Saturday, December 12, 2009

Comedy Isn't Pretty

My Fellow Comedists,

With the arrival of the holiday season come all of the usual entertainment offerings, most of which make my stomach turn. But one that stands out is the up-dated version of A Christmas Carol with Bill Murray, "Scrooged." Murray, a long-ime stand-up and member of the Second City troupe before making it to SNL, has a rare gift. He can be funny as someone you like and don't like, he is able to be a sympathetic jerk.

It has long been a successful comic staple for the jerk to set himself up as the butt of the joke, it is the being brought down a peg that is funny. But Murray is able somehow to be both jerk and liked. A few others have been able to pull this off. Tom Lehrer in some of his songs is able to feign constructive arrogance. Lenny Bruce had it and launched several generations of rant comics, some of whom could do it -- Bill Hicks may fit in this category, whereas Lewis Black is a sympathetic ranter, but doesn't come off as a jerk.

This contrasts with others who come off as just a jerk: Sam Kinison, Andrew Dice Clay, and at times Doug Stanhope (some of his bits are great, but when he misses the mark it's because he tries to pull off the sympathetic jerk thing and comes off as just jerk). This is not to say these guys weren't funny, but they certainly are not sympathetic, they appeal to the darker side of us.

So, the question is what is it that makes us identify with someone we ordinarily would not want to identify with? What does Bill Murray do that draws us in to someone who ought to make us push him away? What is the difference between a sympathetic jerk and just a jerk?

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve