The Fish
for 12 December 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
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[Tim Cavanaugh]
Tim Cavanaugh
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Terry Colon
Art Director

 

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Heather Havrilesky
Senior Editor

 

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Joey Anuff
Publisher

 
 
 
 
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White Men Can't Joke

"Assuming that ethnicity equals Funny is a mistake made with Canadians, too. In the last thirty years Canada turned out Mike Meyers, John Candy, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, SCTV, Dave Thomas, Catharine O'Hara, Andrea Martin, Martin Short, Rick Moranis, and The Kids in the Hall. Yet, can anyone name a funny Canadian who came along before Chicago's Second City theater opened a branch in Toronto?"

Mort Sahl?

Colby
<cosh@freenet.edmonton.ab.ca>

Mort moved to LA when he was a kid and became a stand-up in San Francisco in the early 50s. By the time he was a comedian, proper fluoridated water, American clean living and not so much syrup and bacon at meals funnied him up just fine. I consider Mort as American as Bob Hope.

See mortsahl.com.

Bert

 
[Mr. McFeely Speedy Delivery My Ass]
 

You need to do some fact-checking, Bert. You write:

"In the last thirty years Canada turned out Mike Meyers, John Candy, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, SCTV, Dave Thomas, Catharine O'Hara, Andrea Martin, Martin Short, Rick Moranis, and The Kids in the Hall. "

But Gilda Radner (from Detroit), Andrea Martin (from Maine), and Dave Thomas (from South Carolina, part-time) are Americans.

Lemuel
<lemuel_s@excite.com>

Gee, Lemuel (and I know how you feel pal — my name's Blecht!),

Fact checking? Wasn't the whole point of the article that ethnicity and national origin have little to do with being funny? You didn't get all the way down to the second to last graf and not notice that did you?

I consider all of the above comics Canadian in the way I consider Brits like Chaplin and Bob Hope part of American comedy or an American like Terry Gilliam to be part of British humor for his Monty Python work or Brazil. Lorne Michaels is Canadian, but all his important work is here in the USA. Gilda Radner could go either way, I suppose, since when she left Second City in Toronto she went to the Lampoon and then SNL in New York.

Bert

 
[Mr. McFeely Speedy Delivery My Ass]
 

Dear Mr. Blecht,

Bang Improv Studio here in Los Angeles hosts a semi-annual show: Jews Vs. Christians. It's an improv comedy outlet for a largely Second City bred (or influenced) group that divide themselves by religion, are randomly sent to the stage in a group of six, then allowed to go for twenty minutes or so.

What can I say? We just did the show again last week and the Jews brought the house down. A shonda on the goyishim! We ended up doing a series of scenes about what happened when a little girl wanted to dance at her Bat Mitzvah. The synagogue was scandalized statewide. Her parents separated from under the strain, but her mother blossomed with her newfound independence. Another congregant produced a play that exposed her rabbi's hypocrisy. It was hilarious and effortless improvisation, because built-in characters are already comic.

We've done the show every Easter/Passover and Christmas/Hannukah for three years now, and the Christians are fast to point out that "The Jews Always Win!" I was just emailed your article by one such Protestant.

It has got to be that accent. It's hard not to be funny when you're playing those Brooklyny, Aunt Ida-esque schnorrers, schmucks and yadda-yadda-yadda.

I loved reading your article, and apologize for not being funnier.

Evan Gore
<evangore@email.com>

Thanks for writing. As to your annual Xtian vs. Jew comedy jihad, really, how could the Jews be expected to lose on Fairfax Avenue where they have home team advantage? Next time take them all down to Olivera Street and see who gets the last laugh.

I've got a mazel tov cocktail with your name on it, pal.

Bert

 
[Mr. McFeely Speedy Delivery My Ass]
 

Dear Mr. Blecht,

I enjoyed your column. My memories of comedy begin with radio shows of the late 1930s and 1940s. Aside from some of the comics you mention, one program found quite funny by this young kid was "Can You Top This", with its many specifically-ethnic jokes.

Cordially,

Art Eatman
<desertrat@brooksdata.net>

Hi Art,

I remember a TV version of "Can You Top This" done with Morrie Amsterdam from the '70s which was all comedians telling jokes, trying to get the biggest laugh. They had an audience monitor measuring the volume of the audience laugh, and if you were a guest on the show, it didn't do you much good to have Jan Murray for a partner.

Bert

 
[Mr. McFeely Speedy Delivery My Ass]
 

How is it that you managed to get through an entire monologue of stand-up, sitcoms, and Jews without once mentioning Seinfeld?

That's either an egregious oversight or an impressive display of self-control.

Christopher Moore
<CMoore@challiance.org>

I'll opt for "impressive display of self-control," only because I never watched the show that much and wouldn't mention it even if I met Jerry Seinfeld.

Bert

 
[Mr. McFeely Speedy Delivery My Ass]
 

"Yet, can anyone name a funny Canadian who came along before Chicago's Second City theater opened a branch in Toronto?"

Yes.

Stephen Leacock Wayne & Shuster Rick Little Leslie Neilsen Alan Thicke Ben Wicks Mort Sahl William Shatner

Moreover, I somewhat doubt that all funny Canadians to emerge since the opening of Toronto's Second City owe their wit to that venue, in the same way that all funny Americans don't owe their wit to the original Second City in Chicago. I've never been on stage at the Second City, and believe you me, I'm absolutely, terrifyingly fucking hilarious. Oh, I'm not making you laugh right now? What am I, your goddamn trained monkey?

As you can see, assuming Canadians are nice is a mistake too.

P.S. Exaggerated surly objection aside, good article. I particularly liked your counter to the "victim theory" in the second paragraph. Might I suggest, though, that Tibetans, Chinese, and Indian untouchables aren't knockin' 'em dead at the Improv because they simply don't speak English? They might still be funny.

As for why there aren't more funny Irish, I have no idea. Bono's kind of laughable, but that seems to be it. It may be that they don't need to use words as weapons since they have actual weapons.

Oh, and slightly apropos to the subject, check this out. Staggeringly unfunny, and it came from YOUR country. You ought to deport these would-be jokers. Just don't send them here.

Peter Lynn
<peterjameslynn@yahoo.ca>

Oh, Pete, where do I start? I mean, on the one hand you're telling me that you have a great sense of humor and on the other you advocate William Shatner (?) and Rich Little as great examples of Canadian comedy. Something's gotta give, and I'm going to have to bet on you being absolutely hilarious because I've seen Little's act. The fact that you brought up Alan Thicke tends to prove my point. Mort Sahl, on the other hand, is a big plus for you guys in your quest for American statehood.

But really, looking over the history of Canadian comedy, what really puts you guys on the map all comes from the last thirty years, no? I give you Howie Mandel as a national comic resource, but Second City has turned out the vast majority of Canadian comic talent.

Re your theory about Chinese, Indians, Tibetans not speaking English - hey bud, maybe not in Canada, but this is the melting pot and you meet people of color who speak English every day down here.

Bert

 
[Mr. McFeely Speedy Delivery My Ass]
 

Although I'm not a huge fan, Wayne and Shuster do predate Second City and are generally considered "funny".

Jeremy Wilson
<xeno@inforamp.net>

Wayne and Shuster! Wayne and Shuster! Every Canadian who writes in wants to talk about Wayne and Shuster! I'm glad you admit you're not a big fan of Wayne and Shuster, Jeremy, which means you're not really a Canadian or your citizenship may be revoked. Actually, don't they try to kick you out for just speaking English?

I was asking a rhetorical question about pre-Second City Canadian Funny. My point is that Canadian comedy takes this giant leap forward when Second City arrives, much, btw, as did Chicago's. The question still holds — why is it we know so many funny Brits, for example, but Wayne and Shuster managed to successfully avoid so many of the trappings of world famous comedians — such as fame? I'm sure they were great, but if the world of Canadian comedy was borne on the shoulders of Wayne and Shuster alone, well, talk about Atlas shrugged. Doesn't John Candy's career alone — not to mention Mike Myers, Aykroyd, and the rest — make my point?

Bert

 
[Mr. McFeely Speedy Delivery My Ass]
 

Whoa Hepcat!

How can you write a piece about Jews in comedy and not even mention the 3 Stooges?

Roadkit
<roadkit@hotmail.com>

Because I can't stand the Three Stooges?

Bert, hepper than God, Blecht

 
[Mr. McFeely Speedy Delivery My Ass]
 

One correction, one speculation, and two comments:

The correction: Although Gilda Radner cut her teeth at Second City's Toronto club, she was a Jewish woman from Detroit (my hometown, as well).

The speculation: Charlie Chaplin was probably Jewish. Throughout the years, he protested too much ... while older brother Syd Chaplin never made any qualms about his London East End Jewish origins. As for English Jewish humor, Peter Sellers (if it weren't for the Goons, there'd be no Monty Python) and (presently) Ben Elton have left their marks.

The comment: I think that Jack Benny was the bravest stand-up comic who ever lived. While his material was never very controversial, what comic has ever had the balls to cross his arms, say one exasperated word, then WAIT for the laughs and WAIT and WAIT? And then, sure enough, the laughs would not only come, but BUILD for maybe two minutes. In many ways, Jack Benny's style of humor conveyed the WASPness of his midwest origins more than his Jewish origins. Being a Jew from the midwest myself, I can attest to the flavor of his comedic style.

An added comment: While commenting on midwest Jewish comedy, I'd like to add Soupy Sales' very very Detroit style of Jewish midwest comedy. When Soupy was cooking back in the fifties and early sixties on Detroit local television, his humor reflected the dominant African-American and WASP humor of Motown. Soupy is an unsung comedy hero.

Elliot Feldman
<EFeldman@station.sony.com>

Elliot,

What a relief to hear from an America Firster amongst all the comical canucks who wrote me. And a Detroit Firster to boot! I won't sing about Soupy, but maybe David Bowie could, since Soupy's sons spent much time as Bowie sidemen (true). Re: your letter, I'll offer you nearly the same in return — one speculation, one correction, but only one comment.

The correction: Gilda, yes, an American by birth, but she goes both ways for me on the American/Canadian issue because of Toronto Second City, just as you'd consider Chaplin part of American comedy or Terry Gilliam part of British comedy. The whole point of the story was that nationality and race, etc., mean little and that funny can get plugged into all kinds of comics genres and styles — stand-up. sit-coms, slapstick, etc.

The speculation — Chaplin was not Jewish, as David Robinson, in his book "Chaplin," exhaustively reveals in his tracing of the Chaplin family tree back to I don't know when but so far back that I think Jews hadn't been invented yet. Many people thought Chaplin was Jewish because he would refuse to answer the question of his religion out of political correctness (sort of like people today who pointedly say "Why does it matter?" when you ask if someone is gay or not). Chaplin also made the Jew-friendly "The Great Dictator" (1940), was openly Leftist, he stood up for Jews quite vocally when he heard anti-Semitic comments — all of which lead lots of people at the time to assume he was Tribe.

Comment one: I'm a Midwestern Jew, too, but disagree about Benny as WASP Midwesterner in this sense — his humor was entirely based on self-effacement (common in Jewish ethnic humor), his miserly nature (need I explain?), and the constant presence of the violin was a Jewish cultural statement in itself (a touch of "Fiddler on the Roof" and that whole tradition). Benny's restraint may indeed be a Midwestern trait. Buster Keaton comes to mind here, as a man who stayed deadpan even when houses fell on him. As for Benny's bravery in saying only one word — well, then, they should build a statue to Harpo.

Thanks for writing. BTW, Detroit comedy can currently be seen on SNL which features Jerry Miner, an actor from Second City's Detroit bureau.

Bert

 
[Mr. McFeely Speedy Delivery My Ass]
 

I usually love Suck.com's insights to life but presenting the articles with inaccurate or information does not really help your case. I suggest researching topics thoroughly before you publish. Also you must understand that I do not believe you are wrong in saying that comedy isn't a "Jewish" thing anymore and is American but your support is a bit weaker than presented. I applaud your work, dedication, and courage in writing about real stuff concerning sensitive subjects.

Here are some neglected examples:

Bill Maher (Both Jewish & Catholic) Politically Incorrect

Jon Stewart from the Comedy Central Daily Show is Jewish.

Interesting to note that Roseanne who you comment on was jewish.

And you talk about Vaudeville how about The Flying Karamazovs?

Howard Stern too!

David Schwimmer is jewish from friends

You also leave out one of the best ever standup driven sitcoms: Seinfeld, with Jewish stars and some Jewish cast.

Any Kaufman — I thought he was pretty funny.

These guys definitely were pioneers: Three Stooges

Paul Reiser on Mad About You not to long ago!

Check out these links:

Jewhoo

Jewwatch.com

Ethan Stone
<ethanstone@thecomputerwiz.net>

Hello Ethan,

First, thanks for your Jew list.

What I said in the story is that at this point in time stand-up and sitcoms have no clear ethnic divisions in that people of all races, creeds, hairstyles, and what-have-you use them. I never said there weren't any Jews involved in comedy today. I said that those formats were no longer specifically a Jewish culture and that, like African-American roots in rock music, it has simply become American culture.

And the Three Stooges were not pioneers — they were throwbacks to slapstick vaudeville. The Stooges were the Gallaghers and Carrottops of the '30 and '40s and I'm always happy to point out that a Bug Bunny cartoon would always outgross those hacks at the box office.

Bert

 
[Mr. McFeely Speedy Delivery My Ass]
 

Toothless

"They consider that quiet thump-thump-thump in the distance as either Thomas Jefferson rolling over in his grave or J. Edgar Hoover whacking off in his."

Now that, sir, is a good line.

Will Forster

You can never go wrong with the mental image of high-level government officials masturbating.

I wonder where Hoover stuck his cigars.

Greg Knauss

 
[Mr. McFeely Speedy Delivery My Ass]
 

Great piece again today on Carnivore.

My favorite bit of foolishness is the British plan to keep a 7-year archive of all of the communication on the web. You never know when it could come in handy. Talk about a waste of time and money. James Bond didn't spend his time in the bookstore and the post office trying to write down every single bit of data that the world read. Nope. He went to the embassy party where the decisions were being made.

Peter Wayner
<pcw@flyzone.com>

Actually, it's good to see the British government picking up where Deja News left off. And, jeez, now's a great time to invest in hard drive manufacturers, too.

Or maybe it's just a plot by Prince Charles to archive his porn.

Greg Knauss

 
[Mr. McFeely Speedy Delivery My Ass]
 

Hi Greg,

I just wanted to let you know that I think you were wrong on a few facts in your article entitled, Toothless, on the FBIs Carnivore system.

1) After reading the IITRI draft report, I don't see how Carnivore could be used to filter the internet, or to shut it down. The draft report repeatedly states that Carnivore cannot affect the TCP traffic it monitors in any way whatsoever. (I'm taking issue here with your parenthetical statement, (and arbitrary discretion over the delivery of).

2) The problem is not adding cryptography capabilities to email programs and other internet information sharing/accessing programs, as you suggest someone does with Mozilla. Most programs already allow this, as you say, and Outlook, which I am using to send this message, makes it quite easy to send digitally signed AND encrypted messages (I have both on by default). The problem is that, if I try to send an encrypted message to someone, for example you, whose public key I don't have access to, I can't do it.  There's no way around this. The whole public key / private key encryption mechanism depends on the sender being able to lock the message with the recipients public key, so that only the recipient can unlock it with his corresponding private key. The real solution here is a global address list a public database that any program can access to get someone's public key. If such a thing existed, then you would see encrypted mail become the norm overnight. Having said this, I don't know as much as I should about verisign, and companies like it, but they are probably the closest thing the present day has to such a database.

3) The only other issue I take with your article, is that, when witnesses who worked within Echelon are interviewed on national television by 48 hours, I call the bogeyman verified. (Maybe I'm not paranoid enough, because of my trust in validation through TV News media)

All the best,

Barry Steinglass
<barryste@exchange.microsoft.com>

Taking things in order:

1) The IITRI report is a review of the documented capabilities of Carnivore, not of what it is actually capable of or what it might become. The ACLU made the point that any review is out of date with the next revision of the software.

The ability to shut down the Internet, though, can probably be inferred if a Carnivore box is a choke-point through which all data passes through to get to every ISP in the country. Simply drop every packet that comes in (or denial-of-service the LAN you're sitting on) and, effectively, the whole Internet goes down. (The link above is to a Robert X. Cringely article where he talks about the possibility.)

2) I recognize that the cryptographic infrastructure is what's really missing for common end-to-end encryption to become a reality, and I acknowledged the presence of S/MIME and PGP in the current crop of mail clients in the article. But the existence of the latter doesn't excuse the lack of the former, nor does it allow for the fact that both are ugly implementation details, to be worked out by programmers rather than human beings. Does there need to be a better way to communicate public keys? Definitely. But that's the sort of messy nonsense that the average computer user wants to (and should rightfully) remain ignorant of. Just as John Doe doesn't have to care if his messages are being routed through Exchange or Sendmail or whatever, he shouldn't have to care how the recipient gets his public key. Whether it's a global address book or a series of smaller ones or voodoo magic doesn't matter.

Hell, if you're on the Outlook 2002 team, you're in a better position than most to make a difference. Turn on encryption by default and invite the user to create a key pair and advertise his public key on a Microsoft server the first time he tries to send a message. When someone receives a message signed with an unknown key, offer to check a bunch of well-known keyservers. Make it automatic and invisible. Hide the details. Make it simple.

Hell, encourage Microsoft to maintain a bunch of anonymous re-mailers, to defeat traffic analysis. If anybody should be want to get messages past the Feds, it'd be you guys.

3) Don't you know that CBS is a government plot?

Greg Knauss

 
[Mr. McFeely Speedy Delivery My Ass]
 

Just to let you know "good article". I forwarded it to all the "right people". I am now looking in to FBI proof underwear and encryption software. This article is being used in my HS government class as a lesson on the 4th amendment and Bureaucracy.

Yours truly,

David Selwyn
<davidselwyn@zianet.com>

Here at Suck, we're always happy to help young minds subvert authority. You might want to pass on that if you take a raw fish and hide it in an acoustical ceiling...

No, no. Never mind.

A good place to start with e-mail cryptography is S/MIME. Most clients already have it built in, but it needs to be activated by signing up with a certificate authority. Good general purpose encryption can be had through PGP, or it's open source equivalent GPG, at www.gnupg.org. Have fun!

Greg Knauss

 
[Mr. McFeely Speedy Delivery My Ass]
 

 The Shit
Krushchev Remembers, by Nikita Krushchev (authorship disputed), translated by Strobe Talbott
Five-Star Day Cafe
Athens, Ga.
Salon's "Action Figures"
TV ad
Donna's Famous "Long and Short of It," by Donna Anderson and friends
Two-Lane Blacktop, directed by Monte Hellman (The Anchor Bay/Universal letterboxed edition)
George Bush, Dark Prince of Love: A Presidential Romance, by Lydia Millet (Scribner)
King Kong: The Complete 1933 Film Score, by Max Steiner Moscow Symphony Orchestra, William J. Stromberg conductor (Marco Polo)
Eightball #20, by Dan Clowes (Fantagraphics Books)
The ECW's Little Spike Dudley
Stan Kenton, City of Glass, featuring arrangements by legendary weirdo Bob Graettinger (EMD/Blue Note)
Comix 2000, Edited and published by L'Association, 2000
Star Dudes
Do you know of stuff that doesn't actively suck? Things so good they deserve to make the Shitlist? Send your suggestions to us.

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