Saturday, March 16, 2013

Jim Gaffigan, Clean Comedy & Bacon

Photo Credit: Mirka23
Don Steinberg of The Wall Street Journal has written a nice profile on comedian Jim Gaffigan's preference for "clean" comedy. Gaffigan is one of my favorite comedians and I appreciate it when a talented joke-teller doesn't feel compelled to resort to vulgarity in order to get laughs.

Here's a highlight from the article:
"If you listen carefully as he tears through his set, something else is apparent: Jim Gaffigan works clean. He resists profanity. He doesn't rip celebrities with crude insults. He won't reveal everything you didn't want to know about his sexual urges and private parts. At a time when comedy is as filthy as it's ever been—the industry euphemism is "edgy" — Mr. Gaffigan, working clean, has become one of the hottest comedians in the country. He was one of the top 10 touring comedians in North America last year, according to Pollstar. This Friday he begins a two-week, 16-city U.S. tour that will take him across the South and Midwest, with his entire family in tow (the kids will sleep on the tour bus between cities). Mr. Gaffigan's latest album, "Mr. Universe," was nominated for a Grammy. He has a book coming out in May, titled "Dad Is Fat" (it was the first complete sentence that his son Jack wrote). 
And Mr. Gaffigan really has been preparing for a role. At 6 a.m. on the morning after his two sold-out performances in New Jersey, a car picked him up and transported him to his children's school, where he began six days filming a sitcom pilot for CBS, tentatively called "Gaffigan." He plays a version of himself, a hapless, chubby dad in what he calls a "non-adversarial marriage," raising five children in New York City. 
The show is co-written with his real-life non-adversarial wife, Jeannie (though she is played by Mira Sorvino), and with Peter Tolan, known for writing "Rescue Me" and "The Larry Sanders Show," two series built around comedians (Denis Leary and Garry Shandling). CBS will announce in May whether it will greenlight the show as a series for the fall season. 
It used to be that wholesome shows like this were the only kind that got on TV—and only comedians with squeaky-clean acts had a chance to make it so big. Bill Cosby, who worked clean, became the first African-American co-star of a network television show, "I Spy," at age 28 in 1965. Redd Foxx, who had begun performing earlier but worked blue, was 49 before he got "Sanford and Son." In 1967, Joan Rivers went on "The Ed Sullivan Show" eight months pregnant but couldn't say "pregnant" on TV. Now you can get pregnant on TV. 
Watchdogs and Puritans have complained since ancient times about the coarsening of culture, of course. The CBS prime-time lineup Mr. Gaffigan is attempting to break into includes "2 Broke Girls" and "Two and a Half Men," successful sitcoms that have blazed new trails in explicit banter about oral sex. This past New Year's Eve on CNN—CNN!—comedian Kathy Griffin spent much of the night threatening to handle Anderson Cooper's crotch and kissed the mortified anchorman in the region. On Showtime the same night, Andrew Dice Clay, known for his dirty versions of nursery rhymes, had his first TV special in 17 years, a triumphant return to a now routinely vulgar entertainment world he helped create. Mr. Clay is as mainstream as ever—he will appear in the next Woody Allen movie. 
In a climate where the profane has become mundane, sticking to clean comedy might seem like engaging in a form of monastic abstinence, or just square. For Mr. Gaffigan, "it's just how it comes out," he says, blaming his Midwestern roots. "There's something about cursing in public where I have a hesitation to do it."
To read the rest of the article please click here.

For your viewing pleasure here's a clip of Gaffigan's bit on bacon:

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Why Americans Might Not Be As Normal As We Think We Are

Photo Credit: Freddycat1
Nearly twenty years ago, UCLA anthropology grad student Joe Henrich decided to do among a behavioral experiment among the Machiguenga people of Peru. After doing this experiment, Henrich realized that most of the social science research that is done in order to help predict human behavior is actually quite culturally biased and is often based on North American and European cultural assumptions.

Pacific Standard reports on his findings in a lengthy, but intriguing article found here. Writer Ethan Watters comments:
"A modern liberal arts education gives lots of lip service to the idea of cultural diversity. It’s generally agreed that all of us see the world in ways that are sometimes socially and culturally constructed, that pluralism is good, and that ethnocentrism is bad. But beyond that the ideas get muddy. That we should welcome and celebrate people of all backgrounds seems obvious, but the implied corollary—that people from different ethno-cultural origins have particular attributes that add spice to the body politic—becomes more problematic. To avoid stereotyping, it is rarely stated bluntly just exactly what those culturally derived qualities might be. Challenge liberal arts graduates on their appreciation of cultural diversity and you’ll often find them retreating to the anodyne notion that under the skin everyone is really alike. 
If you take a broad look at the social science curriculum of the last few decades, it becomes a little more clear why modern graduates are so un-moored. The last generation or two of undergraduates have largely been taught by a cohort of social scientists busily doing penance for the racism and Euro-centrism of their predecessors, albeit in different ways. Many anthropologists took to the navel gazing of postmodernism and swore off attempts at rationality and science, which were disparaged as weapons of cultural imperialism. 
Economists and psychologists, for their part, did an end run around the issue with the convenient assumption that their job was to study the human mind stripped of culture. The human brain is genetically comparable around the globe, it was agreed, so human hardwiring for much behavior, perception, and cognition should be similarly universal. No need, in that case, to look beyond the convenient population of undergraduates for test subjects. A 2008 survey of the top six psychology journals dramatically shows how common that assumption was: more than 96 percent of the subjects tested in psychological studies from 2003 to 2007 were Westerners—with nearly 70 percent from the United States alone. Put another way: 96 percent of human subjects in these studies came from countries that represent only 12 percent of the world’s population. 
Henrich’s work with the ultimatum game was an example of a small but growing countertrend in the social sciences, one in which researchers look straight at the question of how deeply culture shapes human cognition. His new colleagues in the psychology department, Heine and Norenzayan, were also part of this trend. Heine focused on the different ways people in Western and Eastern cultures perceived the world, reasoned, and understood themselves in relationship to others. Norenzayan’s research focused on the ways religious belief influenced bonding and behavior. The three began to compile examples of cross-cultural research that, like Henrich’s work with the Machiguenga, challenged long-held assumptions of human psychological universality."
To read more background on Henrich's study and how it compares to other traditional forms of research, please click here.

(h/t to Sam Osterloh for the link.)