Back in the 1970s, in the Dean Martin Roast era on TV, comedian Don Rickles could get away with saying most anything about anyone. Nothing was safe from his jokes -- be it race, gender, religion, professions, personal behavior -- nothing. He was billed as a "putdown artist." He could make jokes about blacks, and Muhammad Ali would be the first to laugh. He could crack wise about alcoholics, and Dean Martin would erupt. He could ridicule those wearing toupees, and Frank Sinatra would dissolve into fits.
Rickles, along with all of his guests, knew what it was to rib -- the art of poking fun, and if it was not always gentle, it was good-natured. They never introduced a rancorous note of personal invective. They were professionals, and they had too much class. It is why yesterday's comedy was funny and relaxing, and today's is not.
Too much comedy today comes soaked in bile, oozing with cynicism, and when it unloads insults, it means them with a vengeance. Vicious mockery is so common on television today that it's in danger of seeming blase. Mockery is sometimes so frenzied that the satire doesn't even come close to resembling the target.
This example is a bit obscure, but worth noting. Cartoon Network switches to its "Adult Swim" format in late night, and one of the oddest little shows is "Moral Orel." If you haven't heard about it, some have suggested it's like the old Lutheran claymation cartoon "Davey and Goliath" ... meets "South Park."
Or just ponder Cartoon Network's promotional language about Orel, a young Protestant goon-in-training: "His unbridled enthusiasm for piousness and his misinterpretation of religious morals often lead to disastrous results, including self-mutilation and crack addiction." Nearly every supposedly Christian person in this cartoon is either an idiot or a hypocrite, and often both, especially Orel's minister.
The creator of "Moral Orel," a man named Dino Stamatopoulos, is very candid in an interview on the Cartoon Network Website. Going to church with his parents as a child was a "nightmare," and "everyone who went to church was repulsive to me." He felt like the demonic character Damien in "The Omen," and agreed with George Carlin's joke that he liked church because it reminded him there was "something worse than school." All of that bitterness comes through loud and clear on "Moral Orel."