Friday, February 6, 2009

A Butterfly's Dream

This is what comedy writers should look like, or so my aging ass believes. Trapped in amber, I cannot get with writers who are clean-scrubbed and socially acceptable. Tina Fey? Seth Meyers? Simon Rich? Drones. Even the writers for "The Daily Show," smart and funny as they are, look like bankers in recreational wear -- polo shirts, chinos, clean-shaven faces. Wouldn't be out of place at a suburban barbeque.

What the fuck happened?

To me, comedy writers should be anarchists, not liberals. Hell, I'll take a reactionary jokesmith over some soppy lib still wearing an Obama button. At least that person has an edge, however lunatic it might be. Part of my stupid problem is that I grew up when comedy offended people, pushing past boundaries of taste. Whenever I got a glimpse of the minds behind the bits, they almost always looked rumpled, ragged, crazy, fucked up. That inspired me. There was place where freaks like us fit in.

But when comedy exploded all over the 1980s, that was it. I started meeting comics who dressed straight, their humor in line with their attire. Hanging out in writers' offices at MTV and Comedy Central was fun but hardly electric. The guys there may as well have been working for an insurance company. When Tom Schiller had me up at the SNL offices, it was so quiet and corporate. "You should've seen this floor back in '77 or '78," Tom told me, surveying the scene. "Crazy. Loud. But this . . ." He'd simply sigh. O'Donoghue was the same way. "Comedy writers should frighten you." He blamed Lorne Michaels for purging the show of misanthropes and outcasts. "The Harvard laugh factory fucked it all up."

If you haven't guessed by now, the above photo is the "Fridays" writing staff, 1981, courtesy of Tom Kramer, who's in the Cincinnati Reds jacket on the lower right. Above him, moving counterclockwise, is Rod Ash, Larry David, Steve Adams (one of the head writers), Matt Neuman (who came to "Fridays" from SNL), Larry Charles, Steve Barker, Mark Curtis (who died of cancer in 2004), Bruce Kirschbaum, Bruce Mahler, Joe Shulkin (the other head writer), and Elaine Pope.

Only one woman on staff, and no writer of color. Such were the times. But then, looking at most comedy writing staffs today, the same imbalance exists, only there's less excuse for it. Of all the features carried over from those earlier years, it had to be that one. Makes you want to blaze a blunt, blast some classic Cramps (Lux Interior, RIP), and kill your television, if it wasn't dead already.