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WASHINGTON -- With the nation tired of hearing jokes about reality television, humorists are looking for a new target -- and have honed in on one that has caught the attention of a frustrated American public.
“While grassroots opposition to U.S. foreign policy in the gulf grows, so, too does a new wave of support from Britain, Spain, Portugal, Poland, the Czech Republic, Italy, Hungary, Denmark ... The leaders of those nations last week published an op-ed article in several international newspapers, thanking the United States for ensuring peace in Europe in the 20th century. Not surprisingly, the next day, France sent in a very snippy letter to the editor,” quips The Daily Show’s Web site.
Living up to its usual credo of “constantly fixing the truth so you don’t have to,” the Comedy Central standout has hit on a growing sentiment about France since the nation expressed reluctance to support an invasion of Iraq.
It has plenty of company:
David Letterman: “France wants more evidence [of Iraqi violations]. The last time France wanted more evidence, it rolled right through France with a German flag.”
Dennis Miller: “The only way the French are going in is if we tell them we found truffles in Iraq.”
Jay Leno: “I don’t know why people are surprised that France won’t help us get Saddam out of Iraq. After all, France wouldn’t help us get the Germans out of France!”
Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.: “Do you know how many Frenchmen it takes to defend Paris? It’s not known, it’s never been tried.”
Blunt again: “Somebody was telling me about the French Army rifle that was being advertised on eBay the other day -- the description was: ‘Never shot. Dropped once.’”
And even an unwitting French President Jacques Chirac: “As far as I’m concerned, war always means failure.”
“The joke thrives on one caricature. It takes one stereotype and just plays on it,” Weekly Standard e ditor Fred Barnes told Foxnews.com. “President Clinton was sexually unrestrained. President Bush is dumb. France is full of cowards and ingrates.”
Barnes explained in a recent article the joke is catching on because many people believe the United States bailed out France in World Wars I and II, among other conflicts, and they need to show a little more gratitude.
“Do you know it only took Germany three days to conquer France in World War II? And that’s because it was raining,” said John Xereas, manager of the DC Improv.
The caricature of a weak French military garners laughs regardless of whether people support or oppose military force against Iraq.
“Everybody hates the French. Even the French hate the French,” said political humorist Will Durst, whose articles can be read on WillDurst.com. “It’s their attitude. It’s the snottier than thou. It’s nice to pin prick the pomposity.
“It’s seeing a guy making fun of you for the way you dress step out of the toilet with toilet paper on his shoes and he doesn’t know it,” Durst said, describing why the giggles ripple.
Of course, “everybody” may be a strong word. Yankee Doodle, webmaster of Francestinks.com and Germanystinks.com , said he has gotten a lot of appreciation for his two Web sites, which list news, jokes and photos, but has caught considerable grief from some French and German readers, including a too-crude-to-print letter from an e-mailer he traced back to Radio France and a German missive that translates roughly to “You Americans are dumber than I thought.”
“The letter was signed ‘Jean Luc Picard,’” Doodle said of the German e-mailer, noting that Picard is the lead character in the television series Star Trek: Next Generation. “Now who’s dumb? He signed his name as a French character played by an English actor on an American TV show.”
Doodle said the mail he has gotten, including joke submissions, is 75 percent about the French and 25 percent about the Germans.
“People feel close to France. That makes people feel hurt when somebody who you thought was your friend says ‘screw you,’” Doodle said.
On the other hand, the Belgians, who also have expressed antipathy toward any military action in Iraq, have gone virtually free of the wrath cast on the other nations.
“That’s kind of like kicking people when they’re down,” Durst joked.
Doodle, like many corners of America -- freedom fries have replaced french fries, is taking the joke to the next level. The Francestinks.com and Germanystinks.com sites are planning a Great American Tea Party 2003, akin to the Boston Tea Party, and something of a boycott of French products.
“On March 4th, Fat Tuesday -- we don’t say Mardi Gras because that’s French -- we are going to have everyone drop all their wine in the toilet, flush, the water level drops and we register our vote that way,” he said, adding that he hopes people don’t go out and replace their French wine right away.
Adds Durst: “In Napa Valley, they’re stuck. They are really anti-war but they are for a boycott. It’s a conundrum.”
Doodle said that while he suspects relations between France and the United States will be affected by the impasse for a long time to come, he doesn’t expect France to change its mind about engagement in Iraq anytime soon.
And that doesn’t matter, really. It’s France’s refusal to back the United States that sticks in people’s minds.
“We weren’t looking for France to give us their one leaky aircraft carrier, it’s about whose side you are on,” Doodle said.
“As an ally, if its national interest and security is involved, just go along,” Barnes said. “We don’t need troops. No one is asking for them.” Besides, they wouldn’t be worth much anyway, according to jokesters and the deadly serious.
According to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: “Going to war without the French is like going deer hunting without your accordion.”
I give speeches and appear on TV and frequently criticize the French on Iraq, and I repeat every anti-French joke I’ve heard. I thought this might be politically incorrect. Au contraire. Americans of nearly all stripes appear to appreciate France-bashing. I haven’t been chastised once, even after telling tough jokes zinging the French for their history of weakness, disloyalty, and fecklessness.
The jokes have taken on a life of their own. Americans love them. For instance, Jay Leno says it’s no surprise the French won’t help us get Saddam Hussein out of Iraq. They didn’t help us get Germany out of France, either. Still, it’s essential for them to join us in the war against Iraq. They can teach the Iraqis how to surrender.
And why are French streets tree-lined? So the Germans can march in the shade.
How many Frenchmen does it take to defend Paris? No one knows. It’s never been tried.
What do you call 100,000 Frenchmen with their hands up? The army.
How many gears does a French tank have? Five, four in reverse and one forward (in case of attack from behind).
FOR SALE: French rifles . . . never fired, only dropped once.
“French rifle for sale; almost new; only thrown down in surrender twice...” — have a long and respectable pedigree. Go ahead, enjoy yourself. Did you hear that the French government has banned fireworks at Euro Disney? They are afraid that the sounds of the explosions might cause soldiers at a nearby French army garrison to surrender.
Dennis Miller specializes in anti-French humor. “The only way the French are going in is if we tell them we found truffles in Iraq,” Miller says. “The French are always reticent to surrender to the wishes of their friends and always more than willing to surrender to the wishes of their enemies.”
That last one is more than a joke. It’s shrewd commentary. It captures why the French make such poor allies. When they pulled out of NATO 40 years ago and declared Americans must close down their bases in France, Secretary of State Dean Rusk had a bitterly caustic response. Should we dig up the graves of American soldiers in Normandy, too, and take them home? No French answer was recorded.
What’s the shortest book ever written?
French War Heroes.
“A Frenchwoman walks into a bar carrying a duck under her arm. The bartender says, “HEY! You can’t bring that pig in here.” The Frenchwoman says, “Excuse me...but that’s a duck.” The bartender says back, “Excuse ME, but I was talking to the duck.”
What is the first thing the French Army teaches at basic training?
How to surrender in at least 10 languages.
What is the most useful thing in the French Army?
A rearview mirror, so they can see the war.
Why does Nike like the French Army?
Because, in war time, they are the biggest buyers of running shoes.
Why did the French celebrate their World Cup Championship in 2000 so wildly? It was their first time they won anything without the help of the U.S.
What’s the difference between 1943 and 2003?
A. This time around, the Vichy government is telling the German puppets what to do.
Why do the French have glass bottom boats in their Navy.....To see all their other ships.
Why is good to be french? You can surender at the begining of the war, and US will win it for you.
What color is the American flag? Red, White, and Blue. What color is the British flag? Red, White, and Blue. What color is the French flag? White.
What do you call 100,000 Frenchmen with their hands up? The Army.
There was a Frenchman, an Englishman and Claudia Schiffer sitting together in a carriage in a train going through Provence. Suddenly the train went through a tunnel and as it was an old style train, there were no lights in the carriages and it went completely dark. Then there was a kissing noise and the sound of a really loud slap. When the train came out of the tunnel, Claudia Schiffer and the Englishman were sitting as if nothing had happened and the Frenchman had his hand against his face as he had been slapped there. The Frenchman was thinking: ‘The English fella must have kissed Claudia Schiffer and she missed him and slapped me instead.’ Claudia Schiffer was thinking: ‘The French fella must have tried to kiss me and actually kissed the Englishman and got slapped for it.’ And the Englishman was thinking: ‘This is great. The next time the train goes through a tunnel I’ll make another kissing noise and slap that French bastard again.
“A lot of folks are still demanding more evidence before they actually consider Iraq a threat. For example, France wants more evidence. And you know I’m thinking, the last time France wanted more evidence they rolled right through Paris with the German flag.” —David Letterman
“Army personnel in Kuwait unloaded a dozen faulty tanks that only go in reverse. Tanks that only go in reverse — they’ve been repackaged and sold to France.” —Craig Kilborn
“As you know our Allies of Evil are not being helpful with this Iraqi situation. With all due respect I think President Bush is handling this situation all wrong. What Bush should do is send someone the French really respect, like Jerry Lewis.” —Jay Leno
“You know why the French don’t want to bomb Saddam Hussein? Because he hates America, he loves mistresses and wears a beret. He is French, people.” —Conan O’Brien
“French troops arrived in Afghanistan last week, and not a minute too soon. The French are acting as advisers to the Taliban, to teach them how to surrender properly.” —Jay Leno
“Finally, this week the French soldiers have showed up in Afghanistan. Figures — just like the French to show up after the hard work has been done.” —Jay Leno
Q: What are they calling the Germans, French and Belgians, at the Pentagon?
A: “The Axis of Weasels.”
Q. Why do we need France on our side against Saddam and Osama?
A. So the French can show them how to surrender.
Q: How many Frenchmen does it take to defend Paris?
A: Nobody knows, it’s never been tried.
Q. Why don’t they have fireworks at Euro Disney?
A. Because every time they shoot them off, the French try to surrender.
Q. Why did the French plant trees along the Champs Elysees?
A. So the Germans could march in the shade.
Q. What’s the difference between Frenchmen and toast?
A. You can make soldiers out of toast.
Q. What do you call 100,000 Frenchmen with their hands up?
A. The Army.
Profound Thoughts About Our French ‘Allies’
“France has neither winter nor summer nor morals. Apart from these drawbacks it is a fine country. France has usually been governed by prostitutes.” —Mark Twain
“I would rather have a German division in front of me than a French one behind me.” —General George S. Patton
“Going to war without France is like going deer hunting without your accordion.” —Norman Schwartzkopf
“We can stand here like the French, or we can do something about it.” —Marge Simpson
“As far as I’m concerned, war always means failure.” —Jacques Chirac, President of France
“As far as France is concerned, you’re right.” —Rush Limbaugh
“The only time France wants us to go to war is when the German Army is sitting in Paris sipping coffee.” —Regis Philbin
“The French are a smallish, monkey-looking bunch and not dressed any better, on average, than the citizens of Baltimore. True, you can sit outside in Paris and drink little cups of coffee, but why this is more stylish than sitting inside and drinking large glasses of whiskey I don’t know.” —P.J O’Rourke (1989)
“You know, the French remind me a little bit of an aging actress of the 1940s who was still trying to dine out on her looks but doesn’t have the face for it.” —John McCain, U.S. Senator from Arizona
“You know why the French don’t want to bomb Saddam Hussein? Because he hates America, he loves mistresses and wears a beret. He IS French, people.” —Conan O’Brien
“I don’t know why people are surprised that France won’t help us get Saddam out of Iraq. After all, France wouldn’t help us get the Germans out of France!” —Jay Leno
“The last time the French asked for ‘more proof,’ it came marching into Paris under a German flag.” —David Letterman
How many Frenchmen does it take to change a light bulb?
One. He holds the bulb and all of Europe revolves around him.
An old saying: Raise your right hand if you like the French.... Raise both hands if you are French.
Next time there’s a war in Europe, the loser has to keep France.
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. As you know, the French have always been a thorn in the side to everyone. Well, except Hitler. Recently, however, their pompous misapprehension that they actually matter has taken a decidedly annoying turn. Indeed, these Gallic (Chiraqi) cowards have gotten it into their goose-liver-stuffed heads that America can’t do anything it goddamned well feels like! President Bush is dismayed by this, especially inasmuch as it negatively impacts his plans to carry out a personal vendetta against Saddam Hussein.
That’s why – on White House orders – America’s right-wing commentators and talk-radio junkies have been busy attempting to come up with clever insults to ridicule that nation of fussy-yet-filthy pansies. Unfortunately, even their best taunts have thus far been embarrassingly banal and puerile. Even Ann Coulter, who can usually be relied upon for a whole playgrounds-worth of ad hominem heckling, has not proved up to the task. Perhaps, as our Homeland Security operatives have observed, this may be because her surname has a decidedly Frenchy ring to it. We are, of course, looking into that.
In any event, our showbiz contingent isn’t cutting it - and since making sarcastic comments about those effete, cheese-eating surrender monkeys across the Atlantic is currently this nation’s top foreign policy priority, the President has seen fit to call in the prestigious and expensive advertising agency of Saatchi & Saatchi to finish the job. This $175,000,000 contract will be financed by taxpayer funds earmarked from what used to be called the “Federal Budget,” which was renamed pursuant to Executive Order No. 9,439 more simply as “Petty Cash.”
As such, I’m pleased to be presenting the fruits of their corporate labors today, in the form of the officially revised Federal France-Bashing Standards & Guidelines. All Americans are urged to adhere to them carefully.
FEDERAL FRANCE-BASHING STANDARDS & GUIDELINES
1. Effective immediately, Americans are directed to discontinue use of the word “French.” For example, henceforth, that overly-sweet, bloody liquid slathered on yellowed iceberg lettuce at Shoney’s shall be “Prancing Snail Swallower Dressing;” those greasy sticks of carbohydrates and sodium kept warm for hours under heat lamps at McDonald’s shall be “Beret Wearing Pansy Fries” (and shall no longer be available in any size other than “embarrassingly small”); and restaurants throughout the land will begin serving “Unbathed Asshole Onion Soup.”
2. Americans shall promptly initiate a boycott of the “French Kiss” – replacing it with PATRIOTIC expressions of affection such as the “Texas Uvula Wallop” and the “Dixieland Stinky Finger.”
3. Upon sipping from any glass or bottle of inferior French wine in a restaurant, all citizens are hereby directed to spit it onto the floor before braying that the imported beverage was either “too flinty” or “indistinguishable from a rancid slick of year-old poodle menses” before loudly ordering a refreshing 48 oz. Gallo Peach Liebfraumilch slushy as a replacement.
4. All American colleges and universities must immediately dispense with the folly of teaching the pathetic “Soft Philosophies” of Voltaire, Sartre, and Descartes - and begin aggressively indoctrinating our starry-eyed youth to the profound, righteous, and less tediously cerebral works of Hannity, Rumsfeld, Noonan, and The Rock.
5. Moving forward, U.S. journalists and historians alike are to incinerate any liberal textbooks which incorrectly assert that the French saved our ragtag, shoeless asses at Yorktown during America’s noble fight for independence from those charmingly irascible and currently endearing limeys (a struggle now rendered ironically moot by Britain’s decision to fork over what little sovereignty they didn’t give to the European Socialist Union to our State Department).
6. Should they find their personal space violated by an actual French person, whether in New York, Topeka or Paris, Americans should demonstrate their unswerving love of country by informing the Franko Sapiens in question about a recent innovation called “the shower” and then, before the rebuked Frog can make some sour, smelly retort in that bitchy French way of theirs, douse them with a mixture of J-Lo perfume and pepper spray, taking care not to get the lethal mixture on any of the fourteen colors you happen to be wearing. Then, as they’re writhing in agony - screaming that incomprehensible jibberish of theirs - tell them that their supposed military genius and 19th century Saddam Hussein progenitor Napoleon could only overcome his crippling impotence (the bane of ALL Frenchmen) by satiating a deviant sexual appetite for basting his prostitute wife Josephine in superior American coffee!
John J. Miller
Is it really so bad to refer to an entire nation of people as frogs?
Last summer, when I was giving a speech on Franco-American relations — shortly before the publication of Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America’s Disastrous Relationship with France — I made a frog joke. It involved a stuffed pig, a barbeque, and, well, you sort of had to be there. But it was definitely a quip about the French. The audience snickered, though a few people exchanged nervous glances. They clearly wondered if it was appropriate to laugh when somebody referred to the French as frogs.
Lighten up, I thought. Think about it: If we aimed to insult, truly and deeply and venomously, then we could skip right over cute green amphibians and compare the French to the frogs’ warty cousins, the toads. Or, in honor of Pepe LePew (as well as international perceptions about French bathing habits), we could call them skunks. Or we might allude to something else entirely and call them chickens. Or maybe even cheese-eating surrender monkeys.
Given this range of name-calling options, what’s so bad about frogs as a national nickname? The good people at Texas Christian University don’t consider frogs a derisive word. Their sports teams are called the Horned Frogs. Go Frogs!
As it happens, frogs have thin skins — and so do the French. Some in France have taken to labeling American criticisms of their government’s policies as racist, even when they’re offered in non-amphibian terms. “When you insult the French people, simply because they are French, then it’s kind of a racist campaign,” said Ambassador Jean-David Levitte. He was referring to the relatively tame late-night jokes of Jay Leno and David Letterman. My co-author Mark Molesky and I don’t actually describe the French as frogs anywhere on the pages of Our Oldest Enemy. Yet in his New York Times review of our book, French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy saw fit to call us racists anyway. This absurd charge is of course a scurrilous tactic whose goal is to end a debate about Franco-American relations that’s worth having even if doesn’t serve the interests of Jacques Chirac and his neo-Gaullist henchmen.
No matter what we conclude about the propriety of calling the French frogs, there’s still the academic question: How did the French earn this moniker? Nobody knows for sure, though there are several theories. Here are five leading ones:
1. The French fondness for eating frogs. File this one under “you are what you eat.” The only problem is that although frogs are sometimes eaten in France, the French are hardly unique in this respect. The frog, says the Oxford Companion to Food, “is perceived by the English as a staple of the French diet, [and] is indeed eaten in France but also in many other parts of the world, whether previously under French influence...or not.” The book goes on to describe frogs as having “a delicate flavor...customarily said to resemble chicken meat.” (I agree. The real problem is that there isn’t much meat on the leg-bones.) For what it’s worth, France outlawed commercial frog farming in 1977.
2. Frogs were a symbol of French royalty. This one apparently has its roots among early Frankish kings, such as Clovis I. But that seems too archaic for a slang word that’s alive and well today. Clovis I lived about 15 centuries ago.
3. The fleur-de-lys is a stylized frog. This would be an interesting idea if one of France’s best-known symbols weren’t actually based on an iris flower with three petals. One legend traces its origins to our friend Clovis I. Its roots definitely go back at least as far as Louis VI, who used the fleur-de-lys as a seal and on his coins some 900 years ago. Punsters sometimes talk of the fleur-de-Louis. Maybe someone should invent a frog-de-lys.
4. A non-Parisian putdown for Paris. Marshes apparently once ringed the French metropolis, and so the sneering aristocrats of Versailles applied the word to city slickers.
5. A Paris putdown for non-Parisians. Sophisticated urbanites sneered at the rural taste for amphibians (see #1, above), and attached the term to everybody but themselves, which is to say the bulk of the national population.
(Some of these ideas are discussed on the website AllAboutFrogs.org, which is dedicated to all things froggy and has a special page devoted to the French-frog theories.)
The Oxford English Dictionary points out that earliest use of the word frog as “a term of abuse” in English was in reference to the Dutch. But by the 1700s, the word was associated with the French. In her novel Evelina — an example of 18th-century chick lit — Fanny Burney includes this line: “Hark you, Mrs. Frog...you may lie in the mud till some of your Monsieurs come to help you out of it.” One of Stephen Vincent Benet’s short stories mentions “the nuisance of learning frog-talk.” A character in William Faulkner’s A Fable says, “Ask him...you can speak Frog.”
When Mark Molesky and I were looking around for artwork to decorate the cover of Our Oldest Enemy, we wondered about using a frog image. We located a political cartoon from the 1830s illustrating tensions between the United States and France. Andrew Jackson was president at the time, and he was threatening war over France’s refusal to compensate Americans for illegal ship burnings and seizures during the Napoleonic era. (“It is high time that this arrogance of France should be put down,” Jackson declared.) The cartoon shows a bare-chested Jackson raising his fists like a boxer against French King Louis Philippe of France, who is draped in royal finery — and accompanied by an entourage of tiny frogs shouting insults at Jackson. I’ve searched high and low for this image on the web; alas, the only place I can guarantee you’ll see it is in A Diplomatic History of the American People, by Thomas A. Bailey. (Mine is a second edition and the cartoon appears on page 201.) We decided that this particular illustration, however amusing, would not have worked well on a book cover. So we went with a picture of a naked lady, adapted from the famous Delacroix painting Liberty Guiding the People.
Anyway, the question of whether it’s acceptable to call the French frogs is asked only because we live in an age of suffocating political correctness. For those who seek rhetorical counsel, my advice is not to worry about saying it. If anybody gives you a funny look, just add, “Pardon my French.”
In the meantime, let’s keep an eye on the frogs — the real ones, that is. They may start to gripe about the French sullying their good name. [Kwing Hung: !!!]
I never know what to say when I meet celebrities. I don’t know why I get so flummoxed, but sometimes awful things come out. In college I met Kevin Rowland, then the lead singer of Dexy’s Midnight Runners, a band for whom I had altogether too much affection. (Still do.) I told Mr. Rowland I found it inspiring that he had the courage to become a singer with such a bad voice. Never has a stare been colder.
More recently I met Jackson Browne. (I have met some people without hit records, also.) I told him that we had named our elder son after him. My wife gave me a look that I can loosely translate as, “You ridiculous buffoon, you’re lying to Jackson Browne.” Our Jackson wasn’t named after anybody, least of all someone who hasn’t changed his haircut since 1976. I should have said that to him.
I have met President Bush twice. I have no powerful political connections — both times were the result of sizable checks written by me to support his campaign. Both times I was one of several hundred, if not thousand, people he met that day. Both times he said the same thing to me: “I’m honored.” (I think I had just said something like “Blefargen doygen.” He’s the president!)
Two words — “I’m honored” — but they’re stunners. The world’s most powerful man was honored to meet me. Actually, just about everything you need to know about George W. Bush is there in that sentence — humble, economical, old-fashioned, and simple in a way that irritates those who are irritated by things that are old-fashioned and simple. Why didn’t I just say “I’m honored” when I met Kevin Rowland? We’d have become best friends!
My friend the president probably says “I’m honored” to just about everybody he meets, even people like Janeane Garofalo. (What happened there, by the way?) And the thing is, he really means it. He is honored to be our president, and he is honored that we want to meet him and shake his hand. Doubtless one of the things that makes him a great president is his ability to say “I’m honored” 800 times a day, and invest it with real emotion every time.
We carelessly throw away so many words during the course of our busy lives, especially in those dreadful situations — celebrity-induced and otherwise — where we don’t know what to say, but dammit, we have to say something. (I once walked down the hallway of my apartment building carrying a pizza. A nodding-acquaintance neighbor passed and offered up as a zippy invitation to conversation, “Pizza, huh?” I shot back, quick as a whip, “Gotta eat sometime.” Can you imagine if the aliens had just arrived to assess our earthling intelligence, and that was the first bit of dialogue they caught? Alien #1 to Alien #2, with a smirk: “This won’t take long.”) We’ve lost the ability to say the short, simple things that actually mean something, so we use what sitcom writers call “chuffa,” the Styrofoam peanuts of dialogue. “How are you?” “Have a nice day.” “Gotta eat sometime.” Why not take a cue from W and say something that’s just as short, but carries some emotional weight?
To that end, I propose a few handy phrases, small enough to carry around in your pocket, that might just add a little meaning to our words, and maybe our lives as well:
“I’m touched.” I think we are over-thanked in our society, and in turn we over-thank the thankful. (“Thank you.” “No, thank you.”) As a consequence, “thank you” has been devalued, and is now worth a good deal less than it used to be, though still not less than “mahalo,” easily the worst thing about visiting our 50th state. Many gestures and gifts deserve something more meaningful than “thank you,” so on those occasions when I really am touched, I’ve decided to take a wild flyer on saying so. Also, if I find myself saying, “Wow, I don’t know what to say,” I know I can safely go straight to “I’m touched” without fear of contradiction.
“It’s good to see you.” This would replace the pitifully ubiquitous “How are you?” Are there any three more overused and meaning-free words in our society today? For one thing, let’s stop pretending we care, because we don’t. With the exception of two or three very close friends and the small group of people who share my home and my credit-card account, I don’t really want to know about your most recent attack of ulcerative colitis. I know it’s bad, seriously, I do, and I hope you feel better now, but I don’t want to hear about it. I just said “how are you?” because you’re standing near the coffee machine, and I didn’t manage to look away in time. But honestly, it’s good to see you, and I really do mean that. (Also, in this age of voicemail, e-mail, and text messaging, much of the time it is good to see anyone.)
“I’m sorry for you.” Is there anything harder than talking to people at funerals or hospitals, especially the families of the departed or sick? (Imagine if a celebrity were there!) We’re there because we want them to know we care. This says it, without unnecessary embroidery. By the way, the accursed “How are you?” should be banned, like cell phones, from any situation that might possibly involve sadness or pain. No one wants to put on a brave face and sputter, “Pretty good, you?” outside a loved one’s memorial service.
“I enjoyed myself.” For those awkward moments as you leave a dinner party, or after sex. We are today a nation of critics, invited by Yahoo and Amazon to post our reviews, offering them unsolicited around the coffee machine at work, and generally assuming that all opinions should include a passel of negativity. (Except for my kids, who seem to love everything. That’s why I recently ordered a DVD of Baby Geniuses 2 online, which I am sure puts me on some sort of watch list.) “I enjoyed myself” is blissfully positive, and I might suggest that you try it out on me after you read this piece.
On a final note, if Kevin Rowland should somehow come across this, I apologize. (Another nice two-worder for you.) I was a Dexy’s fan well before “Come On, Eileen” and wore out the grooves of your brilliant debut album Searching for the Young Soul Rebels. It must really stink being just another one hit wonder. I was honored.
— “Warren Bell is a 15-year veteran of the sitcom business and a not-so-secret conservative. He lives just outside Los Angeles with his wife, two sons, and their new dog Maggie, who also answers to Magdoleeza Rice, Magazina, and Dog of Magnesia.
Quick sketch of a Hollywood friendship: I met DeeDee (not her real name, though coincidentally, it rhymes with her real name) when we both worked on a late-night talk-show pilot for ABC in the Eighties. Our pilot lost out to Into the Night with Rick Dees, leaving my career nowhere to go but up. DeeDee and I were close for over a year, even tried to write a screenplay together. I invited her to my wedding, and I’m told that she left early that night because she didn’t feel well.
Never spoke to her again.
I’m not mad that she left the wedding early. In fact, I don’t think I noticed. But she never called me again after that, and I never called her. (My nuptials were in the era P.E.M. — Pre E-Mail.) I suppose my wife and I were a little, shall we say, confused that she left the reception and never called to say “thanks for having me, the ceremony was lovely, but a vicious charley-horse kicked in after the hora.” Or something. Oh, and she didn’t send a gift. Come to think of it, I’m pretty ticked. She ate the food, where’s our deep fryer?
None of which matters. What matters is that DeeDee used to work as a contestant coordinator on one of our nation’s more durable dating-oriented game shows, and she told me something that stayed with me. Every single person she ever interviewed said they wanted their mate to have a sense of humor. Almost all of these same people believed they had an evolved funny bone of their own. Apparently, not even the dullest person says, “I don’t have much of a sense of humor,” just as dictators never go, “Yeah, I guess I am kinda evil.”
Now then, if we can extrapolate from the population of TV dating show wanna-be-ons to Americans at large, we can deduce that as a nation most of us like a good laugh, and we think we are ourselves pretty freakin’ funny to boot. Meanwhile, I am willing to wager that if there were a version of the same show in, say, Finland, the Finnish contestants would not be telling the Finnish DeeDee that they were all about the chuckles. America is a funny country. We value humor.
So explain to me, then, Gallagher.
I’m sorry, that’s not fair to Gallagher. As balding stand-up comics who smash fruit with sledgehammers go, he’s actually pretty good. So is his brother Ron, incidentally, who looked enough like him to go around doing his act, until Gallagher v. Gallagher II was filed by certain high-powered attorneys.
But Gallagher is wildly successful. His concerts, videotapes, and paraphernalia (Galla-gear, according to his website) have made him...oh, well, I don’t really know how much money, but I live near Howie Mandel, and his house is huge. So I bet Gallagher must have done pretty well, too.
The fact is, the landscape of American comedy is dotted with enormously popular but spectacularly unfunny things. Things no one should laugh at. (Perhaps those of you intrepid enough to run my credits on imdb.com will say I’ve written a few things exactly like that.) And yet, every time I try to think of a specific example, I imagine I am insulting large numbers of people. “Hey, I love Rich Little!” “How can you slam Billy Crystal?” “Home Improvement made a ton of money!”
And while I will submit that transvestite comic Eddie Izzard’s HBO special Dress to Kill is the single most brilliant comedic artifact ever, I can imagine a great number of people rolling their eyes and going back to listening to their local Morning Zoo radio show, which is the sort of thing that makes me want to leap into that tank at the Monterey Bay Aquarium where until recently they had a great white shark. (Amazing, the things you know because you have kids.)
Because who, after all, is to say? We have no National Arbiter of Comedy. (I nominate my friend Howard, not because he would be that good at it, but because it would bring him great joy.) We all know that we want to laugh, but each of us decides for ourself what to laugh at. This puzzle torments those of us in the comedy industry. Frankly, it would simplify things greatly if you all laughed at the same things. I would suggest further that you might want to consider laughing at the exact same things that I laugh at.
Sadly, I know that won’t happen, because the key to the puzzle exists in the very phrase “sense of humor.” What’s truly funny is a matter of sense, not objective fact. Things that smell good to me might not smell good to you (a distinction my wife makes quite often), so why shouldn’t it be so with comedy? Hence, the guy in your office who thinks his “Fat Bastard” impression is a riot, and further hence, the gal who thinks he is a scream and asks him to say “dead sexy” over and over. Furthest hence, the fart joke two sentences ago, which I quite liked, but would make my friend Howard sad. And that’s why Gallagher has legions of devoted fans, because the sense of humor is a delicate and undeniable seventh sense, with the sixth of course being the ability to see dead people.
Which reminds me of a story.
My wife and I went to see M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense. I am a sucker for a good twist, and the whole thing worked just great for me. (I was similarly pleased by The Usual Suspects and displeased by The Crying Game. She was so cute!) Then, as we were walking out, my wife said she had found five of the signs, but not the sixth.
“What?” I said with the kind of confusion she has come to expect from me.
“I counted five signs, but I didn’t see the sixth sign.” I pointed to the nearby poster advertising The Sixth Sense.
“Oh,” she said. “Crap.”
Now, in my opinion, that’s funny.
— Warren Bell, an NRO contributor, is a 15-year veteran of the sitcom business and a not-so-secret conservative.
Is The Da Vinci Code anti-Catholic? Is Madonna (the saucy aging pop-song stylist) risking the wrath of God by crucifying herself in concert? Did South Park go too far in their depiction of Christ in the episode parodying the Danish Mohammed cartoon controversy? Is God losing any sleep over any of this?
Answers: a) Of course it is. b) No, because God hasn’t paid much attention to Madonna’s career since “Vogue.” c) Guilty—but with an explanation. d) Doubtful. Then again, that raises the question: does God ever sleep? Answer: probably not, but He occasionally nods off in church, depending on how long the homily is.
The pop culture vs. religion controversies continue, product sells, people get upset, arguments ensue, blood pressure rises…and product sells some more.
When The Da Vinci Code was first published, my mother-in-law (Florence, a lovely woman)—and 50 gazillion other people—read it. My mother-in-law is a good Catholic and a voracious reader. Her review? “Oh it’s a terrific read. And it’s the most anti-Catholic book I’ve ever read!” Is it possible to be both? Sure it is. Is the movie anti-Catholic? Well, yeah, of course it is (I haven’t seen it yet, but it’s based on the book, right? Which I read along with 50 gazillion other people, including my mother-in-law). It’s not really a debatable point, is it? A movie about a secret Catholic plot to kill anyone who reveals the secret that the Vatican has spent 2,000 years covering up—that Jesus Christ dated, got married, had kids, moved to the suburbs, ordered the complete cable package with over 200 channels, attended PTA meetings, coached Little League and joined the Knights of Columbus…well, that’s not exactly pro-Catholic, is it? The really offensive part of The DaVinci Code is that apparently, Jesus’ kids grew up to be French. Oy vey.
So yeah, it’s anti-Catholic. It’s also, in the words of its star Tom Hanks, “a lot of hooey.” And it’s directed by Ron Howard who is a terrific film maker (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Eat My Dust) and he’s Richie Cunnigham and he’s Opie and he spent a long, hot night right before he went off to college riding around in a car with Cindy Williams and Richard Dreyfuss…so cut him some slack.
Now, Madonna. On a big old cross. I’m shocked, shocked! Didn’t she already do this, like 20 years ago? Or was that when she did that video where she was making out with a saint in a church? Oh, that Madonna! With the anti-Catholic imagery! Romping around in her underwear and all. She’s so…what’s the word? Controversial.
At this point Madonna’s anti-Catholic shtick is about as daring and unique as the time when in the midst of a big fight with my dad I screamed in a triumph of originality, “Oh yeah? Well, I didn’t ask to be born, man!” My poor dad just rubbed his forehead, embarrassed for me at my hack material. (Sadly, I was 32 at the time, but that’s another story…). Having said that, “I’m Hung Up On You” is awfully catchy and it’s got a great beat.
If Madonna really wanted to shock everybody, she’d record a song (with a catchy beat) denouncing the persecution of Christians in Communist China. Or a song celebrating the American liberation of the women of Afghanistan. Now, that’d be a shocker!
The king of anti-Christian imagery this season was the recent episode of South Park that deliberately depicted a particularly vile and offensive image of Jesus. Far more offensive than anything in Da Vinci or Madonna’s act. But, of the three, the most defensible. Here’s how it worked: The episode centered around the Danish Mohammed cartoon controversy. In the episode, there was a harmless depiction of Mohammed purchasing a snack from a vendor. The image lasted for a couple of seconds and was completely uninteresting. There was also a depiction of Jesus—wildly offensive and awful. Guess which image Comedy Central refused to air?
Using diabolical double-backwards-reverse psychology, the South Park creators made the most pro-Christian pop-cultural point of the season by forcing the question: Why is it okay to offend every Christian on the planet earth—but we can’t even mention Mohammed in polite company?
Christianity has been around far longer than modern American pop culture (even including Madonna, who’s been around an awfully long time). For Christians, the eternal truths of Christ and his teachings are just that—eternal. The Billboard Top Ten, and the weekend box-office numbers in Variety are very, very important—but next week they’ll change.
Madonna, South Park, Da Vinci—it’s all very important. Not quite as important as the fact that the Iranians are about to drop an atomic bomb on Israel and kill all the Jews, but very, very important.
Meanwhile, it’s been 820 days and counting since the release of The Passion of the Christ, and the search continues for the one Jewish guy who got beat up because of that movie. If you were in the pack of crazed Catholics who saw The Passion then swarmed out of the mall theater to beat up that Jewish guy, contact me through this website. Somehow I missed that story.
—Comedian Dave Konig starred on Broadway in Grease! and won a New York Emmy as the co-host of Subway Q&A. Konig has written a novel, Good Luck, Mr. Gorsky. Konig is also an NRO contributor