24.12.09

Culture Vulturing

This should have gone in my previous post, but didn't because I'm getting old, and because this is more than just about the event.

In November I went to see Bob Newhart. Yes, he of the button down mind (I've checked. No hyphen.).

Was he funny? Yes, if you weren't expecting (and I wasn't) pee-in-your-pants humor. There were some genuinely funny moments, but far more often it was the 'comfortable chuckle' than the real laugh. That's ok, though. Chuckling is never a bad thing.

Remember, this is a man that has been doing a comedy routine for fifty years, and things have changed in that time. Things like political correctness. He started doing a routine and out popped an ethnic stereotype - someone (perhaps several someones) gasped. This apparently wasn't a new response, and so he then spent a few moments talking about comedy and stereotypes and the fact that we need to laugh at ourselves sometimes: "I'm Irish and German so I'm an organized drunk" (or words to that effect).

Now, none of his comments were Chris Rock raw. No vulgar language, for example. No "N-word". As I said, the routines elicited the comfortable chuckle. So why get upset when Bob pokes fun at the British, or the French, or whatever? Because we're now supposed to. Because being overly sensitive is now part of our daily life.

My argument isn't that he's old, so let's give him some latitude. It's that our failure to allow ourselves the ability and opportunity to lighten up, to chuckle (or even guffaw!) at ourselves, at stereotypes, at each other has led to a climate that isn't terribly funny so when someone like a Chris Rock comes along it seems all the funnier, with a dash of "I shouldn't laugh, but I'm going to" included.

Towards the end of the show he did one of his old, classic routines (in this case, the driving lesson). For me, one of the heartiest laughs of the evening came when he said "I've changed it a little - it throws me off to see people's lips moving when I'm doing it." I've heard, and don't know if it's true or apocryphal, that Bill Cosby was on Carson years after his famous Noah routine and Carson asked him to do a bit of it; Cosby couldn't remember the entire routine and Carson ended up doing the routine with Cosby chiming in with the "riiigght"s. That Bob Newhart knows we're not necessarily there to hear him debut new stuff and caters to the audience by giving us a classic morsel is to his credit.

The conclusion was a tribute to his career (and his family's history here, dating back pre-Revolution), ending with what I will always contend was the best finale to a tv series ever.

1 comment:

Aravis said...

I've always enjoyed his quiet humor. It sounds like a wonderful way to spend the evening.