Lewis Lapham just published the worst essay ever written about comedy

But seriously, folks.

But seriously, folks.

The agate-eyed old man on the left is Mr. Lewis Lapham, former editor of Harper’s whose own writings have — as lovingly recounted in his author bio — earned comparisons to wordy mega-weights Mark Twain and Montaigne.

And yet his latest literary throw-down, the brutally titled America Needs Better Comedians, is a pedantic wind-fest that replaces actual knowledge of modern comedy/popular culture with a blizzard of French philosophers, a brief lesson in Elizabethan anatomical theory and a loving recollection of a prep school headmaster (“…a pious and confiding man, as grave as he was good.”) encountered in Connecticut in 1948.

When Groucho Marx’s name enters the text Lapham turns extra-turgid, reducing the anarchic performer’s comic subversions into that much more ivory-cloaked yammering: horseprof

With Groucho Marx I share the opinion that comedians “are a much rarer and far more valuable commodity than all the gold and precious stones in the world,” but the assaying of that commodity — of what does it consist in its coats of many colors, among them cocksure pink, shithouse brown, and dead-end black — is a question that I gladly leave to the French philosopher Henri Bergson, Twain’s contemporary who in 1900 took note of its primary components: “The comic does not exist outside the pale of what is strictly human… Laughter has no greater foe than emotion… Its appeal is to the intelligence, pure and simple… Our laughter is always the laughter of a group.”

Well, then. But let’s get to the heart of the attack presented in the headline (America needs better…): Why is Lapham dismissing all of the era’s comic voices? What is the overarching failure of the current, and at times culture-influencing likes of J Stewart, S Colbert, L. CK, “South Park” and on and on?

Lapham has no idea. At least, he never mentions them. Whether this is a function of his contempt or simple ignorance is unclear. Or so it seems until he finally does devote part of a sentence to a quick blow-by of the pitiful state of the genre, denouncing the “freeze-dried sound bites” dispensed at its most crucially important venues. Which, to Lapham, include: “Gridiron dinners, Academy Award ceremonies, and ‘Saturday Night Live.’

Gridiron dinners? Network awards shows? Weekend Update? These are the 21st century’s most vital outlets for modern humor? And no mention of “The Daily Show” or “Curb Your Enthusiasm” or “Louie” or the great sea of Internet podcasts, blogs, Bad Lip Reading/Funny or Die videos?

Um, no. Not even close. Not even a mile from being close. No matter, Lapham snatches up George Bernard Shaw for the capper: “My way of joking is to tell the truth. It’s the funniest joke in the world.”

True dat. But as Shaw knew, and Lapham apparently doesn’t, a little knowledge of your actual subject is pretty important too.

Colbert cracks up

Daily Show
Guaranteed laughs, right here: Gawker, bless their feverish little heads, posted this nearly-six-minute compendium of Stephen Colbert losing his usually rock-solid composure on the Colbert Report. It’s pretty awesome and so check it out. But wait, you’re not done, because. . .


The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Video Archive

. . .I’m tossing in this old Daily Show gem from a decade or so ago: This even-more-hilarious-by-my-personal-estimation bit where Colbert REALLY goes to pieces, much to the delight (and subtle maneuvering) of Jon Stewart. Priceless and priceless-er.

BRUCE news! – Sept 16 NJ pre-read at Springsteen Symposium! Jon Stewart blurbs! Tom Perrotta too! And more!

Just to refresh: My new book, BRUCE, a biography of B Springsteen packed with all new facts, assertions and quite a bit of input from the guitar-playing subject himself, will be published by Simon & Schuster on October 30.

You can pre-order it — and in fact I strongly encourage you to do that, because, after all, why wait? — at a variety of fine on-line retailers, a compelling number of which can be found on this page at Simonandschuster.com….which is also selling BRUCE online.

Are you eager to learn what might be beyond the much-posted (by me) cover shot? Well, if you live in West Long Branch, NJ, or somewhere in driving range (which, let’s face it, includes the rest of NJ, New York City and what the hell, Philadelphia), you can get a preview this coming Sunday, September 16, at the Springsteen Symposium being held at Monmouth University. A whole academic symposium about Bruce Springsteen? Damn straight. Why, just look at this:

The three-day event is full of presentations, lectures, panel discussions and more, and I’m deilghted to be included. I’ll be presenting a reading-slash-q-and-a about the production of Bruce’s latest album Wrecking Ball. So if you’re nearby, or even if you’re not, please do. I’ll be thrilled to see you in particular, I’m sure. Though if you miss this one, I’ll be doing readings, media appearances and more starting in early November. More on that later.

New, cool blurbs, advance reviews and such:

Jon Stewart: “There are many things I could and should be doing right now, but I am not… I am reading and rereading this book. Why did you do this to me?”

Tom Perrotta (author of ‘Election,’ ‘Little Children,’ and ‘The Wishbones’): “Bruce Springsteen has been a muscular American icon for so long it’s hard to remember that he was once a scrawny kid from Nowhere, New Jersey, struggling to find his way. Peter Ames Carlin not only brings that kid into sharp focus, he connects the dots between the small-town boy and the superstar he became, in all his memorable incarnations–boardwalk poet, working-class hero, middle-aged philosopher, rock and roll evangelist, political activist. This is the big, expansive biography Bruce’s fans have been waiting for.”

James Parker (The Atlantic): “Springsteen is biographical big game: majestic, fugitive, offering the unwary chronicler the possibility that he might get trampled. But Carlin has brought him down, with empathy and shrewdness. Here is Bruce, stylishly captured in all his Brucedom; the everyman, the unknowable; the anointed one, the loner; stadium swagger and dull, private pain. Are these contradictions, or just the span of a man’s soul? Read BRUCE and find out.”

Eric Alterman (author of “It Ain’t No Sin to Be Glad You’re Alive: The Promise of Bruce Springsteen”) “This is a Bruce bio like no other. Carlin’s dogged research, tough-minded prose, and above all, ability to draw out the previously private thoughts of almost everyone involved in this remarkable story combine to transform much of what we thought we knew about Bruce. Carlin’s recounting of Springsteen’s personal and professional struggles, and those of the members of the mighty E Street Band, make this a quintessential American story and one that will resonate, and inspire, as long as the music itself does.”

Kirkus Reviews: “An epic look at the man and his music.”

Revising the "Daily Show" revisionism, "Glee" and more…

Remember what I wrote yesterday about the “Daily Show”‘? Then I saw this. Never mind. Plus did I make clear that I never stopped loving “TDS”? I just felt a little guilty about it. For a minute. Then I stopped.

Finally caught up with Fox’s “Glee” last night. Take “Freaks and Geeks” fold in “Ugly Betty” and there you are. It’s really lovely: sweet, quirky, off-beat. Also: the gayest scripted show on primetime. Bar none. Including the fashion shows. Rivaling, if not quite eclipsing “Queer Eye.” Even the straight characters are basically gay. At least when it comes to the various cultural stereotypes, etc (showtunes, singing and dancing, dressing well, being nice). A whole hour of sweet-natured dramedy about social outcasts who sing? I love Fox for doing this. This is how they make up for “Moment of Truth” and all that other soul-killing crap. Not sure if it’s a total karma-kleanser but they’ll find that out later.

How are those Beatles remasters doing on the charts? How about nine spots in the top ten pop catalogue charts? Also 15 out of the top 20.

And who is America’s favorite Beatle? Whoever it is, someone ought to write a book about him.

Is the "Daily Show" Just the anti-Fox? And is that a bad thing?

Three weeks without “The Daily Show,” particularly in the midst of so much feverish/weird/out of control debate seemed way too long. So how cool to have them back. And so here’s one of the central pieces from Monday night’s return show. And as well-observed as it is, as well-researched and clearly correct, it still made me wonder: In the age of Obama, has the “DS” devolved into being a left-leaning comedy watchdog of Fox News?

Which network certainly deserves close, and withering, scrutiny. Just consider the absurd bloviations of O’Reilly, Beck, and on and on. Particularly now that these self-described super-patriots spend so much time ripping the current POTUS, national policy, and etc. So yes, hypocrisy, rage and subtle (or not so subtle) racism deserve to be called out, dragged into the light, ridiculed and spanked silly.

But FNC doesn’t have the franchise for media absurdity.

Consider the seething commentaries from Keith Olbermann. Or the gooey, know-nothing populism/enviro-grooviness that comes from your Leo DiCaptrios, your Ben Afflecks, and on and on. If they fought to the death with right-wing blowhard Jon Voight the public discourse would be a much better place.

Which isn’t to say that the left is more ridiculous than the right, or to make any particular point about policy. It’s just that media-borne political stupidity adheres to no philosophical boundaries. And neither should “The Daily Show.”