‘Good humor,” according to American author Grenville Kleiser, “is a tonic for mind and body. It is the best antidote for anxiety and depression. It is a business asset. It attracts and keeps friends. It lightens human burdens. It is the direct route to serenity and contentment.”
Kleiser is long dead, but his prescient observation lives on. Americans have not been of good humor for many years now, and we are neither serene nor content. Our national mood, once upbeat and positive, has devolved into perpetual angst and outrage. Our once ready smiles replaced by dismissive sneers, and our propensity for good-natured laughter is expropriated by a proclivity for demeaning mockery.
Stand-up comedy in America is an all but dead art form, and telling a joke in a social setting today is akin to walking through a mine field wearing clown shoes. Our skins are thin and our tempers short. We are easily offended and quick to seek retribution. Sadly, we have been complicit in creating this debilitating dysphoria by allowing our once commonsensical rules of civility to be supplanted by a Gordian knot of arbitrary, nonsensical, woke dogma that’s practically indecipherable but stridently enforced nonetheless. In short, there’s not much fun in funny anymore, and there’s really not much that’s funny — or allowed to be funny — either.
Over the past few decades, political forces aligned to slice, dice and julienne American citizenry into a socio-political mélange of demographic divisiveness based on ethnicity, biological gender, gender preference, race, religion, age, body type, education, financial status, political ideology, etc. — ad nauseam. Whether through design or evolution, these now disparate “communities” — to varying degrees — have assumed a mantle of victimhood and an attitude of resentment. They also have hair triggers that are reflexively pulled to condemn, denigrate and silence anyone or any entity they perceive has offended them. The result: It’s virtually impossible to make an innocent statement, much less a joke, that doesn’t offend someone to the extent they demand justice, i.e. public retribution.
Nowhere is the humorlessness of America on more telling display than on late-night television. The days of Johnny Carson spicing up his monologue with a few well-placed political wisecracks (ex. “Did you know Richard Nixon is the only president whose formal portrait was painted by a police sketch artist?”) are, regrettably, long gone. Although today’s late night comic hosts are many (Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, Seth Myers, et al), their individual shticks are little more than slight variations of a redundant theme that is based on one of the last demographics left deemed acceptable to joke about: Republicans.
It’s fine, Republicans are used to it, and they can take it. But one would think that even woke audiences would, over time, begin to find the nightly litany just a tad tedious and a whole lot unfunny. The two Jimmys and their peers have the smarts and talent to be consistently hilarious. But being among the wokest of the woke, these guys are either naturally disinclined, or too cowardly to push the comedic envelope, which is — or used to be — a foundational precept of creative comedy. It’s telling that late-night studio audiences often clap rather than laugh after a joke, agreeing with what was said but not finding it funny; kind of like a political rally with some tired jokes thrown in.
Fox News recently launched a new late-night show — Gutfeld! — to compete with the shows of the aforementioned comics. Despite generally poor reviews, Gutfeld! has consistently and surprisingly achieved viewership numbers that surpass all of its competitors. A small sampling of the show revealed it to be sometimes funny, just as often cringeworthy but also defiantly unwoke, which could account for its early popularity and high ratings. It’s practically inevitable Gutfeld! will run afoul of the self-appointed humor police at some point, which in itself would prove immensely entertaining. But, for the moment, at least it offers a rare and raucous respite from the homogenized partisan gobbledygook now passing for humor in America.
Johnny Carson once quipped, “I know a man who gave up smoking, drinking, sex and rich food. He was healthy right up to the day he killed himself.” Johnny’s one-liner was intended to provoke a laugh, but in today’s hyper-touchy world, it surely ticks off someone or some group somewhere. More’s the pity.
Brent Grimes writes and laughs, often uproariously and occasionally inappropriately, from the privacy of his home in Damascus. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.