Sunday, December 11, 2005

You Might Not Be a Redneck

Comedy Central is playing "Blue Collar Comedy Rides Again" at this very minute. I flipped by and was reminded of David Cross's eviceration of "Larry the Cable Guy," who, it turns out, is not even really named Larry. Yep, he's pretending to be a good ole boy. Cross explains:
But you also specifically dumb down your speech while making hundreds of purposefully grammatical errors. How do I know this? It's on page 17 of your book wherein you describe how you would "Larry" up your commentaries for radio. What does it mean to "Larry" something up? Take a wild guess. The reason you feel the need to "Larry" something up? Because you are not that dumb. I mean you, Dan Whitney, the guy who's name the bank account is under. You were born and raised in Nebraska (hardly The South), went to private school and moved to Florida when you were 16.
That bugs me. I don't know why. I guess if Larry the Cable Guy's audience doesn't feel like he's making fun of them, if they think he's laughing with them, not at them, I guess it's not my business. But it still bugs.

10 Comments:

Blogger Kleinheider said...

First of all, B, rednecks are everywhere. I lived in Connecticut and you go to certain areas and you'll find you some authentic country boy rednecks. Nebraska is very rural. Just because it is not "in the South" doesn't mean the man does not come to his redneckdom authentically.

That said, all entertainers adopt a bit of a persona that upon reflection of their biography may look suspect. Tupac Shakur studied ballet at the Baltimore School for the Arts. He could've talked politics at a higher level than you and me. Does that negate this "Thug Life" persona. Maybe, maybe not.

Ice Cube grew up middle class and college-bound before NWA took off.

Howard Stern is a well educated Jewish man from Long Island who could talk about more than farts, lesbians, and retards if he chose to.

If Larry the Cable Guy is a fraud then so are most entertainers. It's almost required. I think to adequately portray something in the media demands a certain amount of detachment and self-awaremness.

12/11/2005 07:51:00 PM  
Blogger Exador said...

kleinheider's right. Binghamton, NY is far more redneck than anything around here. Don't even ask about northern Pennsylvania. That said, I do notice that Larry has a significant southern accent. In a way, this is a bit of a slam. Apparently, he feels the stupid hillbilly shtick wouldn't sell without it.

12/11/2005 08:17:00 PM  
Blogger bridgett said...

For us that have moved north -- even north of Binghamton -- "humor" acts like Larry the Cable Guy become the point of reference for listeners when we talk about home. Bigoted dumbassery and fart jokes -- hard to see why I'd miss that, right? And the affectation of the southern accent to suggest that Larry isn't very smart, well, that's doing me daily harm as well. I open my mouth already marked by decades of American entertainment's hillbilly shuffle.

I don't care a rat's ass whether he's authentically a redneck jerk. What I care about is his pretense of offering an in-joke (I'm laughing with you) in a medium in which there are no in-jokes (but I'm really laughing at you). He's not clowning on my porch, after all, like a cut-up cousin.

12/12/2005 05:47:00 AM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Ah, Bridgett, you get at exactly what my problem is--who, exactly, is his audience? Is it the folks who think he's funny because he's telling it like it is? The folks who think he's funny because he's exploiting a stereotype they find annoying? Or the folks who think he's making fun of the people like him?

A person could argue that such tension is actually a source of artistic energy, but I don't buy it.

Think of Sarah Cannon. She could not have been more different than Minnie Pearl in real life and, like Larry the Cable Guy, she was really solidly middle (if not upper) class and her act was portraying a poor rural white person. But there's something in her presentation that lets you know where her sympathies lie--and the most genius thing about her is the way that her act makes clear that Minnie Pearl (and thus the people like Minnie Pearl) only appears to be foolish, that she really gets things, even if there's something about her presentation that makes it appear at first as if she doesn't.

I guess I don't like Larry the Cable Guy because I can't tell where his sympathies lie and I can't tell what he thinks of the people he's pretending to be like.

12/12/2005 07:06:00 AM  
Blogger bridgett said...

I think he likes making money. He's a strip miner -- using Appalachian resources but leaving Appalachians ultimately disempowered vis a vis the rest of the world. And that ain't funny no matter who you are.

12/12/2005 07:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Sarcastro said...

Ripped from Slate:

"Redneck comedy—the creation of a cretinous, backwoods alter ego—was once useful in maintaining the delicate social fabric of the South. According to James C. Cobb, a history professor at the University of Georgia, the redneck comedian provided a rallying point for bourgeois and lower-class whites alike. With his front-porch humor and politically outrageous bons mots, the redneck comedian created an illusion of white equality across classes. Thus united, Cobb explains, Southern whites could better band together against common "foes"—newly enfranchised blacks, Northern carpetbaggers, and so forth. Later, in the stew of bus boycotts and school integration, the redneck comedian attained a peculiar grandeur. Upon hearing about Brown v. Board of Education, Brother Dave Gardner, a white comedian, is said to have remarked: "Let 'em go to school; we went and we didn't learn nothing."

edit

Earlier this year in Rolling Stone, the comedian David Cross charged that Larry's act was anti-gay, racist, and chock-full of "anti-intellectual pride." The third charge is surely true (Larry would take it as a compliment); the other two are more complicated. What these arguments often boil down to is one comedian claiming he's pitching his work on a high plane of satire, while the other claims the pitch is too subtle, or else delivered a bit too gleefully. In this case, I can't help but think that Cross' complaint would not be leveled at South Park or his own Arrested Development, which cleverly play with images of race and sexuality all the time, and that Larry's Southern rube shtick—where the running joke is that he's anti-intellectual—makes it easier to take his silly proclamations seriously (or else fear that his fans will). "I'm not Will Rogers," Larry says in a phone conversation. "I mean, Will Rogers was a poet and a thinkin' man and political." Fair enough. But two out of three ain't bad."

12/12/2005 08:39:00 AM  
Blogger Lee said...

Lewis Black wrote the Introduction for Larry's new book. Think about the fact that, of all comedians, Daily Show regular Lewis Black wrote the introduction. I don't see Mr. Black writing the Intro to a book written by a homophobic bigot.

Larry's stuff may not be genius, but it is merely our generation's version of Hee Haw. Maybe not the greatest stuff, but ultimately harmless.

12/12/2005 09:21:00 AM  
Blogger Steve Pick said...

I don't have an opinion on Larry the Cable Guy, whom I have never seen, though everything I've read here makes me think I'd hate him.

But, Lewis Black? That fucker is mildly homophobic and deeply misogynistic all the time, and he isn't half as clever as he thinks he is. Sometimes he'll hit a home run with his rants, but an awful lot of the time he's just down there on the sophomoric level. Frankly, I've never understood why the Daily Show wastes the space on him.

12/12/2005 03:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lewis Black is actually from North Carolina, if that helps explain the Larry the Cable Guy book introduction. Maybe they all did the same comedy circuit together.

But what do I know--I grew up outside of Knoxville.

12/12/2005 07:52:00 PM  
Blogger Ted said...

What rankles me is the sense that, rather than laughing at the possible satiric truths in his homophobic racism (and yes, truths and insight are possible there (although damned unlikely)), Larry's audience is laughing in the way that Butch's friends laughed when he knocked Spanky down into the mud. There's a bullying, smug, snide, sneering superiority in many of today's "entertainers" that I find off-putting (if not out-and-out positively distressing).

12/14/2005 02:12:00 PM  

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