If It’s Not Funny, You’re Not Paying Attention

Amidst last night’s insomnia, I found myself watching the Mind of Mencia. He’s generally not one of my favorites, but he signed off with a sentiment that I loved: “Life is short … if you’re not laughing, just kill yourself.” That reminded me of a quote I have always enjoyed from Elsa Maxwell: “Laugh at yourself first, before anyone else can.” It struck me today how many public figures are apparently unable to do that.

The sentiment may seem a little random, but it feels like such an important thing to be able to make light of your own life. I know it’s gotten me through a couple of things that otherwise would have crippled me psychologically. I posted a page with some Youtube videos I like today (the new Popdialectic Cinema), and one of the funniest has Bill O’Reilly completely losing his mind over a music video someone slipped onto his teleprompter (the Entertainment Tonight staff Rick-Rolled him).

It’s not news that O’Reilly takes himself too seriously. But he owes us a little laughter, in light of what he’s done to cable news: his show was originally called “The O’Reilly Report,” but after someone pointed out that he brought an “O’Reilly factor” to every story, they changed the name. The program is (inexplicably) the most-watched cable “news” show, leading Faux News to scramble to duplicate it. Faux is worse than most, but generally chasing this opinionated dragon has turned cable news into a cycle: talking heads spout nonsense, news programs following them proclaim that “it has been alleged that,” then the next opinion show bases their escalated rhetoric on the “news” reporting that was based on their predecessors of the afternoon. The whole thing renders me unlikely to laugh.

I digress, but my dislike for O’Reilly makes it a tempting tangent. Regardless of ideology, it has always seemed to me that conservatives in the media are meaner and less able to laugh at themselves. Jon Stewart makes political commentary funny; Stephen Colbert pokes fun at conservatives by pretending to be one and caricaturing himself.

On the other side of the aisle, Bernie Goldstein hits back at Jon Stewart by calling him a “safe Jay Leno” with an “incredibly unsophisticated audience.” Not only is that not funny – he hasn’t figured out the arena in which he’s fighting – but it’s patently untrue. Dennis Miller used to be hilarious when he was a leftist pinko commie. His philosophy hasn’t changed that much since he started sucking the Republican teat, really – he’s always been basically a Libertarian. But since he set up camp on the Right, he’s just not funny anymore. Maybe he’s pissed that the MNF thing didn’t work out, but I regard his career over the last six or eight years as nothing short of tragedy. Sarah Palin’s humor is mean even when she’s trying, as anyone who checked out the SNL election special can attest.

And lest this devolve into a purely political critique, let’s not forget about the celebrities that ought to be laughing all the way to the bank. Russell Crowe throws phones at people in hotels; James Woods, Sean Penn and Christian Bale (for starters) are infamous douchebags; Tiger Woods should be on top of the world but can’t manage to let by a joke at his expense; even Chuck Norris sued a publishing company to stop publication of a book of the Chuck Norris “facts.”  You know what I’m talking about, e.g.:

And I don’t even care whether it’s Photoshopped, this picture is priceless:

I know this entry is kind of all over the place, but I’m the first one laughing at myself for that.

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