Thursday, May 15, 2014



I finish my day with six TV hosts who often step on each other's gags in the rush to find something new and comic in current events. A few real laughs, some insights, and too many forgettable guests flogging the same movies.
From the biting insight of Jon Stewart to jumping jack Conan O"Brien,  through smart alec David Letterman to Jimmy Fannon who is rehearsing as a song-and-dance man, there's plenty of opportunity to assess the failing state of American humour.
No wonder the networks are floundering while the cable shows hunt frantically for planes and plots.
I have found no reason to change my opinion that the cheap shot, the never cute insult that is the stock and trade of celebrity roasts, is our lowest form of humour. Never the pun.
 There is nothing clever about an aged Don Rickles trotting out the humiliation gags with Letterman. Rickles is a survivor of the Golden Days of Hollywood.  Or is it television?  Too many of his lines are also ghosts from glory days.
Gee, just remember when there was something on TV other than reruns, sports and incessant political coverage mixed with the latest shooting.
I hate insult humour because it is so cheap and easy and seldom clever. There has to be a twist, a gimmick, not just forced humiliation.
.I've ground it too, as a favour to people doing roasts. I have more than 50 years writing for newspapers but I've churned out just about everything in print, even ads, commentary and a couple of shows for radio and TV. The books and magazines were hard, the sales pamphlets routine, but the roast gags were like "so's your old man" kindergarten humour.
I never got paid, but I did do lines for premiers, mayors and cabinet ministers for dinners where they wanted to take a few shots and amuse the people paying the big ticket.  One time I was phoned at the last minute and invited to witness my lines as they were delivered. Since it would be a great meal, I did go but ended up at a hostile table of party insiders.  I fixed them by whispering every gag as the premier started the line.
Memories of those days came flooding back during the fuss that followed the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Canada had the equivalent, the Parliamentary Press Gallery dinner, and editors made sure their bureau guys invited them because it was a lot of fun, and even more drinking and eating. And there were a lot of off-the-record comments by the leaders, some funny, mostly just rude, and we had to ignore the scoops.
The White House version is a grander affair and supposedly one of the most difficult tickets to get in the world. You would think you wanted to sit in the front row at the Oscars.
You could watch it live on TV this year, although it would have been better the next day after editors snipped away 90%. Joel McHale gave a disjointed spiel which would have been funnier if he had stayed away more from shock "did he really say that" stuff.  The president was good, but when you consider his resources, not stuff for the ages.
Back in the glory days of the Toronto Sun, after Sun Media bought the Houston Post in 1983, Doug Creighton led a raiding party to a couple of the White House dinners. The Post has vanished but it was an important paper first owned by the noted Hobby family and boasting such alumnae as O. Henry.
So off the Sunbeamers went for a special tour of the White House and then the overflowing parties. Don Hunt of the Three Musketeers who founded the Sun came across a diminutive cabinet minister in a hall and dragged him into our reception. Hunt was even bigger than the minister's security detail who were quite baffled as to what they should do. So I offered them a drink, the minister said a few words, and then fled with Hunt bellowing a farewell.
Celebrities grew all around us like dandelions. The Sun tables boasted three men who would become world famous. (It helped when we owned the largest paper in the large state.) So Texas Senator Phil Gramm, who has left his name behind on important acts, was charming.  And Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson had a great talk with  Ambassador Ken Taylor.
It doesn't matter whether you know anything about politics because you should recognize Wilson and Taylor from the movies. Tom Hanks starred as Charlie in the movie called Charlie Wilson's War, while Taylor, because of his major role in the Iran hostage crisis of 1979, is portrayed in at least two movies, one of them being Argosy, which trashed Canada's role in saving the Americans.
Ronald Reagan gave an amiable speech. The audience loved him. Except he boasted about the Americans bombing Muammar Gaddafi's home in 1986. And the huge dinner erupted in stars and stripes frenzy.  Many stood and whistled.
Not me. I sat quietly, then noticed Wilson wasn't applauding either. And neither was his date,  Annelie Liseheuka, who just happened to be famous too as a former Miss World.
I whispered to Wilson that since it appeared that Gaddafi's 6-year-old adopted daughter had been killed in the raid (there's still disagreement about whether that was just propaganda)  I thought uproarious applause was unseemly.
Wilson agreed. Later when I groaned at some of the president's jokes which were really insults, Wilson did the same. It was reassuring. After all, as a former naval officer enjoying respect and  condemnation from both parties, he didn't pander.
Here was a flamboyant politician, legendary for his high living, and for such exploits as secretly funding Afghan rebels and other great adventures with the CIA, all orchestrated while floundering in a hot tub with hotter women and colder booze. Despite his rowdy zest for just about anything, he had enough class to recognize what was funny and what was just rude.
If only more people did. It would put those awful celebrity roasts out of business.

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