It's supposed to hurt
Posted by aogSaturday, 02 August 2003 at 09:58 TrackBack Ping URL

Orrin Judd rips into Christoper Hitchens for his essay on Bob Hope. Hitchens’ basic claim is that Bob Hope wasn’t actually funny, the prime evidence being that people can’t remember a classic Hope line. Personally, I remember the “I just flew in from [city] … and boy are my arms tired!” line as my iconic image of Hope. I lost the thread of Hitchens’ argument at that point.

iHowever, In one sense I understand Hitchens’ point - reading a transcript of a Bob Hope performance leaves one wondering why he was considered a premier comedian. What he had wasn’t so much great material (most of it was borderline, in my view), but a great delivery and sense of timing. As Judd points out, it was far more that Hope himself was funny, not his material.

The problem that Bob Hope’s humor has in the modern era is that it was pleasant. It wasn’t memorable, or inspiring or shocking - it was enjoyable. That seems to be passing out of favor. Now things have to be unpleasant in some way to be considered “good”. Art that makes one think unpleasant thoughts, that offends, the mocks its audience, or is just flat out painful to look at (think modern art) is held up as the standard. A similar theme runs in food, where spiciness to the point of physical pain is considered a virtue, or “extreme” sports where the sport doesn’t demonstrate any greater athleticism than the Tour de France, but has a lot of gratuitous risk or pain.

In this modern sense, then, Hope was not funny. I suspect that Hope would have considered that a feature, not a bug.