Comedians ignore Eastwood’s schtick

by Brian McKim & Traci Skene on August 31st, 2012

Clint Eastwood, the “surprise guest” at the Republican National Convention, delivered an 11-minute speech that was part serious but mostly comedy. Comedy? What evidence do we have that it was comedy? Well… Jokes.

We understand that not everyone might agree with the substance of Eastwood’s talk. We’re guessing, in the current climate here in America that about 48 per cent agreed with it, about 48 per cent disagreed with it and about 4 per cent were undecided. We don’t need George Gallup to tell us that.

But we would expect that professional comedians, upon observing the speech live or via Youtube, would be more interested in discussing the merits of the speech as a comedy routine or sketch. Or at the very least, they would acknowledge that it was mostly comedy. So few have done so.

Perhaps we expect too much.

The opinions that we’ve seen from our colleagues– in blogs, tweets and on Facebook– are pretty pathetic. Eastwood’s “insane,” he’s “senile,” he’s “an embarrassment.” But too many of the comedians we’ve seen holding forth on the performance aren’t inclined to use their experience as comics to lend some insight into the presentation. There’s precious little thoughtful analysis of what is, for the moment (and for a few news cycles at least), the most talked about comedic performance in the pop culture.

From the opening line– “Save a little for Mitt.”– to the recollection of the evening of Obama’s election (“Oprah was crying… I was crying.”) to the empty chair bit, it was a comedic monologue wrapped around a serious message at a gathering of delegates for one of the two major parties in America. Levity is so scarce at such events. Perhaps it shouldn’t be.

We’re puzzled as to why professional comedians would ignore the comedic element of Eastwood’s portion of the “show” and instead resort to base, contemptible, brutish character assassination.

To be sure, a handful of thoughtful comments can be seen here or there. It has been speculated that the empty chair device has been around since vaudeville, maybe even earlier. And some folks even drew a parallel between the empty chair conceit and Bob Newhart‘s or Shelley Berman‘s (or, we would add, in the interests of gender equality, Betty Walker’s) phone bits.  Some even dared to defend the performance as pretty good for a non-comic and very good for an 82-year-old.  But the defense has been meek in the face of such withering (and vicious) condemnation of Eastwood and anyone so gauche as to defend him.

We’re not interested in starting a debate on the quality of the performance, but we’re disappointed that so many comedians failed to put aside their opinion of the substance of Eastwood’s words (which, after all, were not all that controversial or mean-spirited) and offer some kind of thoughtful breakdown of the structure of the material, the reaction of the audience and any possible ramifications it might have for standup in general. Something fun, something light, something interesting to comedians and comedy fans. Instead, they’re rushing to put up links to articles that “fact-check” Eastwood’s speech or going on about the fact that Eastwood has seven children and how that might clash with the GOP’s ostensible stance on family values.

Is that what comedians have become?

How would comedians like it if the tables were turned? Suppose one of us mounted the stage and did a joke about a subject dear to the hearts of some audience members. And, the next day, our joke is ignored and we’re branded as batshit crazy, and our values, morals and dignity are questioned and we were condemned as a “worthless douchebag.” Oh… waitaminute… that’s already happening.