Monday, April 4, 2011

The Post-Empire Strikes Back

The Warlock, on his Torpedo of Truth/Defeat is not an Option tour, had a bad opening night in Detroit. Apparently, he recovered for Chicago, revamping his show, which suggests that this tour is very much the calibrated work of an entertainer and not simply the cultural facilitation and financial exploitation of one man's madness.

In reviewing the Detroit show, Ryhs Blakely of The Australian, writes appreciatively of a pair of Sheen's lines (not from the show):

Yes, his recent interviews have shown that he possesses a genius for diatribe, a gift for frenzied verbal invention that touches the sublime when he hits attack mode. And no, he doesn't seem to give a damn.

His claim that his adventures with drink, drugs and porn actresses would have made "(Errol) Flynn, (Mick) Jagger and (Keith) Richards look like droopy-eyed armless children", will live with us forever. I, for one, sniggered out loud when I read how he had called a radio station to tell listeners not dabble with crack "unless you can manage it socially".

I love the crack joke. I kind of think it's the type of thing either Robin Williams or Bret Easton Ellis might have wished they had said. But it's the other joke I want to think about for a moment.

"Droopy-eyed armless children" is exquisitely lurid, wildly imaginative, and, one might add, rather upsetting if you stop to think about the image sans the benefit of imagining Flynn, Jagger, and Richards as cartoonishly dopey lovelorn toddlers. "Droopy-eyed" is no particularly barrier to love, as any real lothario can attest. "Armless" seems inept and weird, perhaps vindictive towards the swashbucklers he's evoked? (I've occasioned the thought that he was channeling Johnny Depp's tribute to Richards and originally said "'armless"?) And "children" has a somewhat sweet air about it, with Sheen taking on a paternal role towards these naive juvenile offenders.

What intrigues me, though, is the quality of the detail. There's a pleasure to be had in the exuberance and the excess of the image; the mind races to make sense of the image, and yet, at the very same time, its brilliance is that one does not have to make sense of it in any logical, cognitively consistent way to be bowled over by the power. The detail is at once utterly crucial and utterly pointless; it's poetry, but only in the most aesthetic sense of language doing something evocative and sensual. You can dig through to work at it, to try to pin it down, but . . . why?

But the other end of the line, the front end of the line, is also impressively detailed, going with the now-distant Hollywood glamour of a mid-century studio Star along with two gawky, filthy, scrawny Rock geniuses. I'm not sure that any of them deserves to namechecked for their use of drink, drugs, and porn stars, but a libel lawsuit would probably be ill-advised.

So, how and why does detail matter in comedy?

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