The Mask of Comedy

The audience roared with laughter. Bill scored. One more quote to add to his career. One more verbal crime against humanity.

Bill is an amateur philosopher posing as a comedian. His audiences are ‘liberals’ posing as intellectuals. They give liberals a bad name, just as ‘conservatives’ like Jerry Falwell, posing as ‘men of God’ give conservatives a bad name.

Bill’s ‘joke’ was dead on target: he ridiculed Sarah Palin and her child, Trig, who is afflicted with down syndrome. Surefire for a laugh. No matter that liberals generally claim a monopoly on empathy.

Even in a society saturated with lowlife comedy, Bill’s ‘joke’ sparked controversy. Of course that is to his advantage in a business that demands visibility. Bill, his followers, and a large number of Americans believe that the controversy is an issue of free speech and censorship. Wrong. It is a moral issue.

Free speech notwithstanding, comedians generally use judgment in the selection of their material and the audiences they entertain. The marketplace determines whether or not they make the right choices.

There was a time when comedians and audiences alike were sensitive to the difference between humor and malignity. Bill’s brand is malignity (see my blog, Politically Inadequate, May 8, 2011). Putting aside his fetid taste, I find it morally objectionable for a comedian to prate about politics in the guise of humor. This is especially immoral when it is practiced by an individual who claims to be compassionate.

Many people claim that what is said in jest is not subject to moral judgment. Wrong, again. In the article cited above, I refer to instances on Bill’s former show that ridiculed Ronald Reagan’s Alzheimer’s disease and Robert Dole’s severely disabled arm, a disability he acquired as a result of his service in World War 11. ‘Jokes’ of that kind are generated by hatred, not humor, no matter how loudly the audience laughs. I’ve yet to hear a joke about the holocaust. I hope I never will.

Being fortunate enough to see great comedians through the years, I remember a time when political jokes were leveled against all political parties, with their constituents good-naturedly laughing at themselves along with their political adversaries. Pleasantly surprised, I recently saw the performance of a comedian on TV who achieved the same good-natured stature to which we were all accustomed not too long ago. Far more politically informed than Bill, his humor never descended to the level of hatred disguised as humor. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen him lately so I can’t provide you with his name.

If you have not experienced the performances of Victor Borge and Bill Cosby for classic brands of humor, I suggest you search for them on line. Those comedians didn’t merely ‘crack jokes.’ They were artists. Their political jokes were not inflammatory. Instead, they were designed to relieve us of the tensions of the times. That, after all, is one of the principal functions of comedy. The barbs at roasts were never laced with venom. They were given and taken in good humor and genuinely amused their targets. Audiences never cringed with the expectation of an ad hominid attack in the midst of an honorary celebration.

In contrast, Bill goes for the jugular and calls his TV show Real Time with Bill Maher. ‘Real time’ for whom? His former TV show was titled, Politically Incorrect. There is nothing real or politically incorrect at his core even though he masquerades as an original thinker.

If you have any doubt about what is behind his mask, think about his statement, “Dogs are like retarded children.” One might interpret that statement as an expression of affection for the lovable nature but inferior intelligence of dogs. Taken in context with his remark about Trig’s mother talking to her son as a retarded child, a reversal of the subject words gives us, “Retarded children are like dogs.” That’s a curious view coming from a man who fancies himself an intellectual and empathetic liberal.

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