That joke isn't funny anymore.
Try not to die laughing. The only funny thing about Monty Python is that a lot of people still find it funny, not least in the United States, where the show's anniversary is being marked by a gig at the Ziegfield Theater in New York City. What we have here, I fear, is further evidence of the incorrigible Anglophilia of the American liberal Left.
The sun has not set on the British empire of pop culture. First it was the Beatles, then David Frost, then the Stones, then the Pythons ... and now John Oliver of "The Daily Show" (more on that in a moment).
America really is the land of opportunity for the "plausible Englishman"--the sort of fellow who is as street smart as a fourth-generation Italian pimp but who does not go native. I am not thinking of Tina Brown or Andrew Sullivan, who are not so much plausibly English as implausibly American. No, the type I have in mind was identified by Tom Wolfe in the character of Peter Fallow, the boozy English journalist in Bonfire of the Vanities.
Some say that Fallow was based on Anthony Haden-Guest--onetime Manhattan journalist and boulevardier and son of the 4th Baron Haden-Guest--but others say that Christopher Hitchens was the model. Englishmen do not come more plausible than Sir Christopher. He has it all: the ironic smile, the contemptuous drawl, the bogus self-deprecation, the sardonic asides about dumb fundamentalists.
In truth, though, it does not take much to be a plausible Englishman. Consider John Oliver, Jon Stewart's grotesquely English sidekick on "The Daily Show." He is not funny. Why did Stewart hire him? One answer is that Stewart is not funny, either, not these days anyway, but my hunch is that Stewart picked him because he is English.
If you can make it in New York, say New Yorkers, you can make it anywhere, but Oliver couldn't make it anywhere except New York. Or am I being unkind? He might make it as a warm-up act in Hikitika, New Zealand.
It's not just that Oliver's routines are leaden--Stewart and his team share responsibility for that--his sociopolitical persona is all wrong. He doesn't fit. There is something inappropriate about his apparent familiarity with the American scene. If I were an American, I'd resent having Oliver instruct me in politics. It's bad enough being an Englishman and having Irwin Stelzer instruct me, in the pages of the Daily Telegraph, to shape up and show a little more respect for Uncle Sam.
Oliver is a provincial leftie. He checks all the right boxes. He is against racism, sexism, pedophilia, the Religious Right, the GOP, and he doesn't care who knows it. He is a no-risk comedian.
Socialized medicine? For it. Last time I saw "The Daily Show," Oliver was doing a routine on healthcare. He lifted up the back of his jacket and shirt, displaying a huge pair of plastic testicles and saying: "Yes ... they're my testicles, Jon, testicles, carefully moved to my back by a poorly incentivized government doctor." As if ... Geddit? We are talking cutting-edge satire. The item was greeted with hoots of laughter. Could this really have been New York? It sounded like a bad night in Tbilisi, or Birmingham, England.
Over at Comedy Central Insider--"the blog by and for comedy nerds"--there are signs of revolt. "John Oliver is painfully unfunny," declares one nerd. "NOT FUNNY. I don't watch Daily Show religiously so I really tried to give him a chance for a while ... but piece after piece, he's been the most consistently unfunny element of the program. I'm American, love British humor, but Oliver's material is so obvious and often grating. Shallow stuff without any greater resonance."
"Have to agree with the John Oliver sucks crowd," says another. "He's completely predicable and does not know funny at all, no British persons do."
Time for me to split, then, but one more thing: before Monty Python there was "That Was The Week That Was," anchored by David Frost and known as TW3, and before that there was Lenny Bruce, American dope fiend and potty mouth. Bruce inspired the satire boom in London in the early sixties and was adored by the future Pythons. So Lenny Bruce started it. See what I'm saying? Bruce=TW3=Python=Oliver. So John Oliver is your fault. A nation gets the comedians it deserves.
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|Publication:||The American Conservative|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2009|
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