Magazine article Insight on the News

TV's Bigwigs Are a Smash at the Capitol Hill Comedy Club

Magazine article Insight on the News

TV's Bigwigs Are a Smash at the Capitol Hill Comedy Club

Article excerpt

For a goodly number of Americans, Congress must seem very much like Charles Dickens's Mrs. Matthew Pocket -- "highly ornamental and perfectly useless,"

But Congress has a practical function that may be overlooked -- as a forum for new comedy acts. It provides try-out opportunities that may get nonelected humorists booked on variety shows, in nightclubs or before conventions.

The congressional audience is immense -- several hundred House and Senate committees and subcommittees with nothing genuine to fill the hours between pay raises. So the jesters elbow each other for a chance to see how their material registers on the Washington laugh-o-meter.

There was, for example, a risible procession in the Senate recently. The performances of several of the comedians were stunning -- notably those of the high-paid help from NBC, ABC and Connie Chung's network.

Take Howie Stringer, president of the CBS Broadcast Group. His gig before one subcommittee was a riot -- "ludicrous lines, delivered with a poker face as stony as [Buster] Keaton's," according to a veteran observer.

The topic was violence on television, admittedly a chestnut, one that, tackled by lesser talent, would zap the severest insomniac into instant slumber. But Howie was in the zone.

Well, yes, maybe the TV industry bears some responsibility for pervasive violence, and sure, Stringer offered, the last "sweeps" month was maybe, ah, on

the grotesque side.

Any sober viewer, of course, is aware that the body counts run to the dozens each evening, with weaponry from blunt instruments to hitech stuff. The daily "entertainment" schedules are over the gunwales with shootings, beatings, bashings, stompings, slashings and wondrously imaginative torture, often infused with sadism, masochism and, of course, sexual intimations. The techniques of violence are perpetrated on children, men and women of all races, creeds and places of national origin; it's all aseptic, to be sure, with a brutalized victim often bobbing up in the next scene almost as good as new -- leaving young minds to make a dangerously false deduction.

But, hey, man, Howie emoted, a bunch of us are going to get together in Vegas -- no, Los Angeles -- and talk about what can be done. .. What a guy!

"We hope the result will be television programming that, while reflective of the society in which we live, avoids gratuitous depictions of violence that contribute nothing to our cultural life," he said, bringing down the house. …

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