Revisionist Humor Would Deny Us Comedy Gold… and Happiness

Mel Brooks is the greatest all-around comedian of the 20th century. From acting and directing to writing and producing, nobody could do it all like Mel Brooks. However, if Brooks tried to make any of his movies today, he would still be plying his trade somewhere in the Catskills. Think about his catalog: Blazing Saddles, The Producers, Young Frankenstein, Spaceballs, History of the World, Part I, Robin Hood: Men in Tights… MAYBE one of these movies could be made today. The rest? Oh, how offensive. How crass. What utterly unacceptable rubbish… and so… so damn funny. Yet, there are people, an increasingly growing faction, that look back on the past with contempt and scorn, and change history. They are called revisionist historians. These are the people who decry a John Wayne Playboy Interview from the 1970s and call the American founding fathers racist, looking back on the past without any context and using today’s morality to usurp history’s. But what is going on in the comedy world is equally as horrible. It is revisionist humor. These are people that look back on some of the greatest laughs in the history of the world and trumpet, “no… this is wrong. We CANNOT allow this.” Revisionist history has devolved into revisionist humor; if you want to live in a laughing and happy world, we must put an end to this madness.

Here are the building blocks to my sense of humor: Jack Benny, Mel Brooks (aka Melvin Kaminsky), Leslie Nielsen, Chris Farley, Richard Pryor, Brian Regan, and John Candy.

I love laughing. Laughing is happiness. But men like Mel Brooks and Jack Benny could never get going in 2019. The best comedians of the 20th century, the guys that laid the groundwork for almost all the comedy to follow, would be shunned today if revisionist humor took hold. But the humor has not changed, only the perception. The fault lies in how comedy is perceived in an outrage climate; if you want to get angry about everything, you are going to miss the joke. While we miss the jokes, our outrage increases, and our happiness dwindles. Worse, thanks to revisionist humor, we are whitewashing the exact things that used to contribute to our happiness.

Jack Benny, like many of the most prominent radio and early television comedians, was Jewish (born Benjamin Kubelsky). What was he known for? Humorously horrible violin playing, a great ensemble featuring Mel Blanc pretending to be a car (among 50 other characters), and… being a cheapskate. The vast majority of Benny’s best jokes are simple; Jack is a miser. A modern comedian could NEVER make a living off such a stereotype. Benny did. And he was the best at it. Those outraged at such stereotypical jokes would be depriving themselves of wonderful entertainment, and one of the greatest comedic lines ever.

However, his “Jack Benny Program,” had more characteristics that would cause problems today. Benny had a personal valet named Rochester van Jones, or merely, Rochester. Rochester, played by Eddie Anderson, was Benny’s black valet (in the first scene here). It would be impossible for such a character to gain notoriety in 2019, much less be accepted by an audience. While some would take one look at the character and power dichotomy between Benny and Rochester and denounce it as White Privilege or something of that nature, they would miss the beautiful relationship and grander scheme.

Rochester almost always got the better of Benny in their exchanges. Benny, playing the straight man (that is comedy-straight, not sexuality-straight), constantly teed Rochester up for the best jokes and laughs. This was important; while at first blush it might seem that Benny was the more powerful of the two in their relationship, it was actually Rochester that always had the upper hand. That is how it played on the radio and television. In real life, there was something more important going on.

After Benny jumped ship to CBS, his show was actually the lead-in to the Amos ‘n’ Andy show. THAT show had issues; the two main characters, who were black, were portrayed by white men in blackface. Benny’s program, which featured a black character, could have easily gone the same route and constantly belittled or denigrated Rochester. Audiences from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s would have accepted that and laughed along. However, he knew it was wrong and instead portrayed Rochester in the best possible light; predominantly giving him the best lines and laying the groundwork for black Americans to be accepted as a normal component of mainstream American comedy.

Jack Benny and Eddie Anderson were pioneers in radio, ensuring that the Rochester character was laughed with, not at. Mel Brooks was even more subversive in his comedy, yet it would be rejected today. Brooks’ best film, Blazing Saddles, has more derogatory N-bombs than any movie should probably contain. Ironically, that is where the beauty and humor lies and, shamefully, it would be rejected today.

The townspeople (a bunch of Johnsons) of Rock Ridge are horrified at the idea of “A Black Sherrif” (yes it worked in Blazing Saddles). They constantly refer to him as an N-word. They even try to announce his presence as such. But these aggressively racist people are the dummies in the film. They are the idiots, the morons, the numbskulls too dumb to look past a person’s skin color and see his character. The ONLY white man who is not a bumbling idiot in the entire movie and befriends the Sherrif happens to be the only smart white guy in the story. This is no coincidence. The humor in this movie is off the charts. The underlying moral, to judge somebody by their character and not their skin color, outweighs the comedy… and the movie is comedy gold.

However, those practicing in revisionist humor would deny us not just the happiness and laughter from these comedic geniuses, but also the inherent goodness they practiced. Without the bravery of Jack Benny, “the penny-pinching Jew” (who in real life was quite philanthropic and a great violinist), we would not have Eddie Anderson’s Rochester. With no Rochester, there is no Richard Pryor. No Richard Pryor means no Eddie Murphy, no Chris Rock and no Dave Chapelle. What a horrible world that would be. We live in a day and age where so many people seem so angry and frustrated. They could use a good laugh. But now, these angry people are not merely content to legislate modern day humor, but are practicing revisionist humor and pilfering from the past.

Jack Benny was at his best when he was the butt of the joke. Today, our collective skin is so thin that it is rare to find someone willing to be laughed at, much less invite the jeers. Yes, some people make jokes out of hate. But you know what? Laugh it off. Have you ever NOT reacted to somebody getting angry with you or, even better, laughed it off? They get even angrier, which is honestly… one of the funniest damn things in the world. So what do you care that somebody is making a joke out of hate? They hate you already. Screw ’em. They are just like the townspeople from Rock Ridge; a bunch of, achem, Johnsons.

Mel Brooks said it best, “we have become stupidly politically correct, which is the death of comedy.” Do not let comedy die at the hands of these unfunny charlatans, those masquerading as the Morality Police and engaging in revisionist humor. Laugh at them. Laugh at yourself. The greatest families in the world are not the ones that say “I love you” all the time. No, the best families are the ones that are constantly verbally jousting and taking jabs at one another. That is real comedy. That is true love. They care enough about each other to not give a damn and to go ahead and make a joke. So make jokes, make laughter. The old saying that laughter is the world’s best medicine is true. Need proof? Look at Mel Brooks. He has been taking and prescribing the world’s best medicine his entire life. He is now 92 years old and as sharp as a whip; I guess it is true what they say, “it’s good to be the king.”