Magazine article The American Conservative

That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore

Magazine article The American Conservative

That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore

Article excerpt

Just when you thought your spirits couldn't sink any lower, along comes Sony with a box set of Monty Python romps--"Celebrating 400 Years of Monty Python"--to mark the 40th anniversary of what publicity monkeys like to call the "ground-breaking" TV comedy series. Four hundred years? Sure. The extra zero makes it "surreal" or "Pythoneseque."

Try not to die laughing. The only funny thing about Monty Python is that a lot of people still find it funny, not least in the United States, where the show's anniversary is being marked by a gig at the Ziegfield Theater in New York City. What we have here, I fear, is further evidence of the incorrigible Anglophilia of the American liberal Left.

The sun has not set on the British empire of pop culture. First it was the Beatles, then David Frost, then the Stones, then the Pythons ... and now John Oliver of "The Daily Show" (more on that in a moment).

America really is the land of opportunity for the "plausible Englishman"--the sort of fellow who is as street smart as a fourth-generation Italian pimp but who does not go native. I am not thinking of Tina Brown or Andrew Sullivan, who are not so much plausibly English as implausibly American. No, the type I have in mind was identified by Tom Wolfe in the character of Peter Fallow, the boozy English journalist in Bonfire of the Vanities.

Some say that Fallow was based on Anthony Haden-Guest--onetime Manhattan journalist and boulevardier and son of the 4th Baron Haden-Guest--but others say that Christopher Hitchens was the model. Englishmen do not come more plausible than Sir Christopher. He has it all: the ironic smile, the contemptuous drawl, the bogus self-deprecation, the sardonic asides about dumb fundamentalists.

In truth, though, it does not take much to be a plausible Englishman. Consider John Oliver, Jon Stewart's grotesquely English sidekick on "The Daily Show." He is not funny. Why did Stewart hire him? One answer is that Stewart is not funny, either, not these days anyway, but my hunch is that Stewart picked him because he is English.

If you can make it in New York, say New Yorkers, you can make it anywhere, but Oliver couldn't make it anywhere except New York. Or am I being unkind? He might make it as a warm-up act in Hikitika, New Zealand.

It's not just that Oliver's routines are leaden--Stewart and his team share responsibility for that--his sociopolitical persona is all wrong. …

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