There is a brilliant scene in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. The character of Rob (who is also called Max) played by Tony Roberts, has invited Woody’s character Alvy Singer (who is also called Max) to sit in on a television post-production session of Rob’s show. Rob gives instructions to the technical director about where to add laughs and what kind of laughs to add…
“So Charlie, give me a good laugh here. A little bigger. Give me a tremendous laugh here. Now give me a medium size chuckle here, and then a big hand.”
We see Alvy begin to feel sick.
What did we learn as we grew up watching television in the 1970s?
- That it was okay to tell your wife to shut up, thanks to Archie Bunker constantly telling his wife to “stifle it.”
- That insults are the best way to deal with everything, as in “up your nose with a rubber hose” from Welcome Back Kotter, or Don Rickles calling everyone a “hockey puck.”
- Best put-down/comeback ever? “Heeeeey. Sit on it!”
- Who thought it was funny to call someone a “jive turkey”? It was something white people thought made them sound black, even though it didn’t.
- Three minutes into any “variety show” from the 1970s reveals not only laugh track, but applause track, and it’s very clear that those who created it weren’t trying very hard.
- The Brady Bunch Variety Hour’s introduction is enough to make you want to drop your television down an elevator shaft.
Entertainment has an interesting, sometimes destructive role in Western culture.
Part of what poisoned the waters of television is the inherent opposition of its desire to be vulgar vs its inability to use coarse language.
Taken as the main source that raised me (my sister and I were latchkey kids), television sent me to school with the idea that I needed to be quippy and shallow, that if I was sarcastic enough, people, and especially girls, would like me, and, of course, it didn’t work. Since I have a nearly-eidetic memory, I still cringe when I think of all the stupid things that came out of my mouth as far back as seventh grade. I wish time would erase those words, and, thankfully, it will.
Then. Wow. Then I was surfing through Amazon Prime videos, looking for something to put me to sleep, when I saw The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts. Hey, I laughed at this when I was 12, so why not… uh. Wait. The Bob Hope roast includes Flip Wilson, Jimmy Stewart, Howard Cosell, Jack Benny, General Omar Bradley, Phillis Dyller, Milton Berle, Neil Armstrong, Rich Little, Ginger Rogers, Billy Graham, Johnny Bench, Foster Brooks, Ronald Reagan, Nipsey Russell, Sugar Ray Robinson, Mark Spitz, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Henry Kissinger, John Wayne, and Don Rickles.
Ho. Ly. Sh!t.
Of all those names, only Rich Little and Johnny Bench are alive today.
The whole thing makes me want to vomit in terror.