Diet Soap Podcast #181: The Low Art of Comedy

Dennis Perrin is the guest this week and we discuss the low art of comedy. Dennis is the author of Mister Mike the Man Who Made Comedy Dangerous, a stand-up comic himself, and a regular on the Diet Soap podcast.

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There are many sound clips in this episode. There are clips of Michael O’Donoghue, Jonathan Winters, George Carlin, Robin Williams, and a bit of stand-up from Mr. Perrin himself.

Here’s a clip from an essay Perrin recently penned for the online comedy magazine Splitsider:

I can’t think of an American comedian more revered and respected than Jonathan Winters. (There’s Jack Benny, for those who remember him.) Winters created a world where you were welcome, but you had to keep pace. His rapid-fire mind took hairpin turns. The inattentive might be left in his dust.

Winters was one of the more offbeat performers in mainstream comedy. He was as polished as Hope. As graceful as Gleason. As biting as Rickles. Yet Winters pushed it further. Breathed different oxygen. No matter how far out he went, Winters was accepted and cherished in the most conservative venues.. Read More at Splitsider.

Great podcast. I’ve enjoyed listening to your show for a few years now. However, at the end of the show, in Perrin’s bit of stand-up, his argument gets disturbing. The implicit argument he’s making is that gender equality is more accessible if rape is more normalized (the rape of men by men); that rape can be a way to even the scales. Not only is this a disturbing change in discourse (see Zizek’s articles and lectures about the normalizing of human torture), but normalizing rape, regardless of the gender involved in the joke or discussion, will end up victimizing women more, because women are more often the demographic being raped. This “turning of the tables” is not progress. Laughing at men getting raped is not progress. It’s a subtle but dangerous acceleration in the wrong direction.
Thanks again for your shows.

You may be on to something, but let’s test this out.

My only objection to this analysis would be that Perrin isn’t aiming to describe rape but rather repressed homosexual eroticism. So, in these Mixed Martial Arts events the two men clearly want to get their hands on each other and this is the only way they know how to do it.

Also, the point of saying that these extreme fighting events are really quite gay and will lead to widespread acceptance of gay sex isn’t that one literally believes this, but rather the aim is to deflate the hyper-masculine and expose the repression that we suppose is behind homophobia.

In other words, Perrin is joking even if his audience doesn’t laugh.

Yes, your points are well taken. I suppose what’s interesting to me about Perrin’s observation is a further dimension, perhaps out of the podcast’s scope, perhaps not. Martial Arts is a forum wherein Perrin can make his satirical observation because male sexuality expressed as violence is a long accepted, irrevocable, irreversible union (perhaps similar to the union of democracy and capitalism). I guess my point is somewhat out of focus from the podcast’s design. What I hear when listening to his comic bit is the performance of a cultural identity. What are considered “third-world” behaviors are making middle-class headlines (which doesn’t make it news, but the way we think about it, and the way we think other people are thinking about it is worth noting). Cultural puzzlement over events like the Steubenville rape trial, or the nation-wide campus epidemic of anal fissures among college women encountering a generation of men coached by the violence in internet pornography ( — these are interesting trends, at their roots relying on, I think, an accepted premise that male sexuality as violence is a priori. And again, perhaps all this is outside the scope of the Low Art of Comedy. However, if part of the “lowness” of comedy’s art exposes the irony of resources, method, and essentially ideology, this is why thinking about the premise of a comic’s set-up, whether getting laughs or not, doesn’t seem too far left field, if you can dig. Or perhaps this is part of a future podcast, The Politics of Our Sexual Economy.

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