It’s understandable when conservatives go on offense against leftist celebrities who get nasty with blanket disparagement of conservatism. Names like Rosie O’Donnell, Janeane Garofalo, and David Letterman at his most pointed come to mind, but there are ubiquitous instances and individuals.
When the attacks are mean-spirited, it’s easy to respond in kind. But what about the likable liberal? The entertainment icon we know is a committed progressive Democrat, but whose contribution to the arts objectively transcends the unceasing wrangle of a divided country?
In the comedy of Martin Short, an occasionally outspoken Hollywood-by-way-of-Canada liberal, we experience an evocation of the heartbreak and joyfulness of show business. Though an obvious prodigy talent, the comedian has always walked between the dichotomous pillars of persevering success and flop-sweat failure. It’s part of what makes him so hysterically funny.
He steers clear of overt political ideology in I Must Say, but in the past has made known his affiliations, which raises the question: Should there always be a socio-political angle when conservative cultural arbiters review or analyze a mainstream culture permeated with progressive ideology?
No. Discussion of a new conservative counterculture–which seeks to establish influence in the face of an old counterculture that has become a politicized, propagandized mainstream culture–is a necessary exercise.
But only when conservative cultural commentary features ostensibly neutral coverage of arts and culture alongside ideologically considered coverage, will it secure a place in the so-called mainstream.
There’s a trove of fascinating background on the SCTV and Saturday Night Live years in Short’s memoir, and droppings of the kind of illustrious names you’d expect from a sketch and character artist who came of age performing with the best comedic minds of a generation.
While the book is replete with stories of career-changing providence, Short doesn’t shy away from boldly recounting his epic missteps. One incident, an early lapse into boorishness that cost him a seat next to Katharine Hepburn, must have stung a young man so reverent of the ethos of celebrity.
But Short did persevere, and in the recounting of how his star rose, a more personal narrative emerges. His love and devotion to wife Nancy, whom the author met after securing his first show business break, the 1972 Toronto Royal Alexandra Theater production of the musical Godspell, returns as a thematic overarch as the years roll by.
There was plenty of salad to go around. At one lull in his upward mobility, Short developed his “Nine Categories,” an exercise in personal inventory and self-evaluation that he characterizes as “the course load of life.” Among the categories are Self, Immediate Family, Creativity and Discipline.
“One of the crucial benefits of the Nine Categories,” Short writes, “is that they’ve gotten me through the many uneven periods of my career and kept in focus the true priorities of life. “
Along the way we are treated to vignettes from characters now enshrined in comedic consciousness: Ed Grimley, Jiminy Glick, and cross-eyed albino lounge singer Jackie Rodgers Jr.
One of conservatism’s ongoing criticisms of left-wing influence on entertainment culture is the way conservatives are often portrayed, as greedy, mean-spirited businessmen and women, mouth-breathing yokels, gun-obsessed bigots, et.al.
The critique is largely valid, however only conservatives with absolutely no sense of humor will be unable to laugh at Short’s most “conservative” character, Nathan Thurm, shown here in a dual portrayal with another Short icon, prolific Jewish songwriter Irving Cohen.
Apparent throughout the memoir is Short’s solid work ethic and commitment to craft, as he explores his options in Toronto, is accepted into the SCTV fold, then makes the leap to Saturday Night Live and big-time America.
The narrative reaches emotional climax with “Love, Loss, and Bumpkiss,” a late chapter in which Short movingly recounts the 2010 loss of his beloved Nancy.
There’s no shortage of zingers, both good-natured and more acerbic, which often lend the narration the aspect of one of Short’s uproarious talk show appearances.
That Short has achieved comedy icon status was ubiquitously apparent in the last week of 2014, when he appeared on two high-profile PBS broadcasts, the Kennedy Center Honors, where Short led the segment honoring his friend Tom Hanks, and a rebroadcast of Carol Burnett’s 2013 Mark Twain Prize award ceremony.
It is vital that conservatives identify and nurture performance and literary arts exemplars who challenge the ideology that dominates entertainment culture.
But unless conservatives choose to make conditional their interface with the culture they seek to influence, and are willing to risk appearing to extol the work of only those they agree with, any conservative counterculture must include analysis and review of left-leaning artists from the standpoint of artistic merit alone, untrammeled by any litmus-test overlay.
Those charged with disseminating the new conservative counterculture must remain open to largely if not wholly apolitical appreciation and critique of leftist and Democrat-oriented popular culture. We can’t short-shrift talent no matter how much we may disagree politically, ideologically, or culturally with the artist.
As Irving Cohen might say, “Cultural, countercultural, and whatever the hell else you want to put in there.”