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Comedy and Liberty

They told us to get back to work… but there weren’t any jobs available for a man under his desk in the fetal position… which I gladly would have taken… –Jon Stewart

I’m sitting here listening to the Daily Show as I type. Jon Stewart gave an unhumorous, bewildered, tearful opening monologue for their first show back on the air after the crisis… I started bawling like a baby, because it’s so hard to see someone whose facade of irony is usually so impenetrable dissolve in tears — saw Denis Leary doing it the other night too — and I found myself begging Jon not to betray us too and knuckle under to belligerent jingoism.

I don’t know why I expect so much from him or the Daily Show, really. I was thrilled in a wicked little way when they gave some air time to the Republican Convention anti-globalization protesters last year. I feel like most of the time when you scratch the show’s surface it’s got a good radical heart, as I think all comedy does. I think back on what Joel Hodgson said about MST3K being “about liberty, in a small goofy way,” and also remember my blissfully naive worry, when Clinton first got elected, that the Capitol Steps would run out of people to make fun of with Democrats in office.

I do think comedy is important. I watched Martin Espada use it to soften up audiences, I saw how many “regular guys” Mike Moore was able to speak to with his shows. I get fed up with some of the humorless communists I work with. They criticize the Simpsons and the Daily Show for not going far enough, for selling out, but who the hell are they reaching? People who already agree with them. The real art of information transfer is in flipping binary switches and turning people on, and that’s not accomplished with dogma. We’ve all been talking about this, me and various friends, and the ones I like better say they’re tired of dogma, they can’t deal with it now, the means can’t always match the ends immaculately. I think subtle political commentary slipped into comedy is what prepares legions of kids to listen for the messages of activists when they first arrive at college.

Jon did OK this time. He talked about silly memories of where he was when Martin Luther King was shot; he talked about how privileged he felt to be “allowed to sit in the back of the country” and make snide comments about everything; and then he said after the crisis is when Martin Luther King’s dream begins, because we start judging people based on character… and that made me cry harder, because a lively and kind woman I know from my job last year was attacked on the subway and blamed for the terrorism, and it’s just so wrong to mistake firefighters for the rest of the US… but then Jon talked about how blowing up things was a stupid, easy way out, and then he closed by saying his apartment’s view of the WTC has now been replaced by one of the Statue of Liberty. He didn’t come to any other conclusions. It’s the people who come to conclusions who make me most nervous right now, because I’m not coming to any myself.

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Clearly we’ve all got to take this bird by bird. I had been trying to put together a piece about the day the towers came down, and in doing so I forgot a vital truth I learned in ol’ Professor Frankel’s class, which is that trying to organize strong emotions into writing at the flash point not only makes for bad writing but also complicates the emotions themselves. So I’m not going to try to write something for publication, or to try to make perfect art out of my angst, or even to try to avoid some of the weblog vices I traditionally try to avoid. it’s back to in-the-trenches spewage, for me. watch this space.

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