Friday, January 27, 2006


With the recent passing of Richard Pryor, much ado was made of the state of American comedy. Pryor transformed the genre of stand-up, a profession once reliant on skits and one-line jokes, by adding the daring element of confession; of vulnerability and personal revelation. Today the torch has been passed, and modern comics like Zach Galifiankis, Louis CK, Sarah Silverman, Bob Odenkirk, and Patton Oswalt peddle a new, "alternative" brand of comedy. It's a strange hybrid of hope and cynicism, irony and decency - these comedians make fun of the America they find themselves in, not because it's the only gristle around to grind, but because by lampooning it and its citizens, they hope to improve it. No comedian of this new breed stands out as a more perfect example than Ann Coulter, whose jabs at liberal Americans are the ne plus ultra of subversive comedy. Just recently, in fact, Coulter had this to say when asked about the country's Supreme Court: "We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens' creme brulee," Coulter said. "That's just a joke, for you in the media."

Notice how the first comment - We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens' creme brulee - deftly plays off of conservatives' strongly held and alarmingly innacurate stereotypes of liberals - they of the pansy race, epicurians with so great a hunger for French cuisine. The meat of the joke, however, is in her blunt assessment and dissection of current conservative hyperbole, especially in regards to the sickening adoption of the belief that violent means are necessary to achieve ever ignoble goals. Simply the idea of a person poisoning a Supreme Court justice in an effort to repeal civil rights is enough to induce laughter, but to express it so flippantly and carelessly (Coulter possesses a unique, genre-bending deadpan delivery) is the true genius of her art.

Finally, notice how she pauses before continuing - That's just a joke, for you in the media - again taking a simple statement and elevating it to farce. Of course you're joking, we think to ourselves, but it's a sick and cruel joke, and not that funny - before being blindsided by the obviousness of her admission. Once again Coulter subverts our expectations and plays with the media's unbending and belabored concept of who she is and what she represents. She seems to be winking at us while lobbing another Molotov cocktail through our window - humor with a shot of cocaine; a final joke, a hilarious one, as she splays us out on the stretching table and cranks away with a relentless, eerie vigor. This is humor in the 21st century - funny, biting, relevant, and, most of all, incredibly painful and almost unbearably sad.

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