2005-06-02 / View From the Middle

We Can Ridicule Ourselves — Up To A Point

View From The Middle By Charles Rogers

I usually resent late-night talk-show hosts when they blatantly make fun of people. It’s rarely funny and, more often than not, makes me squirm more than the victim. Then it makes me turn to another channel.

Recently, however, I was channel-switching and lighted upon Jay Leno doing his own gag brand of “Jeopardy!” by giving simple answers to three innocent audience members who were trying to come up with the proper question. The answer-question session included inquiries such as, “This president made his money on peanuts.” The answer, of course, is Jimmy Carter. The contestants — and they were real contestants — didn’t know the answer, which gave the audience a big laugh.

Next question (paraphrased): Who is the Gov-ernor of California? One of the contestants knew the answer, although she wasn’t really sure, and admitted she just happened to guess correctly. That gave the audience another laugh.

There were a bunch of other questions, including “Who invented the telephone?” When the host hinted that the name started with “Alex…,” the contestant smirked and blurted out: “Alexander the Great!” There was a simple geography-related question asking where Lima is. The three answers were, “I don’t know,” “I don’t know,” and “Is it in Detroit?” The deriding audience broke up at that, although, secretly I think they were almost all relieved that they weren’t in the game and weren’t asked the same question.

I relate to this particular instance of joking-at-the-expense-of-the-poor, ignorant people with Leno not because of his poor taste in making fun of others. Hell, nowadays it seems that poor taste is the name of any (every?) comedian’s game. I relate to it be-cause of the obvious ignorance of the contestants.

No, they weren’t fugitives from “Saturday Night Live.” They were real people who agreed to show off how much they don’t know. Go figure!

Some of the other bits geared to ridicule people who had agreed to ridicule themselves included one in which the contestants seemed almost proud of the fact that they didn’t know who President/General Dwight Eisenhower was and which side he was on in the Revolutionary War. Yeah, one of them said he thought it was a German name, so he was probably on the German side. Another great one: Whose side did Japan take during World War Two, Germany or the U.S.? Two of the answerers said “the U.S.”

My problem is not with Leno & associated companies, in this case. (Hey, comics get a laugh wherever they can. That’s the nature of the beast).

My problem is with the contestants. They were all of a reasonable adult age — in their middle 20s or lower 30s. They all seemed to be relatively well spoken (in other words, you wouldn’t be able to tell how du..., uh, uneducated they were until you’d been with them more than 60 seconds), and they were all eager to talk to Leno and/or whomever was the host using the same bit on another show (Jimmy Kimmel, I think). As naive as I hope I’m not, they really wanted to answer the questions, and, when told their snip of videotape would be shown on the air that night or subsequently, they willingly signed waivers saying it was okay.

DID YOU HEAR ME? THEY WILLINGLY SIGNED THOSE WAIVERS!!! And I’m sure they’ll be glad to show the snippet of tape to their children and their children’s children when they get to high school or before. Yes, glad. Happy. PROUD!

Did I miss something when I was growing up? I was no ace in school; average, maybe. So I can’t fault people who were even less than that. But you can be sure I wouldn’t broadcast my ignorance and then sign a waiver saying it was.....saying it was.... Oh, the hell with it!

Maybe it’s me....

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