Finding the Funny in the Not-So-Funny

It's been a good week for political humor. Stephen Colbert's brilliant and uncomfortably hilarious White House Correspondents Dinner speech hit the number-one spot on iTunes. Saturday Night Live had a typically brilliant "Fun With Real Audio" sketch which zinged Bush, Rummy and Cheney for the the blatant untruths uttered over the years (cf. "No one could have anticipated the breach of the levees"). Air America's Sam Seder and Stephen Sherrill came out with "F.U.B.A.R.: America's Right-Wing Nightmare" which Vanity Fair called "completely hysterical." Hilarious stuff, right?

fun with real - yes, REAL - audio.jpgYes - until you consider the sounce material. I clicked on the "Fun With Real Audio" link with relish, because when SNL is good it is oh, so good. The clip features the aforementioned real audio with animated on-screen editorializing; in this case, every time Bush, Rummy or Cheney says something untrue, someone spit-takes on them (and then Karl Rove runs in waving his arms to do damage control). It's genuinely hilarious to see a cartoon Dennis Hastert spit-take on Bush as he tells the nation that Saddam Hussein is seeking "significant quantities of uranium from Africa" and the generals dousing Bush in his flightsuit as he proclaims "In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our Allies have prevailed." But it's a repeating motif, and it's real audio, and by the fifth or sixth example I laughed with a heavy heart (because it is funny watching Rove strangle the bald eagle for spitting on Bush as he says "A wiretap requires a court order," just in an awful sort of way) (this is, by the way, without quoting Condi saying "no one could have forseen terrorists would fly planes into buildings"). By the time the levees "spit" on Bush and Co. at the end, gushing in and filling up the screen, the point has been driven home.

Same with Colbert's speech. Why did people complain that it was unfunny? Because it was true, which is why that particular audience greeted it with nervous, uncomfortable silence. These were no "Yo Mama" jokes (though considering what Barbara Bush said about New Orleans residents in the Astrodome, they could have been). Colbert's speech was long, and FUBAR.jpgdense with zinger after all-too-accurate zinger: "Before I get started, if anybody needs anything else at their tables, just speak slowly and clearly into your table numbers. Somebody from the NSA will be right over with a cocktail" and "I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message: that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound -- with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world." OUCH. That's a truth that hurts - actually, that truth hurts everyone.

Finally, F.U.B.A.R. I had read excerpts and picked it up, looking forward to some knowing snickers and snappy jokes. Instead I got the most depressing thing possible: facts. F.U.B.A.R. has the hilarity chops down, but that's only because all of its jokes are uncomfortably true. Seder and Sherrill's contention:

"F.U.B.A.R." is a military acronym that means FUCKED UP BEYOND ALL RECOGNITION. It is the authors' contention that the country has been fucked up. But more than just the general "boy, things are really fucked up" feeling that most Americans have when watching the news or rolling their eyes at the "more-'partisan-bickering'-by-those-Washington-politicians" tone the media takes with any story about politics. This is a different kind of fucked up--one that's making America unrecognizable as the America most Americans feel they know. You may think the political and social situation in this country is bad. But it's worse. It's the Rapture Right Paradox: to whatever extent you realize Bush and the Rapture Right have fucked America up, it's always worse. However worse you think it is, it's worser. So far, scientists have been unable to come up with a successful mathematical proof of the Rapture Right Paradox, but then the Rapture Right isn't so big on science.

Chapters include "I Hate Myself: Life As A Gay Republican" (funny, there seems to be a connection between being virulently anti-gay and being firmly in the closet) ; "So You Wanna Buy A Congressman..." (citing Santorum and DeLay) and "Heck of a Job" (according to the authors, from 2000 to 2004 the numbers of jobs open to political appointees went up 15 percent). They also tackle the Bush administration's attack on reproductive rights, sex education ("Let us put it this way: if you're a horny seventeen-year old, you should be out right now looking for someone who has signed a "virginity pledge"), social security, the environment and science. It's very, very funny all the way through. But as I read it, I just found myself getting more and more sad.

Carol Burnett said "Comedy is tragedy plus time." Thanks to the Bush administration, the nation's humorists are working with a different equation. Damn funny stuff, except for the source material.


Here's an excerpt from "F.U.B.A.R.: America's Right-Wing Nightmare" by Sam Seder and Stephen Sherrill:


1 THE BIBLE, by God, with The Holy Spirit. (United States Government Printing Office, free; mandatory). The Word of God, quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. With a new foreword by Jim Belushi.

2 A MILLION AND ONE LITTLE PIECES, by James Frey. (Random House, $43.95.) A memoir by the Viceroy of Iraq about his hardscrabble childhood that made him tough enough to quell the civil war in Iraq and divide it into a million and one self governing "cantons."

3 THE DARK LITTLE BOY AND THE iPOD, by Thomas L. Friedman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $47.95.) A columnist for The New York Times explains the connection between solving world conflict and a third-world boy owning an iPod Shuffle.

4 THE SEA OF GALILEE DIET, by Reverend Thomas Waterman. (Rodale, $42.95.) Also known as "The Communion Diet," a weight-loss plan built entirely around small amounts of red wine (the Blood of the Lamb) and small wafers (the Body of Christ).

5 THE JUNGLE (UPDATED EDITION), by Upton Sinclair, with revisions by George A. Hormel IV. (Random House, $37.95.) Updated classic about a Chicago meatpacking plant, and how interference from the Food and Drug Administration and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration drove up consumer prices and cost Americans jobs.

6 HARRY POTTER AND THE CROSS OF NAZARETH, by J. K. Rowling (Scholastic, Inc., $34.95.) A young wizard realizes sorcery is evil, accepts Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior, and marries a young woman named Hermione, who wisely chose to abstain from sexual intercourse until marriage.
7 GOD HATES YOU. WE HATE YOU, by Laura Baker (Zondervan, $39.95.) The bestselling author of Straight Baby on Board explains the correct way to respond if your child says that he or she might be gay.

8 THE METAPHOR GROWS IN THE SIMILE, by Thomas L. Friedman (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $42.95.) A columnist for the New York Times says that the solution to the world's economic divide is for the developed world to export metaphors to the developing world.

9 MY TOP STORY--AND MY BOTTOM STORY, by James D. Guckert (Random House, $39.95.) A memoir by Jeff Gannon, the 20-year veteran anchor of the CBS Evening News.

10 TANGO AND 'STACHE, by John Bolton (Scribner's, $28.95.) Vice President Bolton's guide to seducing women using nothing but natural charm, the Latin dance of love, and his "Weapon of Mustache Diplomacy."

11 ME STRAIGHT NOW AND REALIZE ME WAS AN ABOMINATION UNTO GOD, by David Sedaris (Little, Brown, $31.95.) The author hilariously describes how being beaten and detained by government agents helped him to understand the error of his ways.

12 YOUR BODIES, GOD'S SELVES, by Rev. Jimmy Dobson, III (Regnery, $36.95.) A guide to women's health and their dirty, obscene, disgusting reproductive systems, with suggestions on how to avoid sex, or touching yourself "down there," until marriage, and afterwards, too.

13 HAMMER TIME! , by Tom DeLay (Putnam, $48.95.) A former House majority leader of the Republican Party recounts his time in prison, his conversion to Islam while in prison, and his later success on the PGA senior tour.

14 I THINK IT WAS THE MUSTACHE, by Thomas L. Friedman (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $45.95.) A columnist for the New York Times recounts his complete mental breakdown, and describes a new grooming system that he says helped him recover and become less annoying.

15 FARMER'S AL-MAN-ON-MAN-AC, by Rev. Pat Robertson (Chronicle Books, $32.95.) In a newly updated edition, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Pat Robertson explains the connection between the extreme weather patterns and homosexuality, and how to adjust your growing season--and your property insurance coverage--accordingly.

16 YOU MIGHT BE A JEW IF . . . (VOL. 7), by Timothy Wright (Simon & Schuster, $28.95.) Another volume of the humor classic, which includes such "clues" to your being Jewish as "you're filthy," "you're a Democrat," "you stole Christmas," and "you're in Hell."

17 MAN ON DOG AND LOVIN' EVERY MINUTE OF IT! , by Rick Santorum (Morrow, $42.95.) A former senator describes his long-term love affair with "Big Boy," and offers tips on love, commitment, and interspecies relationships.

18 WHEN THE SAINTS WENT MARCHING IN, by Denny Hastert Jr. (Random House, $31.95.) The CEO of the "New Orleans Experience" recounts how "The Big Easy" was transformed into a family-friendly Christian theme park.

19 THE PURPOSE-DRIVEN LIFE, by Jenna and Barbara Bush (Crown, $35.95.) Two daughters of a former president give advice on how to live a serious and fulfilling life with the help of tips on makeup, hangover remedies, achieving perfect ass-cleavage, and avoiding the military draft.

20 JUST GIVE ME ONE MORE CHANCE: I PROMISE IT WILL WORK, by Condoleezza Rice (Little, Brown, $41.95.) The president of the United States admits that mistakes were made in the Iran War, and pleads that with just a few trillion dollars more, democracy will be possible there, or at least restoration of electricity. Foreword by Ike Turner.