Comedy Central: where humor goes to die
I moved out of my dad’s house when I was 22 years old to a small apartment in Margate, New Jersey, a suburb of Atlantic City. Getting your own place for the first time is an exhilarating experience, when you claim everything in your home and around your neighborhood as your own. The post office, the neighborhood convenience store, the bus stop–all yours! However, when I moved, what I was excited about most of all was living in an area where Comedy Central was available on cable. Remember back then, roundabouts fifteen years ago, when its station identifications were recorded by Penn Jillette and it was mostly known for running stand-up comedy specials? I was happy to have access to Comedy Central mostly because it ran Mystery Science Theater 3000, a program that to this day remains very near and dear to my heart.
After a few years the network began earning enough revenue to create its own original programming, and of course one of the earliest examples of this was South Park. I was a big fan of South Park for a while too, charmed by both its oddly adorable animation and its crude but undeniably intelligent, satirical humor. My attention span for most television shows, even those I enjoy, tends to last only a couple years however (with the exception of the aforementioned Mystery Science Theater 3000), and I eventually stopped watching. I was genuinely surprised to discover recently that it’s still on the air, though the targets of their special brand of satire seem to be getting a bit more obvious now. Paris Hilton is a dirty whore? Britney Spears is crazy? That barrel is going to run out of fish sooner or later. Still, they do get off some real zingers every now and then, so props to them for keeping it up.
However, with the exception of South Park, reruns of Futurama, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, Comedy Central as we know it today is a vast wasteland of profoundly unfunny programming. Seriously, I try to avoid such cliched pronouncements as “Comedy Central sucks,” but Comedy Central really sucks. A typical programming day consists of multiple episodes of Mad TV, easily one of the most laugh-free sketch comedy shows ever produced, stand-up comedy from no-name performers who are either trying to emulate Lewis Black’s abrasive ranting or Mitch Hedberg’s droll deadpan observational humor (and mostly failing), the previous night’s episodes of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report rerun at least twice and C-movies like Juwanna Mann and something called Wieners, which I was going to look up on the IMDB but figured the fact that it’s called Wieners is more than enough information. It makes TBS look like PBS. Let me remind you that TBS will run movies like Dennis the Menace four times in a row and have the nerve to refer to each subsequent airing as an “encore performance,” as if the audience is demanding to watch it again and again.
Let us not forget that Comedy Central is also responsible for Dane Cook’s career, which could be an entire post on its own (though I’m no longer sure if it’s Cook himself I despise or his fans, which seem to be the younger siblings and sons of Andrew Dice Clay’s fans). Amazingly, most of their original programming is in even worse shape. There’s Mind of Mencia, starring Carlos Mencia, the 21st century answer to Paul Rodriguez even though nobody asked for such a thing. Then there’s The Sarah Silverman Program, with a star who’s coasted on the “cute girl saying intentionally ignorant things for laughs” shtick for about two years too long now. We’ve also had Drawn Together and Lil’ Bush, shows that both suffered from good premises with abominable executions (an earlier attempt at skewering Bush the Younger, That’s My Bush, was equally excruciating). However, I’d rather sit through six hours straight of any of these shows with toothpicks holding my eyelids open than sit through one minute of their comedy “roasts.” Inspired by the Friar’s Club roasts, originally given by comedians whose collective age was somewhere around 374, Comedy Central started doing their own version a few years ago, starting with Denis Leary. That makes sense. Subsequent “roastees,” not so much, since it appears for the most part that they’re going predominantly with people like Pamela Anderson and Flavor Flav, neither of whom are the most challenging subjects when it comes to joke writing. Amongst other problems, together they couldn’t generate enough energy in their brains to power a lava lamp, so it seems a little easy and unfair for people like Jeffrey Ross and Lisa Lampanelli to shred them in front of an audience, sort of like challenging a guy in a wheelchair to a sprinting contest.
Nevertheless, when you think the bottom of the barrel has been reached, just know that there’s always a ground underneath that barrel, and it’s crawling with worms and other unspeakable things. It was recently announced that Comedy Central’s next roast would be given to none other than Larry the Cable Guy. Now, if you know me personally, you know I have a near-psychotic hatred for Larry the Cable Guy. In one of those inexplicable, “only in America” success stories, he’s made millions of dollars playing a character that essentially makes fun of his fans, and his fans are too stupid to realize it. I’ve been told that “you have to come from” the places Larry explores in his comedy, that it’s funny only if you understand redneck culture. Well, guess what? I do come from those places, and I do understand it. I went to high school in a town where one of the biggest social events of the year was a bass fishing tournament. It wasn’t that far from the New Jersey Pine Barrens, and instead of rednecks people from that area are known as “pineys.” You could get a bumper sticker that read “Proud to Be a Piney From My Head Down to My Hiney.’ I’m familiar with redneck culture, and I still think that to be proud to be a redneck, embracing all the downwardly mobile, ignorant, often racist, homophobic and sexist aspects of it, is one of the saddest fucking things imaginable. It’s where Sarah Palin was delighted to say her biggest supporters came from, and I’ll reiterate: if that’s “Real America,” we’re in a lot more trouble than we think.
Larry the Cable Guy may very well have faded away into well-deserved obscurity by this point, but Comedy Central keeps insisting on playing The Blue Collar Comedy Tour and its sequel ad infinitum. His co-stars in The Blue Collar Comedy Tour, Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Ron White are all interchangeable (you can only hear so many jokes about someone’s Great-Uncle Cletus and the time he married a 400 pound woman, only to lose his wedding band in one of her fat rolls, after all) but all slightly more bearable than Larry the Cable Guy. Hell, a paper cut drenched in lemon juice is more bearable than Larry the Cable Guy. Yet, and perhaps one of these days I’ll stop underestimating how low Hollywood, or America really, will sink when it comes to “entertainment,” he’s probably the most popular. Now Comedy Central is dedicating a roast to him, in what will undoubtedly be a torturous hour of incest and poor white trash jokes, broken up by the occasional fart noise. It’s like they’re not even trying anymore. Comedy Central is a network now dedicated not just to one-trick ponies, but no-trick ponies. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert would be wise to move on to another cable channel worthy of their talents, and let it fold in on itself and blink out of existence, with only the faint splurfle of a Whoopie cushion to be heard.