A Comedian for the Generations

Apropos of nothing, yesterday’s Bleat by James Lileks had me laughing so much I have to post it here.

Driving around today I was listening to the XM comedy channel, and Dennis Miller was on. I haven’t heard such labored allusions since Zeus popped that chick out of his forehead. (Get it? Labored?) It must take guts to stand up and make allusions no one gets; it takes bravery to be the smartest guy not only in the room but rooms not yet built. (Which would turn out to be entertainment facilities in Indian casinos, alas.) He made a joke about something being as obscure as Omar Sharif seeing the well, or some such reference to “Lawrence of Arabia.” Scattered chuckles. “That was a rather lean response,” he said.

Wow. I mean, it’s one thing to go for a Lawrence of Arabia joke, but it’s another thing entirely to follow up with a wordplay that requires a knowledge of the movie’s director as a means of explaining the previous joke’s failure. It required that the audience uppercase “lean” within a half-second of hearing the word. That’s brave. It’s like he was doing a routine For The Ages. Someday, they will pore over the transcripts, and say: ah. There was a man. I admired it. Didn’t laugh, but I admired it.

It’s funny on many levels, not the least of which is Lileks’ ability to get away with showing off that he did get the David Lean reference by claiming to admire Miller’s indifference to his audience, which must not include him.

But the funniest thing for me is the image of Dennis Miller telling a joke only for the transcript, like a Senator reading an impassioned statement into the record before a chamber empty but for a lone janitor. Someday, my performance will been found in the C-Span archive and appreciated for its marriage of rhetoric to emotion.

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