Tuesday, October 26, 2010

steppin' out with my humor

The Capitol Steps have been frequent visitors on these pages.  The political satirist group tends to wander through Portland near election day, and they were in town last night.

Beth (of Minto Dog) and I have a tradition of driving up to Portland to see the Capitol Steps when they are in town.  (They seldom darken the doors of the local Salem theaters any more.)

Portland was one of those cities that had the foresight to save one of its grandes dames of the golden age of cinema.  When the studios were at the height of their powers, they held a vertical monopoly on their products.  Not only did they make the films.  They distributed them.  And showed them in their own theaters.

The vestiges of that control were still around when I was young.  The two grandest theaters in Portland were the Paramount and the Fox.  But, by the 50s, the studio system was disappearing.  The Sound of Music (a Fox production) understandably played at the Fox.  But Cleopatra (another Fox tale) played at the Paramount.

But both of them were mirrors of their times.  The Fox was a gaudy 1910 art deco palace.  The more sedate Paramount did not show up until 1928.  And it is the only one of its ilk to remain standing.  Now, as a live performance venue.

Monday night's performance was a bit off.  Well, the performance was fine.  It was the audience that was off -- somewhere else.  It appeared that at least two-thirds of the seats were empty -- including a huge chunk of the dress circle.

And because it is a live performance, the lack of an audience, no matter how enthusiastic, inevitably affect's the performers.  And this audience was not enthusiastic.

As political animals, we tend to take ourselves far too seriously.  We have no trouble laughing at our political enemies.  After all, we all know they are boobs.  But, let someone poke fun at our own sainted political heroes, and we grimace while sitting on our hands.

A lady sitting next to us took that division a step further.  Whenever the performers were portraying a political figure she did not like, even though the skewering was thorough and hilarious, she would merely glare at what she perceived to be the devil incarnate. 

But I think she may be one of those people who lacks a sense of humor.  She was even offended by one of my favorite non-political bits: a satirical rendition of prescription drug abuse, Ten Pills and You're Fine, to the tune of Windmills of Your Mind.  She found nothing amusing.  Even though the actress who performed the piece nailed it.

That may say something about civic America.  Politics -- even the humorous variety -- is simply not that interesting to us any more.  Maybe because politics isn't.  Disillusionment is running pretty high these days.

But it does interest me.

There are things I miss when I am in Mexico.  This is one of them -- knowing a political culture so well that you can enjoying watching its entrails being eviscerated.

I guess I will have to rely on P.J. O'Rourke to keep me laughing.


Tancho said...

I think far too many people have lost their sense of humor because they think it will offend someone. i.e. political correctness, which is damning the world as we knew it, which was a time more civil and honest...
at least my opinion.

Jackie said...

For me the Paramount was all about rockin' roll baby back in my teen years and into my early 20's.

Too bad about the audience. You are right that the audience can even make or break the performance.

Steve Cotton said...

Tancho -- I think it is far deeper than mere political correctness. Political correctness is merely a symptom of people who take themselves and their views far too seriously. To the point where they become humorous themselves. Or the butt of humor.

Jackie -- Even so, it was a fun evening.