The Corner

Scoff, Mock, Scoff, Mock

Kevin’s piece “The Stupid Party” — a typically and wonderfully bold piece — awakened many thoughts in me. I’m sure it has done that in others. Kevin mentions Saturday Night Live — which I watched for many years, starting when I was in junior high. The show gave me hour upon hour of enjoyment. About 15 years ago, I guess, I found I was enjoying it a lot less. I found I felt bad — uneasy — when watching it. And the reason, I think, was all the mockery. And not just any mockery: mockery of people such as working-class churchgoers.

(I gag on that “working-class,” which I myself perpetrated. I hate that Marxist designation — but sometimes it comes in handy.)

It’s one thing to watch celebrities mock fellow celebrities, or the high and mighty. But these people were mocking the non-celebrated, the low and unmighty. William Safire had a great aphorism: “Kick ’em while they’re up.” That has been one of the justifications for the music criticism I write. (I write only about those who are “up,” whom any arrows from me won’t reach.)

There is a certain kind of person who resents his small-town upbringing, moves to the big city, and then spends the rest of his life pouring scorn on the small town. I have known many, many such people. I don’t admire the type.

It’s true that, without mockery, you have almost no comedy. It’s true that, without cruelty, you have almost no comedy. Cruelty is the milk of comedy, I’m afraid. When I was a kid, Red Skelton was an old comedian, and he was always decrying humor that was mean and dirty. I appreciated his stance. But, frankly, I didn’t find him all that funny.

George Bernard Shaw said there were two kinds of limericks: dirty and bad. That is not entirely true. Here’s a clean and funny limerick, provided to me by my grandmother:

There once was a girl from St. Paul

Who went to the birth-control ball.

She bought all the devices

At exorbitant prices,

And nobody asked her at all.

That is vaguely dirty. By the way, in a pure coincidence, I’m in the Twin Cities as I write.

Some years ago, I was interviewing Judge Mukasey — George W. Bush’s final attorney general — and he was characterizing some Democratic position as “Scoff, mock, scoff, mock.” Some people go through life doing that, as kind of a full-time occupation. Many on my side do it, too. That includes me. Though I’m reminded to do it as little as possible.

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