25 Jan 2006, Comments Off on He Died with Fluffles in his hands

He Died with Fluffles in his hands

Author: Helen

What a sad piece of mediocrity coming from John Birmingham, author of Leviathan, which was a great read. (Thanks to Flute for the link.)

I can’t believe people- people under 50, at that- are still using “PC” like it’s some kind of devastatingly cutting edge concept, instead of a woolly spin-doctoring cliche. If you expand it to its literal meaning, “politically correct”, then you would be referring to a low-tax, anti Social security, hawkish neocon. Because that’s what’s “correct” in today’s political milieu. Even the supposed “opposition” doesn’t really argue about it. But I digress.

This article is deeply embarrassing – to the writer. He seeks to prescribe what we should and shouldn’t find funny – and then claims the Left is over-earnest and over-prescriptive. O-kaaaay. Worse, the people he finds funny are such thigh-slappers as Imre Saluzinsky, Tim Blair, and this guy who Birmingham quotes approvingly:


“When it comes to taking chances, some people like to play poker or shoot dice; other people prefer to parachute jump, go rhino hunting. or climb ice floes, while still others engage in crime or marriage. But I like to get drunk and drive like a fool. Name me, if you can, a better feeling than the one you get when you’re half a bottle of Chivas in the bag with a gram of coke up your nose and a teenage lovely pulling off her tube top in the next seat over, while you’re going a hundred miles an hour
down a suburban side street. You’d have to watch the entire Mexican air force crash-land in a liquid petroleum gas storage facility to match this kind of thrill.” (My emphasis)

Birmingham goes on to say


There’s a certain judgemental type who’d recoil in horror from this sort of thing; a gimlet-eyed punisher and straightener, who would suppress such recklessness on the grounds of sexism, racism, cruelty to endangered rhinos and Sending The Wrong Sort Of Message To Our Kids.

Well, who’d want to be a judgemental, gimlet-eyed punisher and straightener? Right-wing humour obviously wins, whoa yeah, wheee-hoo! Only, it’s not really funny. What’s funny about a drunk guy driving too fast? Come over here to Melbourne’s western suburbs, they’re a dime a dozen. We simply roll our eyes as they scream past and hold up our hand with the finger and thumb to indicate the probable penis size of the puerile wanker. The statement might raise a weak laugh as hyperbolic satire on these people, but the problem with us lefties is our damned imagination.

I admit I can’t help wondering whether Birmingham would like it so much if this charismatic drunk driver came roaring down his suburban side street just as his curly haired toddler, white haired old Dad, or cat Fluffles came wandering out (the last of which could lead to a laboured pun which is also completely unfunny.) And, as is so popular these days, perhaps the guy woudn’t even stop! Oh, hold my sides.

The rest of the unfunny stuff in Birmingham’s article just confirms my suspicion that people just find different things funny. Some people laugh at Jimeoin, Billy Connolly, Judith Lucy, Lano and Woodley. I like some ber-loody feminists, who Birms says are merely “angry” (original, isn’t he?)… like Ms Fits and Twisty Faster. But also Father Ted and The Office and the list goes on…Some people, in contrast, think Anne Coulter and Kevin Bloody Wilson are funny. Why can’t I just say Imre Saluzinsky and PJ O’Rourke don’t amuse me and leave it at that? Who’s the one seeking to impose the jackbooted uniformity, mmm?

But on the whole I find the whole “we vill define what’s funny” thing a complete turnoff; Like sexual desire, if you sat around and talked endlessly about it (in a competitive, nerny-ner, boys in the locker room kind of way) it just would evaporate. By making their own brand of humour compulsory, the rightwingers bludgeon laughter to death.

Comments (0)

  • corwin says:

    the best definition of humor I’ve heard is a suddenly interrupted defense mechanism.And,obviously no sapient being interrupts a defense mechanism.The question of whether political humor is funny,cutting or simply inane isn’t as complex as the Dirac equations.But I do think,say Ann Coulter is intelligent ,whereas Margo isn’t.So,Ms Coulter has the option of being clever.Which can be mistaken for funny.

  • zot says:

    I haven’t read the article, so I don’t know if Birmingham is doing some sort of historical survey, but I understood he was writing about the present. In which case he’s got a damn cheek quoting that O’Rourke piece which was first published (in National Lampoon if memory serves) nearly thirty years ago.

  • Sylvia says:

    Birmingham’s name rang a bell of course so I reread his article thinking it might make more sense.
    I don’t think it’s just the midsummer Brissies heat: he described Michael Duffy as ‘witty’!!!

  • Helen says:

    Yeah! Michael Duffy? The idea of Duffy as a “wit” is something I do find hilarious.

  • R.H. says:

    birmingham is a bum. He can’t write for nothing. My dog writes poems. They are mystic. Only other dogs can understand them. I posted one on a blogsite and you should have heard the barking! Some doll said she thought it was a Shelly. But it’s not. It’s a Collie.

    R.H.
    (Loving you his whole life through)

  • TimT says:

    You know, I’m a huge P. J. O’Rourke fan, but it’s incredibly refreshing to hear somebody say that they don’t like his writing. The sound of lefties and righties agreeing that ‘O’Rourke is hilarious’ is deafening; and the only example they ever cite is his article, ‘How To Drive Fast While On Drugs and Getting Your Wing Wang Squeezed and Not Even Spill Your Drink.’ Wikipedia even defines it as – if I recall correctly – his ‘masterpiece’. FFS!

  • Armaniac says:

    You know what’s odd?

    No-one talking about CNNNN/Chaser or even better the Onion in all this.

    I can’t imagine why people like myself who’ve narrowly survived being hit by some mindless fuckwit on the road would be so gimlet-eyed as to fail to find that stuff funny.

    The people he’s chose generally demonstrate that for the right, being funny equates to being cruel.

  • TimT says:

    The people he’s chose generally demonstrate that for the right, being funny equates to being cruel.

    Some sorts of humour can be cruel: practical jokes, satire, for instance. For many people on the left and right, ‘humour’ seems to equate with being ‘rude’. Ms Fits is one example. I think there are lots of different categories of humour, and some may suit the ‘right/left’ categories than others.

    As to CNNN/Chaser, I enjoyed parts of CNNN, but I didn’t like the Chaser at all (much inferior to the Onion). Their humour is generally left-wing, but that’s not always the case.

  • david tiley says:

    Ooh, but that was a nice hatchet job ms Helen. There’s the precision special SmartBrain (patent pending) whirring away…

    One of the worrying things about comedy for me is the way it is so connected with the times. PJ for me was hilarious for years and years, but eventually he just plagiarised himself, repeating the same tricks over and over again.

    As did Hunter S, till he was doing little more than a baseball column and shot himself.

    Mungo Maccallum used to be a comic genius, but is now just wise and tired. Two who kept their sparkle for me are Patrick Cook and Bob Ellis, but that may be because I only read them intermittently.

    But I still laugh at Billy Connelly, even though he only has the one life to work with. Not surprising he has turned to serious acting.

    The key to the whole thing is surely accuracy, and that is why humour is important. To make a joke which everyone admits encapsulates something true is the real skill, which is about analysis and not a reflext trophe which is endlessly startling in the same way.

    Tandberg manages to keep on doing this, because he has trained his eye for contradiction for so long.

    The claim that the Left is not funny doesn’t matter. It is like saying we don’t have shiny knees. So what? Famine ain’t funny, and making stick insect jokes about Dafur is on its way to insulating us from it, and increasing their suffering.

    The allied issue is humourlessness. And there the debate shifts gears, because I think a group of people who actively don’t have a sense of humour are dangerous. Fundies don’t have a sense of humour. The Bush fedayeen don’t have a sense of humour. Sure they laugh, but only when they see their enemies getting hurt.

    And that, I must admit, just ain’t funny.

  • TimT says:

    PJ for me was hilarious for years and years, but eventually he just plagiarised himself, repeating the same tricks over and over again.

    There’s some truth in that, David – I guess a little unoriginality is to be expected of journos who’ve been in the biz for 30+ years. But I don’t think his wriing has ever stopped changing. Have you read his “CEO of the Sofa”? The anarchic humourist of ‘National Lampoon’ is gone: it’s replaced with a more gentler wit. It’s my favourite P J book .

    Sorry to hijack the comments thread, Helen, I just happen to find the topic of humour fascinating.

  • zoot says:

    As a Radio National diehard I suffered through “The Continuing Crisis” which was about as unfunny as you can get, so I would include Blair and Imre in the humourless group, unless, of course, someone can point me to something either of them have written which comes anywhere near the standard of O’Rourke.
    Now that I have read the article (and can spell my name) I am puzzled. Birmingham never actually names any of his “generation of conservative satirists”; who are they? The only names he mentions, apart from his list of pathetic Aussies, are Parker & Stone and Sarah Silverman.
    Parker and Stone are currently in trouble for including a menstruating statue of Mary in South Park. I don’t believe the complaints are coming from commie tree huggers. From the little I know of Sarah Silverman she appears firmly in the tradition of Lenny Bruce, and I’ve never considered him a “conservative satirist”.
    Maybe I’ve been wrong all these years and the free speech movement of the sixties was actually a Republican initiative, while Bob Hope was a left wing comic?

  • Helen says:

    That isn’t hijacking the thread, TimT, as far as I’m concerned – that’s what the post’s about after all.

    I found an article which I’ll look for again (you know the sort of thing, if I can remember where I went), saying humour is essentially about setting up expectations and then going in another direction. Which I think is true. But I think humour doesn’t bear too much analysis- *groan*, now I’m doing it.

    The Continuing Crisis… Aaaaaaaargh.

  • TimT says:

    I’ve pointed out some examples of Blair humour that I liked here: http://buckfuddsblues.blogspot.com/2006/01/fudd-v-birmingham.html

    Unfortunately, I forgot to link Tim Blair’s parody of the Eurovision – just google Tim Blair Eurovision. Blair’s column for the Bulletin – yep, ‘The Continuing Crisis’ – can be pretty funny.

  • zoot says:

    Well TimT, we now have a classic illustration that one man’s meat is another man’s poisson. I’ve read “Flannery Day” and the Eurovision piece and found them both unfunny, definitely way below O’Rourke’s standard.
    Without analysing it too much I class O’Rourke as a humourist in the tradition of Mark Twain and SJ Perelman. The Blair pieces are just snark, which anybody can do. In fact, I am very good at snark, but I don’t think it makes me a humourist and I certainly don’t make any claim to being the antipodean Mark Twain.
    Blair and Saluzsinksy seem to be totally unaware that O’Rourke is funny and conservative, not funny because he’s conservative.
    Now, would you do me a favour and read this piece. Let us know how funny you find it. Thanks

  • Brownie says:

    Am I a de-sensitised Bad Girl? I laughed like a drain –

    December 1st: An email print-out dated 10 September and signed by Jo Moore is discovered in a house in Kandahar. It reads: ‘Need to bury story about local councillors’ expenses… Fly two airliners into World Trade Centre?’

    and the ‘disputed insurance claim’ causing the rebuild to be 3 storeys only?

    I wish I could remember the film title of Tom Hanks and Sally Field both trying to succeed at standup – their filmic routines were hilarious but their offstage life was vicious.

  • zoot says:

    Well, I tackled Birmingham head on and he can’t name any right wing comics (even the ones he mentions in the article are not on the right), plus the only example he can give of the censorious left are the editors who wouldn’t publish his work. Pretty piss weak basis for his article. The whole non-stoush is here
    Thanks to Buck Fudd for the link.

  • R.H. says:

    I just don’t understand what simple sort of mind could see O’Rourke’s notion of tearing down a side street as funny. It’s not even funny writing. But it would probably have been written before ‘Teflon Don’ Gotti’s son got accidently run over and killed by one of Gotti’s neighbours. The neighbour apologised profusely, of course. And the Don was impassive. But a few months later the neighbour vanished, and is presumed dead. If he’s lucky it would have been a bullet. But in the case of O’Rourke’s character it would have been piano wire – if he were lucky.

  • R.H. says:

    Mr tiley (who knows everything), Billy Connelly is a bloke who stands on stage and yells out fuck.

    And you reckon that’s funny?

    Fundamentalists don’t have a sense of humour?

    You’d be surprised, my friend.

  • TimT says:

    Ah, so I finally read that piece, Zoot. It’s quite witty, and the author has my respect for that – because I’ve found it’s very, very difficult to be funny and witty and put a political argument forward at the same time.

    In some ways it’s quite pathetic. It relies on some atrocious stereotypes which have been put forward by those on the left-wing: for instance, that ‘the US war on terror is a war on all Muslims’, and that ‘Americans are so scared that they don’t fly any more’. The taste of some of the jokes is open to question: for instance, that joke about the workers in the world trade building being discovered trading several months after the S11 disaster.

    It’s certainly inaccurate: it doesn’t really describe events following S11 as they actually happened. I suppose you might be able to say in its favour that it ‘exaggerates’ certain aspects of the S11 aftermath as a way of pointing out the flaws of US/British policy in regards to terrorism. Or, you could also argue that it deliberately presents an inaccurate picture of events in order to make the ‘left-wing’ viewpoint more convincing. Both arguments have some weight. But it’s definitely not ‘observational’ humour.

    In the end, I think it’s effect is more to distort than exaggerate the ‘history’ of events following S. 11, since if the author were being actively critical, and pointing out flaws, contradictions and inaccuracies in US/ british policy, they would surely want to also point out better, alternative policies.

    Many parts of it, however, are flat-out funny. Thanks for the link. Now if only you could see what is obvious – that Tim Blair can be VERY funny. Oh well …

  • zoot says:

    TimT, I’m glad you got a few laughs out of those leftwing satirists. Despite Birmingham’s sweeping generalisation, they obviously didn’t censor themselves too much.
    Humour is such a personal thing. For example R.H. appears to think people find Billy Connolly funny only because he says fuck. I’ve always thought he was funny because of all the other things he says as well as his insight into the human condition. You think Tim Blair is hilarious and I get more laughs out of the average Leonard Cohen album.
    Let’s just agree to differ.
    But perhaps you could help me out. Birmingham has told me to “fuck off” ( and no, it didn’t make him as funny as the Big Yin), so maybe you can point me towards some right wing satirists or comedians? And if you could, but I fear the task is impossible, would you indicate some left wing comics who have self censored themselves so that they’re no longer funny?
    I would genuinely like to find if there is any factual basis to Birmingham’s article. At the moment it appears to be pure fantasy on his part. Any examples you could provide would be gratefully accepted.

  • R.H. says:

    Fair enough zoot. But I’ve heard that word yelled from early childhood. I’m tired of it. But the nicely brought up will find it shocking – and amusing.

  • zoot says:

    You seem to have comprehensively missed my point.

  • R.H. says:

    It’s nice to be told you do things comprehensively. I’m not sure what it means in this case, but I’m pleased.
    I’ve only ever seen a clip of Connelleys show. He was yelling fuck (laughter) and I turned it off. I associate that word with blood on linoleum floors. And local lady ‘comedians’. Sorry (your honour).

    Robert.

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