THE ONION: WHERE SATIRE TAKES FUNNY HOSTAGE AND BEATS THE HELL OUT OF IT
I have been exposed to dangerous levels of satire for most of my life. They flung a lot of satire at me in my English literature program as a rite of passage in the degree process.
I don’t know whether most of the profs really believed that Jonathan Swift was funny in a Richard Pryorish way, or whether a reasonably well-paying teaching gig (with plenty of time off) was reason enough to see Swift as a veritable laugh riot.
That was the time when I learned that satire and funny are mutually exclusive concepts-for the most part. I bought every issue of 1970s National Lampoon printed and they were heavy on satire but they were also very funny. 70s National Lampoon is the singular exception to my belief that good satire is typically as funny as a good funeral.
Check that, I’ve laughed more at funerals.
National Lampoon really pushed the envelope in many ways but they were outlandishly satirical and funny along the way.
National Lampoon evolved from former writers at Harvard Lampoon so my natural assumption was that Harvard Lampoon was probably hyper- funny.
Then I paid for a very expensive copy of the Best of Harvard Lampoon and the laughter died.
The whole thing was a series of incredibly unfunny observations that would pass as satire, but failed miserably in the laugh department. I went front to back on this expensive piece of garbage and didn’t find the funny on any page.
That’s when I realized that Harvard will make you successful but forget about comedy, except for the handful of Harvard alumni that pioneered National Lampoon...and Conan O'Brian
I assume that most satirists will counter with the notion that satire and funny don’t have to be roommates and they would be right. They could also argue that satire requires a certain sophistication and intellect and I probably don’t understand the concept.
They may be right or maybe I do understand satire and, not only is it not funny, it is a pretty difficult way to make a point. Most people want the entertainment and satire is like a test that you didn’t want. I gave up the notion that I had to interpret anything when I wrote my last English Literature assignment.
All of this brings me to The Onion. The Onion is a hugely popular satire publication that deals in a pointedly absurd look at the world. It has its moments but it is a victim of The Harvard Lampoon approach that is heavy on the ponderous and light on the humorous. They beat a point to death with a long-winded approach to an idea that cries out for brevity, reputed to be the soul of wit.
It is my belief that satirists have an urgent desire to be funny or even mildly entertaining, despite their protests that satire is a separate possibly cerebral entity unto itself. To me that is a cheap rationalization safety net that gives them a safe exit when they are neither funny nor entertaining.
That world is one they know all too well.
DENNIS: "The original Lampoon?, funny. Subsequent versions, not funny, "The Onion" will still bring tears to your eyes but only in the kitchen. The original Saturday Night Live?, funny but the concept has been beaten to death! Maybe it's just me. I'm older and the satire I used to find amusing now just seems stupid but then again, maybe it's not? I still enjoy Monty Python and to quote the Mark Twain of the 21st century, Larry The Cable Guy, "Now, I don't care what you think, that's funny, Git-R-Done!"