Comedian Bill Burr’s latest Netflix special, Paper Tiger, had me the moment he asked, “You want to know what’s funny about sexual assault?”
In his 1979 book The Right Stuff, a brilliant look at NASA’s Project Mercury and the seven astronauts who took America into space, author Tom Wolfe heaps a special amount of scorn and contempt on the American media, which he derisively describes as “an anachronistic colonial animal, a Victorian Gent who was determined to give to all important moments the proper tone” — which is a delightful way of describing what we would call liars dedicated to a pre-approved narrative.
The media, then and now, are only dedicated to telling us how to think about what it is they have decided we should know. It’s a pack mentality, a herd mentality, where no matter where you go for your news from the establishment, you get the exact same thing. Although all these different news outlets are supposed to be competing, they all cover the exact same stories with the exact same point of view.
And this is why I love Lenny Bruce.
Bruce was the first mainstream comedian willing to call bullshit on this. Here was a guy talented enough to work at the highest level of his profession with the moral courage to expose these “Victorian Gents.” And they hated him for it. And they persecuted him for it.
For my money, one of the most important events in all of popular culture was when Bruce took on the Kennedy assassination, when he pointed out that Jackie Kennedy did not try to crawl out of that bloody convertible in Dallas to “get help for her husband” or to “help the secret service” — which is how the media told the public to view it — but that she “hauled ass to save herself.”
They want us to believe this bullshit. They want my daughter, our daughters — if their husbands get their faces shot off some day, and they try to haul ass to save their asses if they do the normal thing, that they’ll feel guilty and shitty because they’re not like that good woman in the fantasy. It’s a dirty lie to tell people.
No one had ever done anything like this before, at least not someone as famous as Bruce, with as much to lose; and for him to speak this truth out loud when the assassination was still raw, when you were not supposed to, it changed comedy, and by extension, the culture forever. Someone was finally punching through the liars and their pre-approved narratives.
One can only imagine the relief untold numbers of Americans felt upon hearing Bruce say that out loud, what they knew to be true, and to not only know they weren’t alone in seeing what they saw, but to be told, You’re not a bad person for thinking this. The bad people are those abusing their power to force you to be silent and to make you feel bad for holding a different opinion.
Great comedians, legendary comedians, do more than make us laugh. When I wrote last week that Dave Chappelle could save America, I meant it.
Even if you don’t agree with everything Chappelle says, at the very least his Sticks & Stones Netflix special should open up everyone’s eyes to just how the Victorian Gents of the press (and their social media minions) have come together to restrict and confine debate and discussion. How, like the proverbial frog, our God-given right to express ourselves has been slow-boiled into a narrow window where this is off-limits and this is problematic and this is triggering and this is bigotry and this is hate and this is hurtful and this is punching down and this is a by-product of your privilege and therefore illegitimate, or whatever buzzwords and buzz phrases the left comes up with to shut us up.
Lenny Bruce was only using Jackie Kennedy hauling ass as an example of a much bigger problem, a world where a very few abuse their power conspire to stop us from speaking a truth or holding a different opinion, where they try to “other” us for daring to think different.
And that’s what Chappelle was doing: sounding the free speech alarm. I’m sure he has a million different opinions on a million different subjects, but he chose to speak about things you are not supposed to speak about in an effort to save our country — and you do this by calling bullshit on the “Victorian Gents” and their shock troops on social media who read George Orwell’s 1984 as a how-to guide as opposed to a cautionary tale.
And now comedian Bill Burr has grabbed the free speech baton from Chappelle and is running just as effectively with it — but in a much different way.
Part of the pleasure of Chappelle’s special was watching a guy who knew he was being naughty be naughty. Look at how many times he walked to the back of the stage, as if to say, I’ll go stand in the corner now.
In his latest Netflix special, Paper Tiger, Burr is just as eager to sound the free speech alarm, but whereas Chappelle lets you know he’s touching a third rail, Burr ridicules male feminists, white women, cultural appropriation, the #MeToo movement, Steven Hawking, woke Hollywood, the cancel culture, and even Michelle Obama (!!!!), with a dismissive tone, with the same approach he takes towards anodyne subjects like marriage, fatherhood, and his rescue dog.
At one point he does say, “By the way, this will be my last show ever,” but even that comes with a smile. Burr not only doesn’t care what America’s feminist harpies and their man-bunned boyfriends have to say about him, his dismissive approach deliberately turns them into an even bigger joke. Burr obviously doesn’t see them as a big deal, as anything other than a temporary phase, a pest, as something that’s as easy to wrist-flick and laugh at as Zima or the Lambada — and you better get those laughs in now before they disappear like all bad ideas eventually do.
But Burr is also truly funny, and the laughs are not a by-product of agreement. Burr isn’t Stephen Colbert. He’s not looking for YOU-GO-GIRL-APPLAUSE. This isn’t about affirmation, it’s about TRUTH, and the truth is always funny, which is why I laughed at Burr’s handful of Trump jokes and found his blistering attack on some of Colin Kaepernick’s critics hilarious.
I happen to enjoy laughing at myself, and so does Burr, who is a man of the left, and whose grasp of the complexities of human nature still has me thinking about the conversation he and his wife had about Elvis.
Good comedians deliver insight and truth. Good comedians tell us something about ourselves. Great comedians remind us that we’re free by telling the Victorian Gents and their fascist Social Media Toadies to go fuck themselves. Not literally (although I would be fine with that), but through a belligerence in service of truth — and I’m talking about truth-truth, not that retarded “my truth” nonsense Oprah’s always talking about.
Bill Burr is a great comedian.