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What's So Funny About Cruelty, Insensitivity, Vulgarity, Obscenity, Sleaze And Raunch?

March 16, 1986

Applause, applause, to Lewis and to Calendar for airing his views on that aspect of modern American comedy, which is indeed ugly.

But one gets the impression that Lewis has arrived at his judgment recently. Where has he been for the last 10 years?

Cruelty, insensitivity, vulgarity, obscenity, sleaze and raunch have been characteristic of the new comedy for at least that long. And not only in comedy clubs but on both late-night network and anytime on cable TV as well.

If the phenomenon were restricted only to comedy, that would be bad enough because the comedy industry is of enormous social importance. But the real tragedy is that there is a large audience for sleaze, particularly among people who seem to have forgotten how to laugh heartily and to have replaced the physical response of laughter with that of a mindless sort of whooping that they originally learned from attending rock concerts.

What is involved is, of course, not an either-or situation but one of degree. A certain amount of aggression, and of vulgarity as well, has always been part of popular comedy. But heretofore it was a light sprinkling, an occasional naughty aside. Now it has become the dominant factor.

The success of situation comedies such as the Cosby and Newhart shows, "Golden Girls" and a few others, shows that the situation is not hopeless.

But this doesn't mean we must look to television for the solution. Last year "Saturday Night Live" featured an absolutely brilliant cast--Christopher Guest, Billy Crystal, Martin Short, Harry Shearer, et al.--and its scripts were, by "SNL" standards at least, remarkably clean and funny. This year's shows, featuring much less funny players, puts much greater emphasis on filth and easy shock.

As we say, go figga.


Van Nuys

Los Angeles

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