August 12, 2008, 9:53 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , ,

In his opinion piece ‘The Real Joke in Minnesota’ for the Washington Post, Michael Kinsley digresses to talk about hamfistedness.

His essay is about how politicians try to control gaffes whereas comedians must risk them.  In the case of Al Franken, professional comedian morphing into professional politician, his past gaffes could become liabilities.  But, says the author, the risks he took over the years make him an interesting man which is an asset to the senate.

But back to the digression:  Kinsley takes some time to describe how a joke works.  You can draw and, with abandon, cross the line of social acceptability to shock.  Or you can dance up to and around the line of social acceptability to amuse.  He says George Carlin did mostly the former and wasn’t very funny.  I think a lot of American comedy does the same thing: there is a dark undercurrent of anger and maybe fear in much of it and virtually no sense of self knowledge and deprecation that is essential to help people to laugh at their condition.  That’s hamfisted … and smug.

Here is the excerpt from Kinsley’s article.  Read the whole piece here

The surest way to stumble into a gaffe is to tell a joke. Jokes are risky; they are a game of percentages. That is why jokes are best left to professional jokesters. Certainly they are too dangerous for politicians to play with. Any joke that doesn’t offend at least a few people is unlikely to be funny. You have to hope that many more will be amused than are offended. You have to come as close as you can to the line of justifiable, widespread offense without crossing it. This is why I never found George Carlin, who died last month, terribly funny: He walked up to the line and simply crossed it. Where is the art in that?

~The Real Joke in Minnesota, by Michael Kinsley, The Washington Post


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