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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Paying Tribute: A Couple Sunday Observations

I haven't been able to blog too much the last little while as I've been on the road and feverishly trying to make progress on a few projects. But I wondered just now if any of you caught the SNL tribute to George Carlin last night of the first episode ever, which Carlin hosted? I had a couple reactions: First, the show seems to have started very poorly and haphazardly. How did it succeed to a second episode? Most of Carlin's jokes fell flat not only now but also to much of the studio audience.  So much of the rest of the show was pretty forgettable or worse, triggering groans and fierce patience--not to mention, what became of Janis Ian and Billy Preston, those musical guests too??

The other reaction is a mite more substantive. During the inane Albert Brooks short, the news segment "reports" that one of the states lowered the age of consent to seven and then cuts to a guy trying to work some mojo with a seven year old girl in a bar. It wasn't particularly funny, but it was remarkable: I can't imagine that skit being run today even when the show and society at large is so much ... raunchier.  I wonder in what other ways our comedic norms of what's passably funny today are more "conservative" than they were 33 years ago. I'm guessing humor poking fun at minorities is less likely to pass muster on SNL today than it would have in the 70's --but see Chapelle's show-- but I'm not sure what else has experienced the same "trajectory of uptightness." Thoughts?

If you're looking for an interesting tribute of a more scholarly sort, check out Janet Halley's latest in the Harvard Blackletter Law Journal. It's the polished version of the remarks she made  upon her installation as the Royall Chair at HLS.  In the article, entitled "My Isaac Royall Legacy," Halley explores not only the distinguished legacy of those who preceded her as Royall Chair (including Thayer and more recently Clark), but also the social context which created the conditions for the bequest to Harvard to establish the Chair. The context Halley illuminates includes discussion of the slaves owned by Royall and what (precious little) we know about them. It's definitely an unusual way to say, Hey Elena, thanks for this great Chair! But putting aside Halley's little footnote snark about the "victims" of Harvard Law School's legacy -- snark, because it's unelaborated -- I can't imagine a more appropriate way to pay tribute under the circumstances.

Posted by Administrators on June 29, 2008 at 06:17 PM in Blogging | Permalink

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Comments

I LOVED that Albert Brooks short. I always thought his stuff was way ahead of it's time and really clever. I think they stole more from him than anyone.

Posted by: bob markum | Jul 3, 2008 3:28:44 PM

Brannon, thanks for skewling me as to Preston's achievements. I had never heard of him or the song that he played on that first episode of SNL. I didn't mean to imply that he was *then* an obscure unknown--just that today he seems a bit unfamiliar. But that's just my ignorance talking -- again!

Posted by: Dan Markel | Jul 2, 2008 9:23:28 AM

Dear Dan:

Surely you're not suggesting that keyboard impresario Billy Preston was an obscure unknown? Preston was an outstanding sessions musician, and played the cool organ solo on the Beatles' "Get Back." He also did some of the great keyboard work for the Rolling Stones on albums like "Sticky Fingers" and "Exile on Main St." He toured with them as well. He wrote the song, "You Are So Beautiful" made famous by Joe Cocker and who could forget his signature song "Nothin' from Nothin'" (with the memorable line "Ya gotta have somethin'/If you wanna be with me"). He died in June 2006 at the age of 59.

Yrs,

BPD

Posted by: Brannon Denning | Jun 30, 2008 10:16:52 PM

That second link was bad. Here it is:
http://www.hulu.com/watch/19187/saturday-night-live-cork-soakers

Posted by: Paul Washington | Jun 30, 2008 12:24:45 PM

Dan, I think Carlin's jokes fell flat because he just wasn't very funny. Just my opinion, though.

Anyway, your other point is more intriguing. Case in point: SNL would never air this sketch today, but it wouldn't have aired this one in 1975.

Sketches that make fun of racial minorities get strict scrutiny, so to speak, today, while those that use gender-based humor are slightly more acceptable. However, making light of homosexuality is perfectly acceptable on TV today.

Posted by: Paul Washington | Jun 30, 2008 12:16:03 PM

I hate to be this picky but it's Chapelle Show not Chapelle's show-I was called out on that too.

Posted by: jim | Jun 29, 2008 10:38:46 PM

My sense was that it was kind of disconnected--a series of distinct skits/routines/performances (many of which, I agree, were not particularly funny) that were not even linked via an introduction. Compare Carlin's opening monologue (his now-class football/baseball routine) with current monologues, which introduce the entire show. I think, though, the reason it was allowed to continue was that everyone watching it knew it was something new and different and it needed time to find its feet. I think it also performed well in the ratings. The oral history "Live from New York" does a good job of capturing what they were doing in those early days.

As for Dan's question about what comedy is off-limits today: An anecdote. In the movie "Vacation," two young girls (cousins) are talking. One says "I'm 14 and I French kiss." The other says "So, everyone does that!" And the first responds "But my daddy says I'm the best." About 10 years ago, when it was shown on basic cable, that line was over-dubbed to "But my *teacher* says I'm the best." So that tells us how we have evolved--child sexual abuse is OK for comedy, as long as it is not incestuous . . .

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Jun 29, 2008 7:22:54 PM

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