Monday, June 27, 2011

On no he didn't

An alert reader, one of the few who has remained alert after reading this blog, which is particularly impressive as most either click away quickly or end up in a self-soiling torpor, sent me news that Tracy Morgan surfed into New York on the wake of his recent anti-gay scandal and performed what sounds like an excellent gig at Carolines. Unlike bigoted, racist gutter-slurpers like Mel Gibson, Morgan promptly did a lot to make amends since his famous Nashville rant, so the audience at Carolines was no doubt in a forgiving mood.

And so, he ended the evening thus:

Then, just before midnight, Mr. Morgan said he had something going through his mind “that I can’t share with y’all.” Though the audience goaded him to continue, Mr. Morgan said, “I can’t. I just got out of controversy, man. This is diabolical.”After another brief flirtation with a woman in the crowd, Mr. Morgan turned sincere. “I love you all so much,” he said, “did I tell you that tonight? I’ve been in trouble lately, and this was big for me that you all came out.”Whatever he had been accused of, Mr. Morgan said, “I don’t have that in me. I believe gay, straight, anybody, everybody’s supposed to be happy in this world, man.”
Resuming his routine, Mr. Morgan warned his audience, “Don’t ever mess with women who have retarded kids.” As groans and cries of “Uh-oh” were heard, he continued, “Them young retarded males is strong. They’re strong like chimps.” Finally, he concluded with a bit about his alleged teenage romance with a girl he described as “a cripple” with a prosthetic arm, a mechanical larynx and a portable dialysis machine. See you at the next apology?

I don't know about you, but I was reminded of an extensive discussion of a strikingly similar joke on these very pages some months ago when this blog was just a baby-blog, wobbling to its feet, flinging its pudgy arms in all directions to stay balanced. It was a Frankie Boyle joke, first discussed here and then, in more detail, here. I quoted it as follows:

Katie Price – aka Jordan - has complained to Ofcom about Frankie Boyle, after the comedian made a joke about her disabled son, Harvey, who suffers from septo-optic dysplasia and autism.

Boyle said on his Tramadol Nights show: "I have a theory about the reason Jordan married a cage-fighter. She needed a man strong enough to stop Harvey from f***ing her."
There are three notable differences:

1) Morgan was not directing his joke at a specific woman and a specific son.
2) He was suggesting that the retarded sons are, at least, defending their mothers and not raping them.
3) There is something in Morgan's performance that suggests - no, more than suggests, that demands - you consider him somewhat limited himself.

I would expect point 1 not to be controversial. Whilst somebody who thinks he or she knows a lot about jokes and is a sophisticated analyst of comedy might try to insist that every joke, even if directed by narrative details towards specific figures, is already generalising, already sweeping in those who might be formally excluded by the details but are nevertheless otherwise identified with that figure, I can't help but feel that this person would be an idiot. It's worse when it's personal. It's meaner, it's crueler - it might be funnier, too.

I can't imagine anybody really objecting to point 2 as a distinction between the jokes?

Point 3 might be somewhat controversial for a number of reasons:

1) Is it okay to compare Tracy Morgan to a retarded person?
2) Is it okay to compare Tracy Morgan, by way of question number one and Morgan's routine, to a chimp?

I'm not sure it's okay, but let's face it; Morgan's allure is as a modern fool. He's not whip-smart Chris Rock, he's not haunted Dave Chappelle, he's not even angry. He's a man who can barely muster the concentration to tweet, which is the non-sexual social human activity that requires the least amount of concentration ever, and when he does, it's about his penis. It's quite a good tweet actually. But anyway, the point is, there's more than a sliver of a difference between Frankie Boyle's condescension and Morgan's goonish expostulations, and their performances, in this case, draw upon two very different histories, the history of the comedian as the court's most formidable and scorching propagandist and the history of the comedian in exile.

Of course, the rubber-kneed, tin-eared, sugar-titted masses are clamouring for another apology, but the real problem with Morgan's joke is much more obvious: it's basically an old joke. It was done. Comedians aren't really supposed to be stealing others' routines. I know that Morgan doesn't have the foggiest notion who Frankie Boyle is, so it is looking increasingly obvious that he must have stolen it by reading my blog? In any case, while Johan Hari faces the wrath of God, or really the wrath of right-wingers, which is, I suppose, the wrath of God, for allegedly doing something that isn't so great, Tracy Morgan is free to roam the streets.


Feeling Anonymous said...

Without re-reading the thread about Tracy Jordan/Morgan's homophobic sermon, I recall a disinction being made about intent. If I tell an x joke to a friend of identity group x, I am probably not being an anti-x bigot. When someone, comedian or not, appears to be offering a public appraisal and analysis about why all the members of group x are going to hell or wherever, that person probably is a bigot. The content of my joke and the presumed bigot's remarks could be identical despite having rhetorically opposite goals, as when a racist and an anti-racist both cite the same fact that African-Americans are disproportionately incarcerated. Same fact: opposite meanings.

In the case of TMJ's bit about the 'retarded' children of single mothers, the windup and the situation clearly mark the bit as comedy. That does not mean that one has to find it funny or to allow it within one's own personal boundaries of comedic propriety. But it does mean that I at least have to conclude that TMJ is probably not bigotted against the so-called 'retarded' and their mothers. What is funny about the joke is the context of TMJ playing on his earlier disgrace by, this time, making it clear that the otherwise unacceptable remark about the 'retarded' was definitely a joke.

Thanks for linking to TMJ's Twitter. My laughter could be hard in a galaxy far, far away.

Feeling Anonymous said...

I was sure I typed 'TMJ's Twitter post'.

sw said...

Your laughter could be hard anywhere, Feeling Anonymous.

I'll respond more fully to your other important points later.