Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sarah Silverman and "white" comedy: reactions

Last Thursday I reflected on this site about the Netflix entry on the quirky Stuff White People Like blog. At the time I also mentioned another entry on the list about Sarah Silverman as an example of white people's taste in humor.

With its new season now airing on Comedy Central, I have begun watching her The Sarah Silverman Program. While her character strikes me as quirky, free-spirited and light hearted, I do not get most of her humor. Perhaps it is a generational thing, perhaps it is a background cultural thing. Her program is set in suburban California (near as I can tell), while I grew up almost entirely in small town/rural Idaho. In general, my observation for some time is that the things Californians see as comedic/hilarious Idahoans don't, and vice versa.

Then there is the generational factor. I was born during the 1950's. Thus I was a young, impressionable youth during American comedy's golden era, when comedy actually was funny and quotable without bleeps, or a lingo translations list. Where Gen X and Gen Y relate to contemporary comics and comedy programs exclusively, I still recall the classic work of such grand masters as Abbott & Costello, Jack Benny, Bergin & McCarthy, Burns & Abbott, and Fibber McGee & Molly. I must admit that much of contemporary stand-up comedy leaves me going "huh?"

As a result I am not certain about how I classify Sarah Silverman's current program. There is an undercurrent of drama woven into the comedy. Thus, to me, it is not a pure comedy, and it is not a pure drama either. Even so, I still enjoy it and plan to keep watching.

Still, to return to the premise of the entry: can types of comedy people enjoy be accurately categorized racially? Granted, there are comics that draw predominantly African-American audiences. In my eyes, that is a good thing for every racial group and every nationality needs its stress relief outlets. However, there are cross-over comedians and comedic actors who appeal to a far broader, mixed racial audience. Eddy Murphy comes to mind in this regard. I am white, and still Eddy Murphy's movies always crack me up because of his knack for perfect timing of comments, etc. For that matter, I question whether it even makes sense to try to categorize comedy as "white comedy", "African-American comdey", etc.

Along this same line, two final examples that may help disprove the validity of comedy/humor classification along racial (or any other) lines come from American TV programs. One now regarded as a classic comedy is the sit-com Sanford & Son, which revolved around Fred Sanford, an African-American junk dealer and his long-suffering son. This is one of the best comedies ever produced because it addressed a braod variety of stereotypes, both positive and negative, in a light hearted manner. I have enjoyed it throughly since it first aired decades ago. Personally, I feel it would have been far less funny had all of the characters been white, even though most of the stereotypes would have been the same.

The other counter example (in my mind) is the new program Chocolate News on Comedy Central. This is a deliberately tongue-in-cheek African American spoof of network news magazine programs. Its deft weaving of factual information into the background of rather outrageous claims strikes me as hilarious and definitely worth watching. The fact that it is African-American themes and produced, in my opinion, adds to its enjoyable charm.

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