It's Not Funny
t has been noted repeatedly on this site, and other publications, that Bill Hicks was the last great political comedian of the 20th century. Dave McGonigle nailed it by noting that Hicks “combined the ire of a Baptist preacher with the cool logic of a Greek philosopher.” He was a hilarious guy, no doubt, but it was his venomous passion for reason, flowing unfiltered from his lips, that endeared him to his followers and differentiated himself from other socially concerned orators, including all politicians and most liberal activists. Hicks was a master of exposing new layers of hypocrisy within conventional wisdom, just like any great essayist (his appeal to pro-life groups to “lock arms and block cemeteries” comes to mind). He proved that in the hands of a great comedian, political discourse could be elevated to one of the best entertainments.
With the release of It’s Not Funny, we can finally add David Cross to this comedic pantheon. Unlike Hicks, Cross has made his way occasionally into the mainstream. An actor by trade (Mr. Show, Arrested Development), Cross has found himself in such films as Men in Black and its sequel and Scary Movie II while leveling his invective at contemporary icons. Hicks wallowed in obscurity throughout his career until his premature death; David Cross, however, has not only Hicks's vicious tongue, but also the visibility to expose more listeners to his rants. If Hicks was the Minor Threat of comedy, Cross is comedy’s Rage Against the Machine.
Cross’s first release of stand-up recordings, Shut Up, You Fucking Baby!, helped many a comedian begin to make light of incredibly weighty issues again. It captured the disillusionment with blind jingoism in the wake of 9-11, and brutally (and hilariously) targeted evangelical Christianity. Now these subjects have been opened up to a whole new breed of deliciously sarcastic liberal commentators that dish out anti-Bush sentiment on a daily basis, like the gang at Air America Radio. But in 2002, it seemed hopeless. Bush’s ratings swelled to Clinton-like proportions after a “successful” war in Afghanistan and the prospects of a new war in Iraq distracted mainstream America from the hijacking of our civil liberties. Liberal America felt increasingly isolated from political discourse and outspoken critics were hastily shouted down and labeled unpatriotic. None of what transpired over the two years since the 2000 election seemed funny; in fact, it felt like the sobering beginnings of a long liberal hangover after the excess complacency of the Clinton era. Cross might have asked himself, “What Would Bill Do?”, answering with one of the best comedy albums of the new century.
Now, two years later, circumstances have changed. Our political leaders are still dangerously out-of-touch with the country and the world. But, the now-apparent fraudulence behind the Iraq War and the economic crisis has managed to reverse public opinion. The air is ripe with change and David Cross has responded with a standup album of, and for, the times. Recorded live in Washington D.C. in January of 2004, It’s Not Funny is not wholly straightforward political commentary, but even his approach to covert subjects like watered-down contemporary “rock” and advertisements for time-saving devices carry overt political implications (i.e. the FCC turning a deaf ear to the growing Clear Channel monopoly diluting the airwaves). Just like Hicks described himself at the evolutionary crossroads waiting for the UFOs to take him away, the deep pessimism contained in Cross’s rants leads him to declare, “Are we a nation of 6 year olds? Answer: Yes.”
But I’ll be damned if Cross didn’t have me laughing out loud like a child getting a good dose of Looney Tunes on Saturday mornings. Unlike Hicks, who occasionally found himself crippled with anger and resentment on stage, Cross is able to channel that disgust consistently without losing sight of a joke on the horizon somewhere. Usually, this means adopting hilarious characters that mock American indifference. When he compares Bush’s appeal to American soldiers to pray for him to that of a king, he adds another layer of audacity to the truth. But when he adopts the character of a young soldier after an attack praying for the President, Cross reveals the hypocritical evil at the root of the conflict. “God… please see that Mr. Bush… has the strength to… finish his lobster salad… now I may die.” It’s not funny, but it can’t help but be hilarious. He even offers some advice to those listeners suffering through the same media assault on our psyche. Whenever George Bush utters, “The terrorists hate our freedom”, simply summon imagery of The Simple Life’s “two rich, giggling cunts”. “You know what, I hate our freedom… that’s all we’ve done with it!?” could be a mantra for anyone who craves not only 1st Amendment freedoms, but a deeper, psychic freedom.
David Cross lives in a world where everyone takes a steady dose of crazy pills, a place where logic and “facts” have no bearing on opinion or policy. And, while, admittedly, it’s not something you’re going to come back to, it’s something that as many people as possible should hear as soon as possible. Be thankful that Cross exists, and, more importantly, that he dares to ask “WWBD?”. Because, just like Hicks, the beauty of the album title lies in its reminder that these subjects are not supposed to be taken lightly; they should be discussed seriously. David Cross is here to supply you with a weapon of humor before he shoves you back onto the psychic war battlefield. Bill would be proud.
Reviewed by: Gabe Gloden
Reviewed on: 2004-05-13