After the Thumping: What's Next for Political Comedy?
I went into a little slump after the elections, but that's over now. I just didn't see the immediate riff on the Bush administration. I mean the comedy writers of America have been lambasting these guys for years, and rightfully so. While the right wing radio blowhards were babbling away with their chicken-hawk talking points, the noble progressives on late-night TV were steadily living up to their promise in a free society. I don't want to get sentimental here, but I'm proud of it. I think the highlight for me was having a joke in Time Magazine. I also enjoyed the nationally-aired one saying Cheney would waterboard trick-or-treaters on Halloween till they gave up their candy. I noted that a joke like that - with a sitting Vice President torturing children - had no chance in previous years. The fact that it went on, was a sign that the protective coating of 9/11 is now faded and gone. The joke was a sign that the Republicans were in trouble.
Political discourse in this country really has been ghastly lately. In the last few years, the corporate media's been acting as a PR firm for the powers that be. People were afraid to show dissent - even though that's a hallmark of democracy - lest they be branded terrorist-appeasing traitors. We were living in the presence of bullies and questioning them was met with a frenzied bleating from their all-too-willing stooges on talk radio.
The only place I saw the appropriate ridicule was from the comedians of America. That's what we're here for - providing our own form of checks and balances - and it paid off last Tuesday night. Nancy Pelosi didn't help save America but Jon Stewart might have.
So what's next? Where do we go with it now? It's no longer funny to dump on Republicans in a pre-election way, now that they've taken a "thumping" in Congress. Nothing is older news faster than in comedy, and the election is now ancient history. Okay, here's my opinion on the road ahead.
When a script is written for a Hollywood disaster movie, it's not enough to have the major players just be professionals. They always write in some family relationships. There's a father-daughter situation going on or a married couple splitting up and reuniting. Just imagine that movie trailer voice: "Life tore them apart, but disaster brought them back together again!"
Now it's happening in a horror movie known as the Bush administration. The fact that our beleaguered President is turning once more to his Dad to bail his sorry ass out, is the next big comedic twist -the next riff. Okay, it's not comedy gold, because there is no man/woman sex angle. But make no mistake, this is comedy silver. This is a marketable hook we have here.
I fired one of the first salvos tonight: "President Bush is turning to his Dad to help with Iraq and his Dad is not too happy about it. In fact, this could be the first sitting President to get grounded."
There was a distraction in the studio audience that screwed up the response, but watching at home, I felt the path ahead was clear. The familiar "Tale of the Screw-up Son" is entering its final act. Let's review: The Screw-up Son grows up around the famous, war-hero Father who becomes President. The Screw-up Son gets in all kinds of trouble with the Father helping him get out of it, over and over again. The Father's friends help the Screw-up Son get out of Vietnam. The Father's friends help the Screw-Up Son become President.
Suddenly, the Screw-Up Son is a Big Shot and he's going to show Dad that he can run the world even better. Who needs all that fancy book learnin'? The Screw-Up Son will just rely on his instincts and his faith. Then the inevitable happens: The Screw-Up Son screws up. I mean the Screw-up Son screws up BADLY! And now Dad's back to bail him out one more time.
It's mythic. It's legendary. Okay, it's a little trite and formulaic but there's a reason formulas last: They work. The way ahead in comedy is to examine the return of Dad to save the Screw-Up Son. It's wired and it's gold. Okay, not gold, but silver.
The last reel in one of the great Presidential disaster movies is underway, and the comedy writers of America are going to be all over it. How bad is the situation? This Thanksgiving the first President Bush is making George sit at the kiddie table again.