With apologies to Albert Brooks, whose film LOOKING FOR COMEDY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD opened last January with nary a whimper, then disappeared from theatres with a fizzle, drawing less than $1 Million, I have been thinking quite a bit about humor lately.
LFCITMW now available on DVD (buried deep on an Amazon list at #8046!) underperformed on all fronts. Perhaps Warner Independent decided it was best to soft launch the movie, what with all the fierce protests over Danish cartoons depicting Allah.
With all the hooplah over the recent Michael Richards incident, I couldn't help but think about the significance of comedy.
Humor really is a matter of life and death--forming the most fervent battle ground for matters of free speech.
From Lenny Bruce to George Carlin, to Richard Pryor, to Howard Stern, to Chris Rock, it has been the burden and privledge of comedians to push and test the boundaries of acceptable speech.
This is not a defense of Michael Richards' tirade. But I will defend his right to say what he wants.
Hack Like Me: K-k-kramer can't say s-s-sorry Letterman
After his muddled, confused "apology" on Letterman, it is clear he's already given himself enough rope to hang himself...which is appropriate enough considering his racially charged threat to a black heckler that "Fifty years ago we'd have you upside down with a f*cking fork up your ass."
With this story fresh in mind, a different story from Iraq emerged this week as violence contines to escalate. News that assassins targeted and killed a popular televsion comedian put the Michael Richards situation into perspective:
"The civilian victims of today's widespread attacks in Iraq included Walid Hassan, a famous comedian on al-Sharqiya TV who... had performed in a comedy series called "Caricature," which mocked coalition forces and the Iraqi governments since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq."
At first, I thought this might be the same Iraqi comedian featured a few weeks back, in the New York Times who hosted fake newscast in Iraq--a parody show "that fires barbs at everyone from the American military to the Iraqi government" comparable to “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart."
It is not. His name is Saad Khalifa , and his show, Hurry Up, He's Dead "is striking a chord with his Iraqi television audience."
Saad Khalifa, star of “Hurry Up, He’s Dead” is not dead. But fellow comedian Walid Hassan, is Photo: NY Times
Sparing no one, "even the militias wreaking havoc on Iraq are lampooned," it is clear that comedian Saad Khalifa is doing some pretty edgy, and dangerous, work.
“We need fun in our lives because of our tragic circumstances,” said Silvana, 21, a Baghdad resident who has tuned in every night with her family, if the electricity was working. She gave only one name because she feared for her safety if fully identified in print. “Most of the channels focus on the violence, the bodies. But this program depicts our tragedies in a funny light.”
Mr. Khalifa, the show’s star, is a diminutive comedian who was a well-known theater actor in Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s government. The initial episodes were taped in Dubai because the producers decided it would be too dangerous and logistically difficult to film in Baghdad. Despite its madcap humor, he said, the show has a serious message.
“The purpose of the show is to fix Iraq,” he said. “We want to fix the civil services. We want to fix the government officials. We want to fix the relationships between people. We want to fix the government and stop the corruption.”
While I added the italics to emphasize the danger, the murder of fellow comedian Walid Hassan makes clear that such concerns are real.
A modest proposal for Mr. Richards:
Take an Albert Brooks inspired search for comedy in Iraq. Not just a U.S.O. style tour, entertaining the troops. But, also a real, life or death look into the heart of brave comedians like Walid Hassan and Saad Khalifa, who bring hope and relief to audiences by making them laugh in the face of so much adversity.
Like the genius alien tells Woody Allen's Sandy Bates in STARDUST MEMORIES, "You want to do mankind a real service? Tell funnier jokes."