Left Behinds

The anti-andrewsullivan.com. Or, the Robin Hood (Maid Marian?) of bright pink Blogger blogs.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Richard Cohen had a deadline and an empty head this week

There has never, in the history of punditry, been a opening sentence that so perfectly sums up the complete waste of time that is to follow in the rest of a column than this:

First, let me state my credentials: I am a funny guy.

Oy. No, you're not. Not even remotely.

Let's delve into that sentence.

1) It plays the standard commentariat game of claiming to be an expert (in this case, on teh funny) without the bother of having to produce any real credentials (such as, in this case, being a professional comedian). This is how a person like Jonah Goldberg can pick a fight with an actual subject expert like Juan Cole (exchange beautifully summarized by James Wolcott) and end up with a column in the LA Times.

2) Of course, no one on earth is going to ask you for your credentials to declare something funny or unfunny, which makes the sentence unnecessary padding. (I think it's supposed to be a joke, but see point 3.) It is a basic rule of writing that you shouldn't be able to cut a sentence without changing your meaning--if you can, the sentence is superfluous and should be cut. You could pretty much cut any sentence here and not lose anything. Any paragraph. Richard Cohen's entire oeuvre, from his college term papers to the present.

3) It makes use of a clunky cliche ("state my credentials") that undercuts the argument ("I am a funny guy") before Cohen has even finished making it, while simultaneously making one cringe. What kind of wanker claims he's funny? It's not funny to claim you're funny. It's a lame attempt at a joke that makes everyone else a little embarrassed for you.

Don't bother reading Cohen's column. I doubt he put more than an hour of work into it, maybe an hour and a half if his editor had changes. You can get the gist from another, single line later on:

This is why Colbert was more than rude. He was a bully.

Stephen Colbert bullied our poor President. Now that's funny.

UPDATE: Aww, man, now everybody's written about this stupid column. That makes me feel like a complete knob.


  • At 11:03 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Hm, I see where he was going with the joke, but I agree that it's lame. It's very Dave Barry humor: a mild infraction of rules or bucking of expectations, the voice of an ever so slightly naughty, aw-shucks soccer dad.

    I like obvious jokes sometimes, but only when they're bawdy or otherwise taboo-busting. That kind of humor doesn't endure, of course. Taboos progress, and those of even twenty years ago already feel quaint. Which is why Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor aren't really very funny any more.

  • At 11:26 PM, Blogger Antid Oto said…

    Bite your tongue! Have you listened to any of Richard Pryor's old albums recently? Download them or something--they're still amazing.

  • At 12:23 AM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    When he died I wrote elsewhere about how direly unfunny Richard Pryor's standup is when you listen to it today. The racial stereotypes and racist language he used now seem either quaint or alien.

    I chuckled a couple times at one coke-fueled rant he made, but my point is, that kind of humor ages very, very badly because it's all about the anxieties of a particular place and age. It loses so much outside of that specific context.


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