Steve Martin once stood upon the stage and declared that “Comedy is not pretty.” He said this after the audience started to suck their teeth and the chorus of a sea of boos was erupting in a pitched rise throughout the auditorium. He was telling a relationship joke. The setup to the joke was that he doesn’t understand women.
Hell, who does?
Not even women understand women.
Anyway, (in the joke) it just so happened that the woman in his life was telling him (Steve) that she felt like he didn’t respect her.
This is where Steve distorts his face in shock. He then leans into the microphone and proclaims,
“What do you mean? You’re the best hog I ever had!”
Like I said in that opening paragraph, the audience turns ugly.
Steve looks out into the crowd, and utters these words:
“Hey! Comedy is not pretty!”
The audience laughs. They are friends again.
And he was right.
It’s not. Comedy is ugly, it’s bold, it hides truth in misdirection. It also lies and exaggerates. It stretches points that don’t need stretching and over looks important social acceptable platitudes.
It was the late 70’s that this joke was told. This was the age of Archie Bunker, The Jefferson’s, Maude, Chico and The Man, Alice, Hogan’s Heroes, and Soap. Shows that would probably never get the green light for production today. They would end up dismissed pilots that would have to find a home on YouTube instead of running on Prime Time Network TV.
Not that there is anything wrong with YouTube….
Can you imagine what AMC would think of a comedy about a Nazi Concentration Camp?
This era was also the Second Wave of the Feminist movement. The movement that brought forth women’s issues of rape, equal pay, military acceptable, divorce rights, and rights to own one’s own reproductive choices.
Which is what made this joke funny.
And why Comedy is not pretty.
Martin knew that he was setting back the feminist movement by 20 years and so did the audience. Their outrage slowly bubbling to the surface as the realization that everything everyone worked for was being belittled by a Grammy award winning famous funny man wearing an arrow through his head and standing three feet above them on stage.
“He just called women pigs! He is saying women are no better than common livestock! That they are no better than tasty, delicious, yummy bacon! American bacon probably! Not that Canadian bacon ham stuff, but bonafide, grade A, crispy, delicious, American bacon!”
Martin knew that this was a joke, and the joke was funny because of turning all that history on its ear. It took years to change both men and women’s thought process on women’s suffrage, and seconds to tell a joke that took in all of the significance of such history.
The audience did not see that at first. They heard the words, “Girlfriend” and “Best Hog I Ever Had.” They collectively decided to lose their ever loving minds.
Martin had reminded them that that was the point. He wasn’t making fun of the present, or the women’s movement…he was making fun of the backwards thinking of the past. Of a time where men and women were not equal and the attitudes were completely different.
“Comedy is not pretty!”
Comedy brought up some shameful, human stupidity, that we can now all laugh at ourselves and say,
“Just what in the hell were we thinking?”
With all that being said, imagine someone telling this very same joke today…
The world would stop turning on its axis in shock and horror. Teenagers would stop taking selfes. Nancy Grace would throw two pit stain arms in the sky. Grocery stores would stop selling meat. Peanut Butter and Jelly would trade places.
Chaos would ensue.
And you would not be able to reel the Universe back in by reminding everyone that it was just a joke.
Just a joke, that’s all.
And sometimes jokes take painful things and make light of them, because that’s a mighty fine coping mechanism.
The Twitter and the Facebook and the Email and the Instagram and the Memes would be flying off the blinky word processor presses. America has definitely lost its sense of humor.
Would Steve Martin even have a career if he started out today? How about Richard Pryor? Don Rickles? Eddie Murphy? Red Foxx? George Carlin? Sam Kinison? Lenny Bruce? Johnny Carson?
They might have had some sort of career, but would probably be more hated than loved. You can listen to their stand up routines now and laugh and justify it as; “Oh, it was a different time, such a different time. Things were really different back then. People were different. Microwaves were expensive. Clothes were funny looking. People were old fashioned. Dogs were smaller….”
Yes, but do you know what was really different back then?
People understood it was a joke.
Thanks, Blogdramedy for letting me play in your sandbox. If you liked this, or even if you didn’t like it, come visit LongAwkwardPause.com where there are other writers who might make you laugh.