This past Tuesday was the 100th Birthday of (the still very much alive) Professor Irwin Corey, a true artist, a man who brought the most wonderful and extreme forms of Dada to the masses via the most unlikely means. He is an inspiration to all lovers of nonsense and all people who aspire to use the mainstream to spread the extreme.
Long before people like Andy Kaufman tested the conceptual limits of comedy, Corey was applying radical and esoteric artistic, literary, and theatrical techniques to comedy performed in very conventional American venues, producing work that had more in common with Tristan Tzara and Beckett than Crosby and Hope. One of the pinnacles of Corey’s career (and the story of Dada in America) came on April 18, 1974 at New York’s Alice Tully Hall, when Thomas Pynchon won the National Book Award for Gravity’s Rainbow. Much to the audiences’ extraordinary confusion, Corey accepted the award on behalf of the reclusive Pynchon, delivering one of his trademark exhibitions of double-talk and stunning nonsense to an utterly confused crowd.
If I were dispensing Kennedy Center Honors, or some suchlike malarkey, one would surely go to Professor Irwin Corey. In fact, I am hereby creating The Noise Center Honors, and the FIRST recipient is The World’s Foremost Authority (as he dubs himself), Professor Irwin Corey.
NEXT. I haven’t picked on the New York Times in a while, and I don’t want to make that a habit (not picking on the New York Times, that is). In an article in Sunday’s paper titled “Sure You Loved Lucy, But Vintage Has It’s Limits,” writer Neil Genzlinger displayed a truly extraordinary ignorance regarding the meat, text, and subtext of a few of America’s best-loved sitcoms.
Here’s what he wrote about The Honeymooners: “Couples defined by screaming seem more sad than funny today.”
OKAY. Ahem. AHEM. Dismissing the GENIUS of The Honeymooners, that chiaroscuro monument to dreams, disappointment and resilience, as merely “couples defined by screaming” is obscene, the equivalent (seriously) of dismissing Citizen Kane as “Badly-defined reporter goes on a long quest without finding an answer.” ALL of America’s midcentury hopes – the slow crawl up to lower-middle class and the frequently futile dreams of reaching a higher rung on the ladder, the rapidly shifting balance of power between the sexes and the struggle to redefine a working marriage — all of it captured in the new medium that would define the second half of the century – are present in the extraordinary Classic 39, and it’s all performed by the greatest comic ensemble ever assembled on a Television soundstage. Jesus H. Morrissey, how long was that sentence? Mr. Genzlinger, I am sure you are a perfectly decent fellow, but if Ulysses can still be in print, if Mean Streets can still be available on Netflix, the same privilege can be extended to the treasure known as The Honeymooners. It is not just some tired vintage bit of over-played nostalgia (as you imply) but the pinnacle of its’ genre, and a true fucking American classic. P.S., Mr. Genzlinger, you are a moron. Did I just call you a moron? Why, yes, I did. In fact, I did it in a “Tom Carvel” voice just to amuse myself, but you wouldn’t know that, because you can’t hear me.
Oh, and The Classic 39 is a pretty good band name, or a GREAT name for a Greatest Hits album (provided that album has 39 tracks).
Further evidence of Genzlinger’s wrong-headedness is presented in his assessment, in the same venal, pointless article, of Green Acres. Genzlinger wrote, “Speaking of stereotypes, there was this empty-headed series. Along with “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Gomer Pyle” and a few others, it made sure “rural” and “stupid” would be wrongly linked for years to come.”
Have you ever freaking watched Green Acres, you moron? (There, I used the “M” word again! This time I said it in a voice meant to sound like Kelsey Grammer, but to tell you the truth, it came out sounding more like Vin Scully.) First of all, Green Acres was a parody of those very stereotypes, a very broad and obvious one, too. The show was not meant to propagate these stereotypes; the show was intended to turn them into savage caricatures, broad and ridiculous cartoons meant to underline the very impossibility that such stereotypes could ever actually exist. Did you not, Herr Genzlinger, notice THE FUCKING SENTIENT INTELLIGENT PIG on the show? In other words, this show had MUCH more in common with, say, Family Guy than it had in common with any attempt by CBS to actually convince viewers that this is what rural America was actually fucking like. Also (and it is deeply sad that this went over Genzlinger’s head, because it is the most remarkable aspect of Green Acres), the show is full of the kind of surreal, 4th-Wall breaking humor that would not surface on American television again for another decade, with the onset of SNL and Letterman. It is far, far, far, far, far, so very goddamn far, so very fucking far, from an “empty-headed’ series. Listen, Genzlinger, I am sure you are a perfectly nice guy but any show that features cast members commenting on the closing credits is certainly operating on a level far above the level you perceived.
God knows what Genzlinger would make of The Mighty Boosh, one of the best comedy shows of this century. He’d probably say “This show insures that the words ‘gullible’ and ‘English’ will be wrongly linked for years to come.” Listen, pal, I can almost forgive the wrong-headed Green Acres assessment – if you had only seen an episode or two, you might come to that conclusion, and not recognize the virtually Olsen & Johnson-esque absurdity only barely beneath the surface – but, and I mean this fucking seriously, ANYONE WHO DISMISSES THE SIMPLE, DEEP MAJESTY AND COMPLETENESS OF THE HONEYMOONERS THE WAY HE DID SHOULD NOT BE WRITING ABOUT TELEVISION. Idiot. Though I am sure he’s a perfectly nice guy. Really.
P.S. Porcupine Tree is better than Radiohead.