--and too many try it at all. You know the greats and the goods. No need to list the pantheon. So let's look at those who don't make the cut and why. Meanness and viciousness for meanness and viciousness' sake isn't funny. It's an element of funny, but not a basis. Unless it's part of a character you're playing--like Don Rickles' eternally dyspeptic, ugly grump, whose raison d' etré is to metronomically rail at anyone within five feet of him. Rickles' angle was "Zing--then move on. Zing--then move on". Hit any-and-everyone in sight. You laugh at the guy next to you being roasted and then laugh at yourself when your number comes up eventually as the crazy, angry guy locks eyes with you. Meanness and viciousness can be deployed as defensive armor--as in the case of the shooting star that was Sam Kinison at his peak. His venom and ripping was based on who you saw spewing it--a short, fat, ugly little man you'd probably dismiss as a cipher if you saw him bringing your mail or stacking boxes at the supermarket. The eternal underdog. The shlub. His primal scream therapy/schtick worked because he was NOT the homecoming king. He was a nobody giving vent to his desire to not be ignored. It was genius. And fleeting. It became intolerable as soon as he embraced a pseudo-rock star persona. He wasn't a shlub anymore, giving vent. He became the rich, loud-mouthed, spoiled jerk, and that scream went from being celebrated as "rah-rah" to "getthef*ckouttahere" A key part of comedy is identifying with the audience. To be the put upon "everyman". Even Bob Hope, deemed by many to be a pretty good stand-up comedian (though not a great in my mind), made his true comedic mark as a put-upon comic foil to Bing Crosby's above-it-all straight man in the "Road" movies.
They humanized him. You see, his acerbic ripostes got loads more mileage with him in the underdog role.
But meanness and viciousness for its own sake? A non-starter. And when your target becomes the little guy, the low man on the totem pole, because it's easy and cheap--well...that's when you get an Imus situation. Because there's one key thing I left out of the above description of "funny". And that thing is power. Comedy is rooted in power relationships. The boss mocking his underlings is NOT funny. The boss slipping and busting his *ss in the office parking lot IS funny. Why? Because mocking the establishment, the power structure is the REAL taboo. Tweaking "The Man", if you will. Because it's freighted with the danger and excitement of challenging power--in spite of its ability to crush you. Imus' idiocy fell flat for many reasons. One, because it took no thought at all to fall back on silly racist tropes of the stale, old Hottentot Venus and pickaninny variety. Two, it scanned as out-of-the-blue venom, with not a hint of humorous context--just under-the-breath misanthropic invective broadcast out loud. All these women did was lose a championship--as an underdog (that again), and be Black while doing it. Wow. what chortle-worthy fodder. And third...he represents the establishment, the aforementioned power --a.k.a. stodgy old White guys looking down their wrinkled noses and mocking their perceived lessers--namely Blacks and Women. How does he reflect that power? Look at the people who call him "friend" and give him that patina of "gravitas" through their fawning as guests--the likes of Joe Lieberman, Chris Dodd, The Howards--Fineman and Kurtz, Pat Buchanan, John Kerry, Chris Matthews, Tim Russert and of course, Mr. Straight Talk, John McCain. A Beltway insiders' "Who's Who" to beat every band in the joint. Power...f*cking personified. When power laughs, parts of the masses laugh nervously and scattered. When the little guy laughs, his co-horts in the masses laugh comfortably, naturally--and in greater numbers. It also explains the comedic failures of Rush Limbaugh, Dennis Miller and the bed-sh*ts of Fox's "Red Eye" and "The 1/2 Hour News Hour".
Limbaugh identifies with White Power lite...closet Klansmen who don't take heavy starch in their hoods--thank you very much. And as such, his brand of humor is rooted in a faux-populist attachment to the powerful's dream and equality-crushing of the amorphous, non-All American "other". It gets stiff hee-haws from his racist listenership not because it's funny--because as pure humor, it isn't--but because it's racist and fueled by a desire for that audience to feel some sort of kinship with that racist application of power.
Miller fails even more spectacularly because he doesn't even attempt these days to try to mask his running alongside said dream and equality-crushing power. He happily hitched his cart to a runaway train headed straight for end-of-the-line pilings, concrete, and a tank car full of gasoline, post-September 11th. And he fatally wounded an already flagging career--a career flagging due to a Johnny-one-note delivery, well-documented laziness, and an already annoying, smarmy and condescending style. That superior air alone sucked away most of the wind Miller's wit had puffed his meager sails with--but couple it with his proud embrace of an oppressive elite and it dis-masted him and left him adrift--humorless...unctuous...simply a pissy, sniping boor.
In the case of Fox's "Red Eye" and "HHNH" ("Half-Hour News Hour"), the f*ck up is simple. The goofy, sh*t-for-brains boss stand before the employees cracking jokes on the assembled. The only ones laughing are those close to the boss, or currying favor with the boss. Humor based on the power-ful mocking the power-less spawns hollow laughter indeed. It's forced. And mean for meanness' sake. Again, look at the Kinison example. The underdog can afford to be grating and mean as he elicits sympathy. How does one sympathize with a roughshod-running president, naked political hypocrisy, and championing stomping the little guy? Only misanthropes would. And if that's your target audience--You. Are. F*cked.
So, we come back to Imus. "Nappy-headed hos". A multi-car pile-up where classism, sexism and basic human respect come down their individual roads and again. criss-cross at that dangerous traffic circle called racism. But where-oh-where was "teh funny"? Well, looking at the wreck CSI-style, we can suss out this much. He was probably falling back on the humor staple of the anachronism. The supposedly incongruous emanating from the unexpected source. Like the Staples commercial with the office dweebs dancing heartily to Salt n' Pepa's "Push It", or the nerdy arena organist freaking the Funkadelic keyboard part in Nike's "Roswell Rayguns" spot a few years ago. Imus thought it would be cute and ironic for a creepy, old White guy to diss young Black women based on their looks, using stilted ghetto lingo.
Except he forgot one thing. Creepy old White men dissing young Black women is such a part of Americana that it's near impossible to do it ironically. That is, without coming off as...yeah, a creepy, old White guy dissing young Black women based on their looks. How un-common. Non-racist. And gasp!--non-sexist.
Wait. You think I was gonna walk away from this and not deal with this doddering, play-cowboy f*ck's SEXISM on this sh*t? Oh no. Before I take him off the hook, let me tear his f*cking lips and gills out while doing so. Spare me please, the bullsh*t about how "The rappers do it too. He was borrowing from them". The "Michael Richards/Murder On The Orient Express" everybody's guilty excuse not only doesn't wash, but actually further soils matters. "Hos"? Context, if possible please, mother-f*cker? Were the Rutgers girls known to be promiscuous for pay? Reknowned "skanks" in the Paris Hilton mold? What did he know of them other than their being Black women? Is it some twisted holdover from slavery days where Black women were little more than disposable "bed-warmers"--simple sex objects to the moneyed slave-master elite? To be cackled at and sexualized all at the same time? It's the Hottentot Venus all over again. "Nappy-headed"? What the flying f*ck does their Goddamned hair texture have to do with thing the first--unless one is trying to somehow rip at the women because they don't hew to the oh-so-perfect beauty standard that Imus' late-life trophy wife so blondishly projects. How e-gali-f*cking-tarian. What fun it is to try to bring a group of women down--to disparage them just because they don't fit a narrow, silly-f*ck mold of what constitutes womanliness in the eyes of a few shallow, superficial pr*cks. This cuts close to the bone, here. My lawyer sister is a Rutgers Law School Alumni--active in the school post-graduation. My stepson's cousin is a starter for Duke's women's team. We've been to games and socialized with the players--as hard-working a group of student-athletes as I've ever seen--moreso than many I've come across, and that includes professionals .
And I have a daughter. An athletic African American teenaged daughter who's had to contend with the "beauty standard" bullsh*t foisted upon her by society in general. She's one of the few "chips in the cookie" at her school in Jersey and has enough to deal with on that tip. So for a prominent, and influential broadcaster to "jokingly"--ha-ha--call these Black women--who he doesn't even know--at Rutgers "Nappy-headed Hos", is to call my daughter a "Nappy-headed Ho" as well. And that ain't gonna sit well with me...ever. So for the record, f*ck R. Kelly. F*ck Luke from 2 Live Crew. F*ck Rush Limbaugh, and yes indeed Don Imus--f*ck your shriveled old *ss too.
By all means, tout the "beautiful", "blonde" Anna Kournikova as perfection on the tennis courts where she's won as many major tournaments as I have. Um... none, based on her looks alone. Raise to the heavens the equally blonde and "perfect" Maria Sharapova as your onanistic paragon in spite of her comparatively thin winning record--to that of the too-Black-to-be-considered-attractive and feminine, but more talented Williams sisters. Please...objectify these women to your sick, twisted, hateful heart's content. And then beg bullsh*t forgiveness when you overstep as usual and are exposed as the cultural, "Dimus-aur" you are. Quiver in mock-upset. Waver your voice in pretend shame at this week's ugly line-cross. I don't care if you unearth the bodies of PIgmeat Markham, Redd Foxx, and Richard Pryor, somehow re-animate 'em and bring 'em on your show in a weekly token Black comedian segment for penance. You picked on a bunch of girls out of high school a couple of years who just lost the game of their lives while trying to make something out of themselves in this world. So I say again, with gusto and a little extra spittle at you---f*ck your shriveled old *ss--to the second power. You wouldn't know funny if you sat on the toilet, had it crawl outta your *ss, look up between your liver-spotted legs waving a sign saying "Hello...I'm Funny", and then bit you on the nuts while humming the "i'm funny" blues at 115 decibels. Jesus Chocolate Christ--you still use a Richard Nixon impersonator on your show in 2007! F*ck if I can't wait for Bernie McGuirk's hilarious impersonation of Harold Stassen giving us his pointed take on those Iowa caucuses coming up.
And truly...truly spare the world your patronizing "I helped a n*gger once" sob stories. It smacks of your boy Joe Lieberman's "I was down with Civil Rights...once." punk-*ss bitchery. I know you Imus. I work in NY radio. I was friends with the late Monteria Ivey, a Black comedian you pimped as a protegé on your show and hooked up with an occasional show on FAN. He and I worked down the street from each other on TV projects for awhile in the city. Not the funniest Black guy in town...no way you'd have that, as it would've exposed you as the coasting burnout you are. But because as funny as he was, his stock and trade was limited to playing the "bad dozens-running n*gga" and other simple stereotypes you found heh-heh..."funny", he was cool to you. "Yeah...but I helped him!" you wanna blurt and interrupt. Well...your kind of "help" reminds me of a great line from a real comedian you wouldn't f*ck with if your life depended on it-- Chris Rock.
"If you're black, America is like the uncle that paid your way through college....but molested you.."
You're that uncle, Imus. That unfunny old uncle--stinking of Brylcreem, cocktail franks, Wild Irish Rose and the rotting remnants of a marginal talent long-ago consumed. Oh yeah...and sweat. Acrid, senses-assaulting flop sweat.
What was it you said? "Our agenda was to be funny".
It brings me back to Pryor's opening bit. "I Hope I'm Funny."
The man who had more funny in a single nose hair than you have in every inch of that sallow, wrinkled body of yours had the humility to openly hope he was funny before an audience. Yet you, possessing the all the laughs of a dumpster full of body parts go on the air day after day, squeezing out turd after turd of "funny" that your olfactorily-challenged *ss can't smell as plain old sh*t. .
Or perhaps you do know...and it doesn't really matter as the game for you is all about "teh powah", and the lame-*ss humor is just a front for what your game really is. Who knows? All I know is, your *ss is off the air for two weeks right now. And you're starting to feel the heat, as longtime advertisers like Staples, Proctor & Gamble and Bigelow Tea have dropped you faster than you dropped the acid tabs you cooked your brain with in '71. The Rutgers girls easily embarrassed you Tuesday with their poise and humanity contrasting with your coarse and demeaning rhetoric. You're bleeding in the water I-Man. And sharks are circling like a mother-f*cker.
The Richard Pryor bit about his divorce from his wife comes to mind here. It seemed that on the day he showed up in court, his soon-to-be ex came in looking angelic--crying, playing to the sympathies of all assembled.
"She had everybody cryin'. The bailiff. The lawyers. The mother-f*ckin' judge. Judge said, 'N*gger we want everything. You got any dreams? We want them, too."
It's come to that, Imus. You f*cked up that badly here. And maybe for the last time. "We want everything. You got any dreams mother-f*cker? We want them too".
- posted by LowerManhattanite
Labels: comedy, imus, racism