Althouse | category: comedy



an endless succession of beans and nuts.

"During a three-part special examining the crimes of the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer that aired last November on 'Dr. Phil,' Phil McGraw, the host of the daytime talk show...

"... played a TikTok video of a 27-year-old woman named Stanzi Potenza as evidence that true-crime fandom had gone too far. In the video, Ms. Potenza said she was so obsessed with Netflix’s 'Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story' that she stayed home from work in diapers to binge the series uninterrupted. As it turns out, Ms. Potenza had made a video satirizing true-crime obsessives and Dr. Phil mistook it as sincere...."

From "Welcome to CringeTok, Where Being Insufferable Can Be Lucrative/On TikTok, cringe comedy creators are gaining large followings and brand deals by impersonating terrible people" (NYT).

What's the news here? That comic actors are doing funny clips on TikTok or that Dr. Phil and his staff are incredibly dumb? Or is it the term "cringe"?! I'm glad to see Potenza and other comic actors like her getting promoted in places like the NYT. It's a little cheap to scoff at a Dr. Phil mistake. But the article mainly goes on to explain "cringe," which I find irksome (for some reason):
As a concept, cringe is deceptively hard to describe. As a content category, cringe is vast.... Cringe is not any one thing, but you know it when you see it....

Is this even a category?! If you can't describe it, consider the possibility that there is no "it." Don't coyly pose as the one who "knows" it on sight.

I've been hearing the term "cringe" for years, and I've watched a lot of these comic actors on TikTok. I know they are doing comic characters. I don't make Dr. Phil type mistakes. But I'm not cringing in any way — I don't wince or tremble. I don't feel obsequious, embarrassed, or awkward.

We're told that the TikTokkers look for things people do "that make us recoil, like self-absorption and obliviousness." In other words, comic characters are based on the observation of human foibles. That's how it's always been. Maybe some TikTokker will do (or has done) a clip about a person who thinks she's discovered some trendy new way to be humorous that is obviously only the way comics have done characters since the days of Aristophanes. She massively overuses the word "cringe."

"Not long ago, it would have been embarrassing for adults to admit that they found avant-garde painting too difficult and preferred the comforts of story time."

"What Gadsby did was give the audience permission — moral permission — to turn their backs on what challenged them, and to ennoble a preference for comfort and kitsch."

This is a review of a Brooklyn Museum art exhibition called "It’s Pablo-matic: Picasso According to Hannah Gadsby." Gadsby is a standup comedian who has lambasted Picasso for being a sexist. The show has a smattering of works by Picasso juxtaposed with various works by women that are presented as telling women's "stories," with inscriptions on the wall like "I want my story to be heard” and “entirely new stories”:
This elevation of “stories” over art (or at least comedy) was the principal thrust of “Nanette,” a Sydney stand-up routine which became an American viral success during the last presidency.... “Nanette” proposed a therapeutic purpose for culture, rejecting the “trauma” of telling jokes in favor of the three-act resolution of “stories.” It directly analogized Picasso to then-President Trump: “The greatest artist of the twentieth century. Let’s make art great again, guys.” It even averred that Picasso, and by extension all the old masters, suffered from “the mental illness of misogyny.”... 
“My story has value,” Gadsby said in “Nanette”; and then, “I will not allow my story to be destroyed”; and then, “Stories hold our cure.” But Howardena Pindell, on view here, is much more than a storyteller; Cindy Sherman, on view here, is much more than a storyteller. They are artists who, like Picasso before them, put ideas and images into productive tension, with no reassurance of closure or comfort. The function of a public museum (or at least it should be) is to present to all of us these women’s full aesthetic achievements; there is also room for story hour, in the children’s wing.

I've been hearing the buzzword "stories" — and "storytelling" — since the 1980s. It has always irritated me. I liked hearing Farago's blunt statement of why it bothers him. 

Have I ever talked about my irritation with this feminist concept of "storytelling"? Actually, yes. It was set off by Sarah Palin making fun of Katie Couric for saying she wanted to engage in more "multidimensional storytelling." Probably much more, but I'll stop here.

"They’re torturing themselves now, which is kind of fun to see. They’re afraid that their little AIs are going to come for them."

"They’re apocalyptic, and so existential, because they have no connection to real life and how things work. They’re afraid the AIs are going to be as mean to them as they’ve been to us."

Said Doug Rushkoff, quoted in "'They’re afraid their AIs will come for them': Doug Rushkoff on why tech billionaires are in escape mode/The leading intellect on digital culture believes the recent tech reckoning is corrective justice for Silicon Valley barons" (The Guardian).

I don't know know whether to be afraid of AI. I observe from a distance and occasionally dip into it whimsically, like this:


Clearly, AI can't keep up with me, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't worry. The whole world is drifting somewhere I won't understand.

ADDED: Having tried Bard, I gave ChatGPT a chance:


Thank you for bringing this pun to my attention, it says, while still missing the pun. Notice how much the machine is distracted by worries about the feelings of human beings. I can't get it to speak bluntly, concisely, and on point. 

"One of China’s leading comedy show companies has been fined £1.68m after... one of its comedians... told of watching two stray dogs he had adopted chase a squirrel."

"The phrase that came to mind, he said, was: 'Fight well, win the battle' – a punchline based on an eight-character slogan that is associated with China’s People’s Liberation Army. In an audio recording that was shared online, the audience can be heard breaking into loud laughs. But a member of the audience reportedly made a complaint... China’s ministry of culture and tourism bureau said... 'We will never allow any company or individual use the Chinese capital as a stage to wantonly slander the glorious image of the PLA'... Discussing the controversy on WeChat, a messaging and social media platform, one commenter wrote: 'The Chinese People’s Liberation Army is sacred and inviolable! The clown will be severely punished!'"

The Guardian reports.

Such a mild joke, but the audience laughed hard. They must really enjoy the opportunity to experience disrespect for the glorious, sacred, inviolable People’s Liberation Army. 

"I invented Edna because I hated her.... I poured out my hatred of the standards of the little people of their generation."

Wrote Barry Humphries, quoted in "Barry Humphries (Dame Edna to You, Possums) Is Dead at 89/Bewigged, bejeweled and bejowled, Mr. Humphries’s creation was one of the longest-lived characters ever channeled by a single performer" (NYT).
Dame Edna emerged when the young Mr. Humphries, under the sway of Dadaism, was performing with a repertory company based at the University of Melbourne.... On long bus tours, he entertained his colleagues with the character of Mrs. Norm Everage — born Edna May Beazley in Wagga Wagga, Australia, sometime in the 1930s — an ordinary housewife who had found sudden acclaim after winning a nationwide competition, the Lovely Mother Quest. 
Unthinkable as it seems, Edna was dowdy then, given to mousy brown hair and pillbox hats. But she was already in full command of the arsenal of bourgeois bigotries that would be a hallmark of her later self...

I loved Dame Edna. (Click my "Dame Edna" tag.) But not everyone appreciated this sort of humor: 

In February 2003, writing an advice column as Dame Edna in Vanity Fair, he replied to a reader’s query about whether to learn Spanish. “Who speaks it that you are really desperate to talk to?” Dame Edna’s characteristically caustic response read. “The help? Your leaf blower? Study French or German, where there are at least a few books worth reading, or, if you’re American, try English.” 
A public furor ensued, led by the Mexican-born actress Salma Hayek, who appeared on the magazine’s cover that month. Vanity Fair discontinued Dame Edna’s column not long afterward. 
In an interview with The Times in 2004, Mr. Humphries was unrepentant. “The people I offended were minorities with no sense of humor, I fear,” he said. “When you have to explain the nature of satire to somebody, you’re fighting a losing battle.” 
Mr. Humphries drew further ire after a 2016 interview with the British newspaper The Telegraph in which he denounced political correctness as a “new puritanism.” In the same interview, he described people who transition from male to female as “mutilated” men, and Caitlyn Jenner in particular as “a publicity-seeking ratbag.” 

Here's that Telegraph piece from 7 years ago: 

[Germaine] Greer attracted fury after claiming that “trans” women such as Caitlyn Jenner (formerly the Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner) are men “who believe that they are women and have themselves castrated”, with students at Cardiff University describing Greer as “transphobic” and someone who should make all right-minded people feel “sick to [their] stomachs”.

Humphries is supportive of Greer in the controversy. “I agree with Germaine! You’re a mutilated man, that’s all,” he says. “Self-mutilation, what’s all this carry on? Caitlyn Jenner – what a publicity-seeking ratbag. It’s all given the stamp – not of respectability, but authenticity or something. If you criticise anything you’re racist or sexist or homophobic.”

Some video:

AND: Here's the London Times obituary:
During Dame Edna’s theatrical performances she would inform middle-aged women in the audience that they had no fashion sense and smelt like a week-old cleaning rag. “Tell me the story of that frock,” she would order a victim. “It’s obviously an old favourite. You were wise to remove the curtain rings.”... 
One Australian critic said that the character was so successful because she was “a perfect parody of a modern, vainglorious celebrity with a rampant ego and a strong aversion to the audience, whom celebrities pretend to love but actually, as Edna so boldly makes transparent, loathe for their cheap shoes and suburban values”. 
Dame Edna and Humphries’s boorish Sir Les Patterson, “the cultural attaché to the Court of St James’s”, who had a blotchy face, oversized dentures and rumpled, ill-fitting clothes were among the most famous theatrical Australian characters....
Audiences throughout the English-speaking world knew to avoid the front rows of his solo performances, unless they wished to risk being the recipients of Dame Edna’s sarcastic comments or Sir Les’s spittle, as he recounted his erotic adventures involving his all-too obvious “trouser snake”. Karen, his lesbian daughter, was dismissed as a “sausage dodger”..... 
Humphries never lost his passion for Dadaism: “I still consider myself to be a Dadaist and always put it down as my occupation on immigration forms — no one ever queries it.” 
In his seventies Humphries wrote his own obituary under the name of “Bronwyn Praxilities”, in which he described himself as “a self-indigent and inaudible has-been who lacked any sense of Progressive Social Relevance”....

When did you first become sensitized to the mocking of women?

I wonder, this morning, as I scan the comments on yesterday's post, "Whatever you think of [Dylan] Mulvaney’s transition, or her rather cloying girlishness... [s]he traffics not in anger or cruelty, but in whimsy and joy."*

Here's what I'm seeing (boldface added):

Sebastian: "Exuberant mockery of women, subversion of common sense, and in-your-face-take-that-deplorables-middle-fingerism....

Michelle Dulak Thomson: "[A]ll I can say is that he doesn't traffic in 'whimsy and joy.' He is a sick individual who mercilessly mocks women. Which is evidently OK these days...."

The Vault Dweller: "I don't think Dylan is setting out to mock women or ridicule women in general." And Quaestor came back with: "Is blackface acceptable if it's not intended as mockery?"

RoseAnne: "Is Mulvaney mocking women? Absolutely. Is Mulvaney doing it out of hatred of women? I don't know. Mulvaney may simply be taking advantage of the opportunity that is making so much money and not thinking very hard about HOW the money is being made...."

Bender: "LARPer Mulvaney traffics in womanface minstrel-show mockery. Which is nothing but malice."

Is this a special-purpose sensitivity to the mocking of women? Is the outrage of a piece with anxiety about the transgender movement or do these commenters also object when male standup comedians mock women and when comic actresses embody female stereotypes? 

Women represent a huge comic target. We are, perhaps, the biggest comic topic. We are mocked all the time. Do you want a new rule making women sacrosanct? Do you want to be the one stamping your foot and saying — in all seriousness — the punchline of one of the oldest jokes that mock women


* My post title is a quote from Megan McArdle's WaPo column "For conservatives, Dylan Mulvaney should be a role model." And I'm only noticing now that my use of brackets — in "[s]he traffics not in anger or cruelty" — might give the impression that McArdle used the masculine pronoun "he." No, McArdle had a capital "S" on "she," and my elision combined 2 sentences, so I needed a lower-case "S." I'll add a note about this to the original post. Here I am following a routine editing practice — using brackets where I need to change something in a quote — and I'm unwittingly exposing McArdle/myself to criticism about pronoun choice!
"They’re torturing themselves now, which is kind of fun to see. They’re afraid that their little AIs are going to come for them.""I invented Edna because I hated her.... I poured out my hatred of the standards of the little people of their generation."

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