Ed Driscoll

"Comedy Is Hard. Those Envelopes Don't Push Themselves, You Know"

James Lileks fleshes out his recent Bleat on David Letterman into an op-ed in the New York Post:

How did we get here? Blame Dave. When he came on the air, he was utterly new, and hilarious. He may have invented the posture of Nerd Cool, an aspect so familiar to anyone who reads Internet message boards — the skill at deflating enthusiasm, puncturing passion with a hatpin lobbed from a safe distance.

Now he’s about as edgy as a soccer ball, and exists to ladle out rations of Wryness and Irony. With those shields we can never grow old, you know. We’ll always be as sharp and perceptive as we were when we were sitting on a cast-off sofa in college, working through a midweek buzz.

Compare him to his predecessors: Carson was all Midwestern charm, with mannerly reserve; Steve Allen was show-off smart but cheerful; Parr was a nattering nutball covered with a rich creamy nougat of ego, but he was engaging. Letterman compares Sarah Palin to an Olive Garden hostess, thereby sneering at all the ghastly rubes who pullulate beyond the Hudson — while making you wonder when he hits the OG. It’s possible he built a replica at home, and hires people to behave just as stupidly as he believes they must be.

If Letterman was the father of modern smirk-comedy, his children by various muses are everywhere, from Jon Stewart — not a real journalist, and therefore somehow a more really real journalist — to Colbert, Conan, et. al. (Conan got a good start on winning over middle America last week, when he said half of Wisconsinites hadn’t seen a black man, and half hadn’t seen a thin person. Context? We don’t need no stinking context!) They all skew left, but that’s not the problem. It’s that everyone else they know has the same ideas. Bush = teh evil, Palin is stoopid. At this point it’s about as fresh as Mort Sahl doing a Khrushchev routine in 1976.

Yet reserve some sympathy. Money aside, it can’t be fun to deal flat, rote A-Rod jokes night after night and hear laughter you know the joke didn’t earn. Of course, $32 million buys many comforts, including insulation from both the people you mock, and the yo polloi who huff hardy-har at your mocking. But then there’s those days where you have to clarify that you meant to suggest that the older daughter was having sex, not the underage ones. It wears on a man, no doubt.

Comedy is hard. Those envelopes don’t push themselves, you know.

In contrast, the Associated Press, much like Eric Idle in The Life of Brian, always looks on the bright side of life.