But they still go for peanuts when coated with cyanide."
It started with poisoning pigeons in the park.
Maybe I should be more specific.
It started a few weeks ago when I heard the song "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park" as part of a Tom Lehrer* tribute on Prairie Home Companion. Impressed by the wit of the lyrics (the man rhymed cyanide, for God's sake) I decided to see what a professional song writer would think about Lehrer.
My go-to guy in these matters is Brad Kay, songwriter, music historian and former mystic knight. Brad can be a tough critic, particularly if your name isn't something like Gershwin, Waller or Ellington, but if I was expecting him to be dismissive of someone who was just a comic songwriter I was in for a surprise.
Brad had literally nothing but praise for Tom Lehrer. He talked about how graceful and apt Lehrer's choice of words was and about profoundly he understood each of the genres he worked on. This led to discussions of Spike Jones (who was an accomplished and successful percussionist before he started using gunshots and noisemakers in his music) and P.D.Q. Bach (who as Peter Schickele has composed a large number of well-regarded symphonies, musicals, and film scores). All of this suggested that the first requirement for creating comic music of more than passing interest was being a good musician.
It's probably not surprising that the general public has trouble taking the creators of comedy seriously, but their peers have no such difficulty. P.G. Wodehouse counted George Orwell among his fans. Any number of dancers and acrobats have commented on the grace and athleticism of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton (Keaton was particularly remarkable having mastered that most difficult of athletic feats, the controlled fall, by age three). As for acting, it's almost a truism that comic actors can easily do drama while dramatic actors often struggle with comedy.
So if the best musicians, writers, dancers and actors can be found doing great comedy, how about journalists?
The following clip is a thoroughly typical segment of the Daily Show. Take a look and consider it from a journalistic standpoint. Look at how clear and concise Stewart is. Check out how important but underreported facts are introduced and how everything is placed in a relevant context. I wonder how many hours of cable news you'd have to watch to meet the standards of just another Daily Show?
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Indecision 2010 - Primary Victory for Women|
*Arguably the world's coolest mathematics professor.