’70s comedy ruled from an anti-throne of contempt for authority in all shapes. College deans, student body presidents, Army sergeants and officers, country-club swells, snooty professors and the EPA: Anyone who made it his life’s work to lord it over others got taken down with wit.
When the smoke bombs cleared and the anarchy died, comedy turned inward and became domesticated. It also became smaller.
“The Cosby Show” and Jerry Seinfeld didn’t seek to ridicule those in power. Instead they gave us comfy couch comedy — riffs on family and etiquette and people’s odd little habits.
Now, in the Judd Apatow era, comedy is increasingly marked by two worrying trends: One is a knee-jerk belief, held even by many of the most brilliant comedy writers, that coming up with the biggest, most outlandish gross-out gags is their highest calling.
Today’s comics have abdicated their responsibility to take down the powerful. They tiptoe around President Obama, but comedy has to be fearless.
These days they’re more at ease mocking their social inferiors than going after the high and mighty. Comfortably ensconced inside the castle that Richard Pryor and George Carlin tried to burn down, they drop water balloons on the unspeakable middle-America drones of “Parks and Recreation” and “The Office.”
Even comics who present themselves as the loyal opposition to the political leadership, like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, expend most of their effort simply repackaging Democratic Party talking points as jokes. The ’70s hang-’em-all anarchist spirit lives on only in the margins, in a few brave outposts like “South Park.”
Interesting points though I think one could argue that dramatic movies and TV shows have devolved in a similar way too. I think you need to consider the context of the times too. The 70s were responding to the 60s and Watergate which was a very different vibe than the Reagan era stew that Cosby and Seinfeld emerged from. That said, it'd be cool to see more "stick it to the man" comedy.
Labels: about standup
Permalink | 3/03/2014