Monday, April 30, 2007

Shovel Time

It's usually best not to care what people think of you, especially if you're not breaking the law, deliberately hurting people, or behaving like a sociopath. You can't please 'em all, and given the countless literal-minded dolts out there, it's pointless to even try. Live your life, attend to your work, and laugh before the big hand flattens you for keeps.

I try to live more or less by this loose credo, but sometimes I say or write something that angers or sickens even my closest friends and loved ones, and I feel the need to explain my intentions. Such was the case with this post, where I parodied the incessant media chatter about the VaTech massacre. A few regular readers thought that I was, if not over the line, then right against it, and that I was more tasteless and insensitive than incisive, which may well be true. There are times when I'm simply too close to what I'm writing, and what makes sense to me has a more ambiguous effect on others, and this was definitely the case here.

The main complaint was my use of a photo showing two unidentified VaTech students grieving, and some of you felt it was cruel to pry laughter out of such genuine hurt and misery. But know that I wasn't trying to make light of those kids in pain -- quite the opposite. My intention was to show how casually insensitive the media was in the massacre's aftermath, and in order to do that, I had to use the same imagery. It wasn't an easy decision. I second-guessed myself for hours after posting it, fingering the delete button while considering what YouTube filler I could put in the post's place. But finally I left it alone. I thought that if I were on staff at "SNL" or "The Daily Show", the piece would be rejected, so why do the same to myself? Sometimes you gotta go with your gut, which I did, and the rest is just interpretation.

There are those who believe that because I wrote Michael O'Donoghue's biography, I must share his comic philosophy, and posts like the one mentioned above tend to reinforce this belief. It's true that in my early years, I venerated O'D, and a lot of my work showed his influence. When I got to know the man privately, this veneration accelerated and inspired me to write some truly insane bits for the Manhattan weekly I then edited, which Mr. Mike himself enjoyed. What could be cooler than to have your main comedy idol approving of your work? But when O'D died, and I was chosen to write his story, my hero worship hit reality. I got to see a lot of the personal O'D that few outside his circle even knew about, and coupled with the interviews I conducted with his closest friends and collaborators, I discovered that O'D had many serious shortcomings of his own. Researching and writing that book was a necessary tonic for me, and since then I've tried to travel my own creative path.

There remains some O'D in my work, which is unavoidable but not entirely negative. After all, we live in a very savage time, and it's rare to see comedy or satire that confronts this savagery head on, primarily at the network/cable level. Whimsy, irony, and sarcasm are the preferred weapons; and while these forms have their place (and are utilized quite well by Stewart and Colbert), there are moments when you have to hit people in the face with a shovel. It's not a particularly pleasant way to express yourself, but then, there's nothing pleasant about the exploitation of grief, massacres at home and abroad, torture on a global scale, and maniacs in the media calling for more human suffering. In the face of all this, a wink and a nod are little more than a pat on the back.

SPEAKING OF COMEDY: Now it can be told -- sometime in mid-May, yours truly will begin appearing at the Huffington Post. I've been invited to join a new section of HuffPo that will soon be unveiled. I'll write satirical posts as well as about humor in general. This does not mean that I will abandon my personal site -- far from it. But it will be interesting and hopefully fun to play around on that much larger stage. More info in due course.