July 7, 2015

"11 Things We Learned About Harry Shearer From His 'WTF' Episode."

I found that listicle just now — "8... Shearer got his start as an actor at the age of 7, booking his first audition for The Jack Benny Program... 7. The Beach Boys Helped Him Avoid the Draft... " — as I was looking for a specific quote from that podcast, which I listened to yesterday. I've been listening to episodes from the "WTF" archive ever since President Obama made me notice the existence of the show. Anyway, what I was looking for was a quote of Maron quoting something he'd heard Shearer say long ago, something Shearer didn't remember but that Maron had been quoting for years.

I found this 2011 episode of The Mental Illness Happy Hour (a podcast I've listened to a few times) where Maron is the interviewee. At one point, he says:
I quote this a lot, but Harry Shearer once said that, to me, and I’m paraphrasing, that the reason comedians do what they do is to try to control why people laugh at them.
That got me thinking about the recent fuss over something former Disney CEO Michael Eisner said:

“From my position, the hardest artist to find is a beautiful, funny woman. By far. They usually—boy am I going to get in trouble, I know this goes online—but usually, unbelievably beautiful women, you being an exception, are not funny.”
"You" was Goldie Hawn, but she withdrew from the proffered exception and said she was an “ugly duckling” in her formative years. Eisner responded:
“You didn’t think you were beautiful. I know women who have been told they're beautiful, they win Miss Arkansas, they don't ever have to get attention other than with their looks. So they don't tell a joke. In the history of the motion-picture business, the number of beautiful, really beautiful women—a Lucille Ball—that are funny, is impossible to find.”
(Here's young Lucille Ball, and here's young Goldie Hawn. Neither fits a narrowly defined "beautiful.")

Back to the Harry Shearer quote. The idea, as I understand it, is that people are already laughing at you. That's the motivation to come up with jokes, so that they're laughing at you for things that you've put out there as, in your opinion, funny. You have a need to exert that power over others because they are causing you pain. If you start out beautiful, this need to control the laughing never arises.

Eisner's point is about the need for attention. That's a weaker and less believable idea than Shearer's because it doesn't explain why someone would choose comedy as the way to get attention or even why she'd want attention from a big audience. In Shearer's scenario, the comedian is already a laughingstock, and it's self-defense to insert jokes to transform the meaning of the laughter.

UPDATE, later the same day: The news that Shearer isn't leaving "The Simpsons" after all.

66 comments:

mikee said...

I remember Goldy Hawn in her bikini on Laugh-In. I watched it for the jokes, just like all the other young boys. Right, Laslo?

Levi Starks said...

There's something irony there, you started listening to WTF after the Obama interview, and I stopped listening to it after the interview....

Xmas said...

Here's young (slightly out of focus) Goldie Hawn.

traditionalguy said...

Being a comic is hard work. But I understand what he is saying about making people laugh being a control tool used to make an unpopular person into a popular person.

The problem is that you are still an unpopular person. Johnny Carson was the King of Comedy, but kept few friends.

Erich said...

Eisner's comment sounds like a setup to a joke, but the punchline is missing.

Reminds me of George Stigler's comment that all great economists are tall.

Matt said...

I feel the same way about tattoos. I think many people get them to draw attention away from what they consider a physical flaw. Why do so many obese women get tattoos either on their ankle or just above the breast? To draw attention to the one part of their body that is "thin" (the ankle) or to the part of their body that is naturally fatty tissue and generally considered more desirable the larger they are (the breast).

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

There aren't enough beautiful women doing comedy. Problem in search of a SJW solution no doubt. I sense a theme today...

Ann Althouse said...

@Xmas

Goldie Hawn was 25 in 1970. I think she's referring to teenage years. I tried to get a picture of that.

Bob Ellison said...

Cecily Strong on Saturday Night Live. Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Tina Fey, Amy Pohler, Ellen DeGeneres...the list is pretty long.

But the beautiful, funny women tend not to look like classic, boring beauties. Neither do the handsome, funny men tend to look like Michelangelo's David.

phantommut said...

Teri Garr.

Ann Althouse said...

In my opinion, Goldie Hawn is more appealing for her offbeat, goofy looks. Today, too many of the actresses look alike, in a stilted, overly perfected way.

Brando said...

I've never seen any correlation between a woman's looks and sense of humor (or lack thereof). It's not that the comment is offensive, but it just doesn't seem to be true considering the funny and good looking female comedians, performers and writers out there.

But then there's the question of "good looking to whom?" and "funny to whom?" De gustibus non est disputandum or something like that, no arguing over taste.

Ann Althouse said...

I think some of you are naming women who are nice enough looking but would not be considered beautiful in their hometown setting, in high school as they were growing up and developing their orientation toward humor.

Yes, it's fine to be liberal with the word "beautiful" and to call a lot of women beautiful, but that's not what Eisner is talking about, and I wouldn't judge it by photographs where the person has been done up and well lit.

This is a discussion of psychology and the mechanisms of comedy.

Bob Ellison said...

Oh, so not being considered beautiful in their hometown setting in high school while growing up and developing humor is what amounts to beauty. Thanks for clarifying. I'll administer a biography quiz from now on when I see women that I think are pretty.

Brando said...

"I think some of you are naming women who are nice enough looking but would not be considered beautiful in their hometown setting, in high school as they were growing up and developing their orientation toward humor."

That's really hard to measure though--we could get into a long and fruitless debate over which women (or men, if we wanted to go there) are "beautiful" vs. "good looking" vs. "passable." There's no objective way to determine this.

Same goes for "funny".

In both cases, we can only measure how many people would agree that a person is "funny" or how many people would agree that a person is "beautiful" but even that would be a measure of individual tastes, rather than some inarguable standard.

Barry Dauphin said...

I'm not sure that a lot of classically handsome men go into comedy either. But both handsome men and beautiful women might do romantic comedy movies. They tend not to do stand up comedy.

Bob Ellison said...

George Clooney in O Brother, Where Art Thou?.

William said...

If your life doesn't make sense, you develop a sense of the ridiculous. Growing up absurd doesn't give you comic timing, but it does give one an awareness of how silly are the days and works of man........Julia Louis-Dreyfus isn't drop dead gorgeous, but she's very good looking and, beyond that, her father is a billionaire. You would think that with such a background she would more often be around people who are trying to amuse her rather than her having much of an interest in trying to entertain people.

Paddy O said...

Eisner also has a problem of context. There are a number of attractive women who also funny. But, being funny usually indicates a comfort with life and a sense of humor about oneself. Those aren't usually people who need the fame and attention of show business. Show business people see the people who are craving for attention, because it takes a huge amount of effort to get going in show business.

And, I'll argue Lucille Ball wasn't funny. She knew what made other people laugh and was very dedicated to the craft of that in the era she thrived. In person in interviews, etc., and from what I've heard from others, she was pretty serious. Comedy was work for her. Phyllis Diller was very funny (but wasn't attractive).

MadisonMan said...

Madeline Kahn. I think she was beautiful. And very funny. (Don't think she was a comedienne though)

Mark Caplan said...

The set of funny women is tiny and the set of beautiful women is tiny, so the intersection of both sets contains only one element, Rita Rudner.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

Dave Barry once said something about how all the good looking boys in middle school were at parties necking with girls while the Dave Barrys were telling jokes to the host's 8 year old brother.

DKWalser said...

I don't do comedy professionally, but I'm constantly telling jokes and clowning around. I don't do it to attract attention or because I want to control why people are laughing. I do it because I find it entertaining. I enjoy laughing and I see comedy in virtually every situation. So, when something funny pops into my head, I share it. Sometimes I'll go for months or years with the perfect one-liner for a certain situation stuck in the back of my mind. When that situation come up, I'll toss out my one-liner.

My point is I'm NOT doing any of this to entertain those around me. I'm doing it to entertain myself. If others enjoy it, that's a bonus. It's seldom the objective. I think many comedians are similarly motivated. They do comedy because they like to. Nothing more than that.

Hagar said...

Lucille Ball could make herself up to look like she wanted to look for the acting at hand.

Drop dead gorgeous stand-up comedienne? Rusty Warren?

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

Mark Caplan said: The set of funny women is tiny and the set of beautiful women is tiny, so the intersection of both sets contains only one element, Rita Rudner.

Hmm. In the current environment, I think Bonnie McFarlane is very pretty and what I've seen of her on Red-Eye she's pretty funny and has that nonchalant "Elaine Benes" quality that attracted me to Julia Louise Dreyfus. If JLD did stand-up in addition to her one year on SNL I would definitely list her as drop-dead gorgeous. Maybe that's just me.

MayBee said...

Why is Eisner is so much trouble for what he said?

Because people twisted his words to say: Michael Eisner to Goldie Hawn: Most Beautiful Women Can't Be Funny

But he didn't say that all! He said most aren't funny! Which is true!

They could have paraphrased to say: "Don't have to be funny. Which is also true. For the reason Sherer said. They don't think anyone is laughing at them anyway.

MayBee said...

I think Ana Farris and Isla Fisher are beautiful and funny. They dare to be foolish, which is rare for a beautiful person of either gender. But it is a quality I adore.

tim maguire said...

As a few people here have noted, there are few really beautiful women and there are few very funny women, so naturally there will be vanishingly few really beautiful really funny women. Same goes for men.

Most of the really great comedians are/were funny looking. It gives them a head start in the business and humor is a natural avenue to social acceptance for the socially awkward.

Known Unknown said...

"would not be considered beautiful in their hometown setting"

Actually, they would be considered beautiful in their podunk hometowns.

It's Hollywood where they look not beautiful by comparison.

readering said...

Lucille Ball got her start as a model. Goldie Hawn got her start as a dancer. Neither was a comic.

I'm pretty sure neither would have accepted my invite to the high school prom.

great Unknown said...

Unfortunately, todays's entertainment assumes the contrapositive: if you're ugly, then you must be funny.

MayBee said...

Oh! Sandra Bullock. Beautiful and Funny

Smilin' Jack said...

"11 Things We Learned About Harry Shearer From His 'WTF' Episode."

WTF is Harry Shearer?

Laslo Spatula said...

With women and comedy there needs to be made the distinction between funny and charming.

Cute girls in a comedy are often amusing, but it is charm we are responding to, not actual funniness on their part.

This charm often gets relabeled as 'comic timing': they have a way of acting in a scene that is perceived as funny by amusing us with charm. Someone without that special charismatic charm could give the same general performance and it would fall flat -- which would tell us the comedy isn't really 'funny', anyway, since it is dependent on the actor's charisma.

Meg Ryan in her heyday was a perfect example of this; recently Sandra Bullock, today perhaps Anna Kendrick.

Also: this charm makes us think the women are prettier than they are: face it, Tina Fey, Poehler, etc are NOT great beauties. Cute, yes. Any semblance of actual beauty is based on her cuteness and then promoted by her charm to a higher perceived quality: it becomes the attitude that is evaluated.

Beauty does not require dialogue to ignite it. Or: you can watch Beauty with the sound off.

I am Laslo.

MayBee said...

Here's the thing about being beautiful in Hollywood: A lot of the beautiful actresses really wouldn't be the most beautiful person you know in real life. Makeup, hair, lighting, wardrobe, body form (a lot of actresses have a tiny bone structure most people just don't have), and being cast in the role of the beauty leads us to see them as beautiful. But if they were just Susie in Accounting, they wouldn't necessarily be the girl everyone thinks looks like a movie star.

narciso said...

yes, Anna Kendrick, Rachel McAdams who was the foe in mean girls, and was with Fisher, in Wedding Crashers,

richard mcenroe said...

Goldie and Judy Carne were cute, but needed a square meal badly.

Now Jo Ann Worley, there was a gal with a bilt on her.

richard mcenroe said...

Lea Rimini has a good sense of humor.

richard mcenroe said...

I don't know if anyone here saw that "three jilted women's revenge" film she was in recently, but Kate Upton is either completely un-self-aware or has a really sneaky sense of comedy. "Let me tell him. I don't really have feelings..."

richard mcenroe said...

Laura Bell Bundy is hot AND funny. In fact, she reminds me in many ways of a young Sue Ann Langdon.

MayBee said...

What Eisner are saying and what Shearer are saying are different partially because Shearer is not beautiful. He can't speak to why a beautiful person would develop into a funny person. For him, it was his insecurity of thinking he would be laughed at, so he would direct the laughter.

For a beautiful person, it could be they are funny because they have been well received in what they do, and so they dare to be funny. It could be they are still insecure, and so are funny so someone won't judge them by their looks. It could be as a way to show people they aren't a shallow, stupid beautiful person. It could be because they simply enjoy laughing and making people laugh.

Laslo Spatula said...

I developed humor to help people be less intimidated by my striking good looks.

Good looks get the girl in the car.

Humor gets the girl to go into the basement.

I am Laslo.

MayBee said...

Oh Sofia Veragara. Beautiful (in real life) and funny (not just funny in scripts).

fivewheels said...

At the feminist blog where I really should stop slumming, they were having a predictable reaction to Eisner. One commenter declared that women always had to be incredibly beautiful to be in Hollywood comedies, and that the female Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill didn't exist and would never be allowed to exist by the patriarchy.

I pointed out that the biggest comedy of the summer is Spy. When caught in that obvious contradiction, what's a feminist to do? You guessed it: She declared with finality that Melissa McCarthy is "gorgeous."

My point? That discussion, given the people who are having it, is not really worth engaging in.

Robert Cook said...

Mark Caplan said:

"The set of funny women is tiny and the set of beautiful women is tiny, so the intersection of both sets contains only one element, Rita Rudner."

I can't believe how badly you misspelled Laura Kightlinger.

lonetown said...

I'm guessing Eisner didn't see that statue of Lucille ball http://www.eonline.com/news/642857/this-horrific-statue-of-lucille-ball-is-legitimately-frightening-people-in-her-hometown

Brando said...

"One commenter declared that women always had to be incredibly beautiful to be in Hollywood comedies, and that the female Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill didn't exist and would never be allowed to exist by the patriarchy."

I love how an activist just assumes something like this, based on scant evidence--maybe seeing "Knocked up" and noting that Rogen is a gruffy slob-man and Katherine Heigl could only just sit there and be pretty for him. But this ignores the long list of non-beautiful (by which I mean not necessarily ugly, but certainly not "beauties") women who have thrived in comedy settings, like Cloris Leachman, Gilda Radner, Roseanne Barr, etc. (Again, whether they're funny or (say in Radner's case) good looking is a matter of taste, but going with popular opinion here).

What these SJWs don't get is that entertainment is a marketplace like any other, and the producers may not reflect what their customers want so much as what they think the customers want. But this usually won't support their activist agenda so they need to ignore evidence.

Brando said...

"I can't believe how badly you misspelled Laura Kightlinger."

Kightlinger is one of the first women I think of when I think great standup and very attractive woman. Of course I don't know if she's doing much these days, but in the '90s she was very pretty and funny.

'TreHammer said...

Goldy Hawn (then) = Kaley Cuoco (now) ?

etienne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
etienne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
William said...

I define a good sense of humor in a woman as the ability to laugh at my jokes. There's more of a pay off for rnen in being funny than there is for women. But, as many comedians have noted, there aren't a great many squealing groupies hanging around the comedy. When girls say they like a guy with a sense of humor, they're referring to good looking guys with a sense of humor......Most of the good looking women mentioned were comic actresses rather than comics. Carol Burnett was the best comedian, male or female, of her generation. She wasn't a looker but her humor enhanced rather blurred her sex appeal. In that respect she was like a male comedian.

Ann Althouse said...

"Oh, so not being considered beautiful in their hometown setting in high school while growing up and developing humor is what amounts to beauty. Thanks for clarifying. I'll administer a biography quiz from now on when I see women that I think are pretty."

You really missed the point.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Christina Applegate is damn funny.

She was filmed, standing up, in front of a live studio audience for years, so that's the stand-up requirement.

If anyone says she ain't hot I will slap them through the damn internet, and charge them billions for experiencing the new technology I was gifted by God.

Alicia Silverstone in "Clueless" was funny.

Same with Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion. Phoebe and that other girl, the hotter one, were both funny.

Damn funny.

Ann Althouse said...

"That's really hard to measure though--we could get into a long and fruitless debate over which women (or men, if we wanted to go there) are "beautiful" vs. "good looking" vs. "passable." There's no objective way to determine this."

If you look at the post, you'll see I'm really talking (and Eisner and Hawn were talking) about the subjective experience. If the posited causality is correct, some women who only believed they weren't beautiful would develop into comediennes. Then you'd get some beautiful comediennes. But I think the objectivity comes in the way they are treated: Are they laughed at? And the idea is that a beautiful woman would not be laughed at (and thus feel compelled to work out a way to control the laughter).

"Same goes for "funny.""

Yeah, and it's quite possible that there are beautiful women who are funny but the audience doesn't feel that they are funny because they are too in awe of the beauty to be in touch with the humor. Generally, I think people don't expect (or want) women to be funny, so dry or deadpan humor is not heard as humor. Observation humor might be heard as: That woman is whiny and complaining. What's her problem? That could train you not to use humor.

"In both cases, we can only measure how many people would agree that a person is "funny" or how many people would agree that a person is "beautiful" but even that would be a measure of individual tastes, rather than some inarguable standard.""

Right. That's show business, Eisner's topic.

Ann Althouse said...

"As a few people here have noted, there are few really beautiful women and there are few very funny women, so naturally there will be vanishingly few really beautiful really funny women. Same goes for men."

I agree about the odds, but the question is whether these factors are independent or not. The theory I'm discussing in the post entails dependency. Beauty makes comic talent less likely than it would otherwise be. And looking funny, conversely, helps a lot.

"Most of the really great comedians are/were funny looking. It gives them a head start in the business and humor is a natural avenue to social acceptance for the socially awkward."

So the interesting question is the causal relationship between comedy and beauty. My theory of the causality is pretty different from what you are saying there.

JAORE said...

And then there was Cary Grant. Seems unlikely he had to compensate with comedy.

Bob Ellison said...

The point may elude readers like me. That's the trouble with communication: you say or write something, and the listener or reader may not get it exactly the way you meant it.

Music is much the same. You play blues, but mean it to be uplifting, or you play Ode to Joy and mean it to be a downer. No, scratch that; not gonna happen.

Rockeye said...

What Laslo said. If one is lazy or just not paying attention, one can easily miss his thoughtful insight.

Rockeye said...

His first post was good, too.

Laslo Spatula said...

@Rockeye,

Thank you.

I am Laslo.

fivewheels said...

"But, as many comedians have noted, there aren't a great many squealing groupies hanging around the comedy."

Gilbert Gottfried wrote a piece on this a couple years back.

What's funny is that when I was googling up the link for this, it took me to rebuttals on Jezebel and Slate ripping on Gottfried as if he were writing this as a serious think-piece and not a joke. They pointed out that Gilbert is annoying and loud and unattractive, and that's why he doesn't get laid, which is exactly his joke. Who says feminists have no sense of humor?

Guildofcannonballs said...

Where does Miley fit in, and why?

You must consider I consider Kanye West funnier than most professional comedians; male, female, trans, or undeclared.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Katy Perry is a beauty, married a comedian, which was an epic joke, and made some funny videos the youngsters amongst would appreciate, though I doubt any of y'all would.


But......


"Daisy Dukes" lyrics mean you're really very racist KP, despite those votes for Obama.

Sucks.

"Oh well."

Guildofcannonballs said...

http://who.famousfix.com/tpx_45423/linda-doucett/

Most of you fools don't know The Larry Sanders Show, but Linda was great.

Great.

Really, really great.

Laslo Spatula said...

Everyone knows that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the Justice to watch porn with.

That actually has nothing to do with my point, it is just the text above what I am now writing; I never really erase.

I'm going to examine female humor as expressed by male comics. Keep in mind that I am making this up as I go along, but that usually gets me there.

So: male humor. I'm not saying that females cannot laugh at it, but women will never laugh as hard as a man: the man can blow a retina over good male humor.

Sam Kinison:

"[Rock Hudson] was on his deathbed, going, "It was that last fucking dick... god DAMN it, why did I suck it, WHY DID I SUCK IT!?!? I was ahead of the game, Mister! Million of dicks, never had a problem before--dick, dick, dick, suck, suck, suck; dick, dick, dick, suck, suck, suck. Never had a problem--IT WAS THAT LAST GODDAMN DICK!!!""

Chicks aren't laughing at that.


Andrew Dice Clay:

"I think the best part of being gay is when you're done, you could turn over and talk about football."

Not many chicks laughing here, either. You might notice a theme: chicks don't possess the humorous understanding of diversity that men have. Anyway.


Mitch Hedberg:

"I don't have a girlfriend. But I do know a woman who'd be mad at me for saying that."

See? Now women can share a laugh, because they are jealous and possessive creatures.


Jerry Seinfeld:

"I once dated a woman who turned out to be a lesbian. Now I have all these jars of teriyaki sauce I can't use."

Women get a big knowing laugh about cunniligus and teriyaki sauce: everyone is chuckling and applauding, even if they are not quite sure why.


Jimmy Fallon:

"I once dated this girl who turned out to be a lesbian. I thought we both just liked watching "Girls."

Lena Dunham joke: fresh for the hipster kids. Oh how they laugh. And applaud.


Lena Dunham:

"I once dated this girl who turned out to be a lesbian. I thought we both just liked eating tuna fish naked."

Now the women are laughing but the men are getting bored, because women telling unfunny jokes doesn't work unless they are hot. And/or naked.

Tina Fey:

"I once dated this guy who was a metrosexual. We both liked eating tuna fish naked and comparing cuticles."

See? When a smart girl like Tina says "cuticles" women have to laugh, because: syllables. And: they know what cuticles are. Meanwhile: men are wondering when the waitress is going to bring their next drink around.

I hope this illuminated matters.

I am Laslo.