What is a cartoonist?
The dictionary definition is this:
noun An artist who draws cartoons.
noun One skilled in drawing cartoons.
Pretty simple, yeah? I am an artist who draws cartoons; ergo, I am a cartoonist. One could even argue that I am skilled in drawing cartoons (your mileage may vary). If I were to quit drawing cartoons, I would no longer be a cartoonist.
You with me so far? Okay, here’s one that’s a little tougher.
What is a polemicist?
noun A person skilled or involved in polemics.
nounOne given to controversy; a polemic.
Before you ask, a “polemic” is:
noun A controversial argument, especially one refuting or attacking a specific opinion or doctrine.
noun A person engaged in or inclined to controversy, argument, or refutation.
I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this, but just in case you’re unfamiliar with what I do (seriously, I’m about as obscure as it gets), I’ve been drawing cartoons for over 30 years, and attacking opinions in print since before 2000. The earliest one I can recall was a searing takedown of Michael Bay’s meteor apocalypse turkey Armageddon that I penned for Creative Loafing, entitled “Armageddon My Money Back?”
This very website is based entirely around the concept of no longer liking something. When you don’t like something that other people do like, you naturally wonder why that is. My entire purpose here is to make a passionate and convincing argument with which you can side (or assail), make it funny, and if at all possible, make it a cartoon. To go against this unstated mission would betray my loyal readers and myself. Koo koo gajoob.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I’m a comedian. Meaning:
noun A professional entertainer who tells jokes or performs various other comic acts.
noun An actor in comedy.
noun A writer of comedy.
Formal definition notwithstanding, I think we can all agree that it’s a comedian’s purpose to make you laugh. Much like a tree falling in the woods makes noise even when no one is there to hear it, a comedian is still a comedian even when no one is laughing. The difference, however, is that a tree never has to prove it’s a tree.
You know what I really want for Christmas, Santa?
I want comedy back. Real comedy, the kind that actually made me laugh.
Stephen Colbert, Sarah Silverman, Patton Oswalt, David Cross, Jimmy Kimmel, John DiMaggio, Tom Lennon, hell, even Will Ferrell; I want them all to go back to 20 years ago when they gave a good god damn about making anyone laugh. I want the Alec Baldwin back who was the lovable dead husband from Beetlejuice.
I want them all to hit reset and go back to who they were before Hillary Clinton, before Jeffery Epstein, before Bernie Sanders, before Trump. Before they lost their fucking minds. No one can argue that anyone I named in the previous paragraph has improved in the past ten years. No one wanted a window into the personal politics of people who chose stand-up comedy as a profession. We know who you are, we know how easily you’re bought.
The boundary between comedian and audience was sundered, from both sides, thanks yet again to social media. You know a great comedian on social media? 67-year-old George Wallace. Know why he’s great? He tells funny jokes.
That’s all you gotta do to prove you’re a great comedian. Tell a fuckin’ joke, funnyman! Laughter makes the world go ’round! God damn, what are we doing here?!?
Oh, and since I brought up Family Guy; I want Seth McFarlane to go back to when he wasn’t just a human version of Brian the dog. Seth, buddy; you’re the richest writer in television history. I know you went to RISD, who wouldn’t so much as look at me, but you broke big with a cartoon show about a farting fat man and a matricidal baby. Don’t let that Orville cachet go to your head. I want the Cartoon Cavalcade Seth back. I don’t need daily reminders that you’re backing politicians that inevitably go down a path I can’t follow.
They all do. They’re fucking politicians, for Christ’s sake.
I want to go back to when comedians defended us from politicians, instead of endorsing them. Frank Zappa famously opined that “politics is the entertainment division of the military-industrial complex”, and he was right. Thanks to the gradual commingling of politicians and popular entertainers, we have people willing to lose their lives over something they saw on-line. That’s how little our society teaches people to use their resources and natural skills. We looked to comedians to solve our problems, and they got a God complex in the bargain.
I want the old Patton Oswalt back. The guy who joked about looking “like a dyke”, and called the KFC Famous Bowl “a sadness pile in a failure bowl”. The dude who was on that ancient sketch comedy show with Blaine Capatch, where they were bag-boys at a supermarket. One time they were robbed, and Patton had to surrender his debit card to the robber, and he said “Here’s 32 conceptual dollars. Hope it buys you a lot of conceptual crack.” Another time they were trapped in the storeroom overnight, and they opened a can of expired clams, and Blaine did this hilarious thing with his face, like the force of the exiting vapor made his lips quiver. (Capatch is the stand-up who did the bit about a guy with “a tattoo of a tarantula… on his FACE!!!”)
All of that was great enough that I still remember it. I’d like to go back to that, please, when “comedy” wasn’t corrupted, and I didn’t have to think twice about whether I could trust a comedian’s intentions. I want to go back to the following code:
- Make them laugh
- If you don’t make them laugh, sit down until you figure out how
Unless you are a political comedian, politics are a cop-out in comedy. You are throwing in with one side and not the other. Not to mention, most of the time, when you offer a political opinion, many people will question your intelligence. They will nine times out of ten ask about your level of education. If you’re a female stand-up comedian, odds are you’re a college graduate. If you’re a male stand-up, you could be anything from a grad student to a grade school dropout.
So maybe, juuuuust maybe, the average person whom life has bent over a barrel unlubed doesn’t want political kludge-sloganeering from their comedians. It benefits nobody. It only makes it abundantly clear that the funnyman is scrounging for material. It doesn’t even work as brown-nosing. What would be the endgame, a momentary glance of acknowledgment from your chosen representative or target? A brief yet heated exchange on Twitter that will be aggressively forgotten by tomorrow?
What would be worth it?
Let me put it another way. How does a comedian spread their content?
Unless a comedian is on television or the radio, the only way they circulate their content is by performing in venues, where recording is either controlled or prohibited. That means that for an immutable span of time, they were only seen and heard by a definite number of people, almost all of whom were local to the area. The number can be anywhere from tens to hundreds to thousands, but until a recording is aired or uploaded to the Internet, that number is the sum total of all who bore witness to the comedian for that measure of time.
Ideally, this balances a comedian’s energy with their environment, and over time, they hone their skills and material. They improve. Then when Hollywood comes calling, it’s a good thing, because they really do see your potential. It’s visible; you demonstrated it.
But as with most profitable walks of life, there are young people who want to game the system for a quick ride. And because they’re young, they think we’re all stupid enough to fall for their shit, like we haven’t seen it a thousand times. They always make a spectacle out of their politics, or themselves, for the views, or retweets. Then when they’re called out, they tuck their tails between their legs and retreat to the shadows of nobody. Easy come, easy go.
You useta be better than all that. Well, I want that old you back. Pretend that you from 20 years ago is a million-dollar role in an upcoming comedy smash, and act your little tootsies off. Win me over again. I don’t want a Kevin Smith who looks like the specter of death weeping over so-called Star Wars. I want the guy back who called Paul Thomas Anderson a pompous berk for Magnolia. Every single movie PTA has made since leaves Magnolia in the dust. You can’t argue with results.
I want Patrice O’Neal back. I want Greg Giraldo, Mitch Hedberg, and Otto Petersen back, and since I know that’s impossible, I want comedians who live up to their caliber. Carlin’s Standard, or Pryor’s Rule. Whatever it takes to move the comedy goalposts back to their proper position.
Unless legitimate charges are filed against him, I want Louis CK judged on his comedy alone. He is a sorely needed presence in comedy and should have his prior reputation restored; in fact, he’s earned it. If you disagree, you aren’t the kind of person who celebrates Christmas in the first place. (By which I mean you’re a Grinch, not that you’re Jewish, you absolute halfwit.)
While I’m blue-skying, I want a second season of Million Dollar Extreme, with all three members present and paid handsomely. If I can’t have this, I want a written explanation why. If you can witness Sam Hyde’s deterioration and Charls Carroll’s transience over the past four years and still feel anything but rage about how they were treated, again, you probably aren’t celebrating Christmas, or any human holiday.
One last Christmas wish for 2019.
I want Star Wars back the way it was in 2005.
I want that incredible feeling back, that I had witnessed a complete saga unfold over the course of nearly my entire life. I had seen a spectacular six-part story of family, betrayal, redemption, death, and rebirth, in a galaxy far, far away. I understood the depth of Anakin Skywalker’s failure, and the importance of Luke’s perseverance, on a level I never knew was possible in film. These characters lived and breathed inside my head. I was truly astounded at the sheer magnitude of what George Lucas had built.
The old you would’ve called JJ Abrams a hack even louder than me. The old you eyed social media with suspicion and used it with derision. The old you didn’t whine about mean people on the Internet, or whatever they might be doing; the old you had more important things to worry about.
If I may be so bold, the old you was a lot more fun to be around.
Hey, don’t take it the wrong way, so was the old me. I useta not have to beg for donations to survive. I useta not have to ask you for money all the time. I useta live a lot more comfortably. What can I say, other than this is how it goes. You can help, and if you donate, have donated, or are a Patron, you get the exclusive magazine.
That’s where new material will appear first, not here, or on the Ceaseless Fables site. If you give me money, you get the new stuff first, starting this month. This is a gift for all of you who continued to believe in me through some very trying times. Also, I have no other way to survive going forward than to monetize my content. It’s entirely possible that if you’ve visited this site over the past six years, I entertained you during a time where I didn’t have enough to eat. The cost of living has reached a point where it is borderline impossible to continue living doing what I do.
Maybe I’m asking too much. I don’t think so. 2020 implies perfect vision, as well as hindsight. We’ve made it too far not to be who we are. I just made that up, but it sounds like some dumb repeated lyric from a quasi-inspirational 1990s house music track. If I had any idea how to wrap up this article, I would have done so already.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, happy whatever-you-want. Just remember that the old you is still you, and don’t let the new you ruin all the fun.
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