Fuck Red Skelton, Part One

Bloggified by Jake on Saturday, July 24, 2010

If I could go back in time and punch anyone from history in the face, it would be Red Skelton.

Skelton is known as a classic American comedian by those who have never seen him or have no idea what humor is. If you look up his DVDs on Amazon or Netflix, you will find overwhelmingly positive 4-to-5 star reviews, but if you actually read them you'll find they are written only by the people who are so devoid of any taste that they could actually sit through an entire hour of this tripe.

The key thing you will notice in every positive review is a harkening back to "the good old days when comedians didn't have to work blue to be funny." They'll lament that "the youth of today have been poisoned by the lack of censorship" and "good clean humor seems to have left the public venue of entertainment" and "it is so sad that comedians now have to use profanity to make people laugh" Again and again, the endorsement you will see most often is "you can let your kids watch this and not worry that they'll be exposed to anything offensive."

True, Red Skelton won't bust out Carlin's "7 Words" or Patton Oswalt's "A Blowjob Behind the Tilt-a-Whirl." But suggesting that anything Skelton does or says is superior to either of those routines merely because of a lack of words deemed inappropriate by arbitrary standards of an uptight minority is either dishonest or moronic.

Those who claim Skelton's humor is funny--or more importantly funnier than modern comedians--do so with that same condescending moralizing and unconvincing zealotry of vegans insisting grilled eggplant tastes better than steak.

I first was exposed to and became dangerously obsessed with Red Skelton in 1997. I went to Los Angeles for a job interview with Fox Sports Net and stayed with my friend, Dan, at his apartment near USC. After dinner, we were hanging out debating what to do and a Red Skelton special called More Funny Faces came on PBS. We didn't change the channel immediately because we started discussing the fact that we'd both heard of Red Skelton and knew him as a comedy legend, but that neither of us were familiar with any of his material. As because of our hesitation, I have wasted countless years of my life hating Red Skelton.

Within the first two minutes of More Funny Faces, we knew we wouldn't be doing anything else for the rest of the evening.

The performance is like opening a time capsule. Presented without any context it gives a baffling look into the terribly entertainment-starved decade of the 1970's. Skelton's opening is a series of jokes that are typical old school stand up. For the last two decades, comedians have come to focus more on routines, taking a subject and making multiple humorous observations about it, rather than just telling jokes that have a set up and a punchline and are completely unrelated to the previous or following joke. Also, modern comedians' routines tend to focus on personal experiences or experiences to which we can all relate as opposed to "three guys walk into a bar"-type jokes.

Or in Red's case, "two seagulls are flying together"-type jokes.

It's not really fair to criticize Skelton for not being funny here because the humor style has changed. However, it's interesting to observe what an unprofessional demeanor he has by today's standards. Even hacks like Carlos Mencia and Dane Cook wouldn't set up a bit by saying, "Oh, I got a joke for ya. I got a joke for ya." Of course you do. That's why the audience is there. You are on stage with a microphone and they paid money to sit in a room and hear you tell jokes. The statement "I got a joke for you," delivered with that spur-of-the-moment-inspiration tone implies you are up there half-assing it with no planned script and are happy giving us whatever pops into your age-addled mind.

Also, imagine David Cross laughing so hard at his jokes that it looks like he may wet his pants. Red has been doing some of these routines for fifty years, yet he cackles at the audience like he just heard them himself at every punchline.
With the exception of the final mug to the audience in that clip, Red never does this during his pantomimes (yeah... more on that next time), so it's clearly a conscious decision on his part.

If this was all More Funny Faces had to offer, it would have quickly faded from our memories, forgiven for its slice of terrible reminder that the 1970's existed, but as you can guess from the fact that Dan and I still discuss it and analyze it the way two war veterans might recall seeing an child run into the crossfire of a gun battle on the streets of Kabul, it got much, much worse.

Next time: Fourth grade poetry and mimes!

ADDED: It has been pointed out to be by a horrified reader that Red's elephant and hippopotamus joke from the above clip is more commonly told with a racist theme, substituting a person of Jewish heritage for the elephant and an African-American for the hippo.

Mind? Blown.

2 sarcastic replies:

Greg said...

Don't forget that red Skelton had a top ten TV show for 20 consecutive years. And before that he was on radio and in films for over 10 so the audience that paid to see him had literally grown up with the man. He was always big with kids and the kids grew up loving him. yes, you can't show these clips to adults and expect them to laugh but I'll bet young kids would. So think of him as a children's comic. Did you know George Carlin, Steve Martin, Michael Richards and Emo Philips all list him as a primary influence?

Kat Walls said...

I am so glad that someone hates Red Skelton as much as I do. UUUUUUUUUGH!!!

Subscribe to: Post Comments (Atom)