Nothing is sacred at Comedy Central. The cable channel has perfected the formula of mocking positively everything, to find the final frontier of offensiveness and smash it to bits. And it's been able to reach the top of its field in spite of -- or, better put, because of -- the network's sheer lack of comedic talent.
In real comedy one can parody without mockery, rib without insults. Take the giants of this genre. Don Rickles made himself a household name "ridiculing" blacks, women, and anyone else who came across his cross-hairs on the Dean Martin roasts, and no one laughed harder than his victims, like Mohammed Ali, who then returned the volleys with equal panache, reducing the irascible Rickles to giggles. Jackie Mason continues to be one of the funniest men in America; his one-man show, "The World According To Me," in which he takes a pointer to a map of the world and for an hour assaults virtually every country, race and culture on the face of the earth, remains in my book one of the most clever comedic works I have ever watched. When he was finished with Ireland, he'd left this Irish-Catholic in tears with laughter.
That kind of comedy requires talent. What Comedy Central delivers -- the greatest possible insults for laughs -- is neither comedic nor demanding of talent. In the tradition of Howard Stern, the goal is only to shock, and at the center of this non-principle principle is a beautiful escape hatch from critics. As one Amazon.com reviewer argued, "the beauty of it is that it is offensive to so many different people you cannot possibly get angry." Mock everyone and everything, and you will somehow be immune from harm. They are most definitely immune from shame.
There is a network formula here -- shock equals publicity equals ratings -- and Comedy Central thrives on it. The all-mocking channel gained another wave of publicity when soul singer Isaac Hayes withdrew from his voice-over role as "Chef" in the vile cartoon "South Park," announcing that he could not abide its mockery of the one religion some in Hollywood will defend -- Scientology. This was just too much for one of the show's co-creators, Matt Stone, who quickly attacked the singer's sudden departure: "He has no problem -- and he's cashed plenty of checks -- with our show making fun of Christians."
The publicity piled up when Comedy Central planned to rerun the anti-Scientology episode in question, and then suddenly developed a bizarre case of censorship, reportedly under pressure from Scientology A-lister Tom Cruise. That move led to a wave of cable news programs devoted to the rich irony: Comedy Central has a conscience about disturbing the sensibilities of a bizarre cult, but has no reservations whatsoever about insulting Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary and airing programs such as last December's "Merry F--ing Christmas."
But the whole controversy doubled the ratings for the expected Scientology rerun that never aired. When a new "South Park" episode appeared, the producers did what any group of arrested adolescents would do: They went completely over the top. Chef is brainwashed by the "Super Adventure Club," an obvious Scientology reference. He comes home telling the children he wants to "make sweet love" to them. The other characters were angry at "that fruity little club for scrambling his brains." It ends when Hayes' Chef character is struck by lightning, impaled, shot, mauled by a mountain lion, and eaten by a grizzly bear.
Speaking of cartoonishly overdone death scenes, let's not ignore the season finale of "Drawn Together," another vile "adult" late-night cartoon that airs right after "South Park," in which cartoon characters from different eras and genres are thrown together in a house like a reality show. Predictably, the producers brag on the Comedy Central website that they're doing the same humor they enjoyed in "tenth grade."
The finale was a "clip show" of previous episodes, putting all of the most shocking cartoon sex and violence in one intense package. One clip mocked the "Veggie Tales" cartoon for Christian preschoolers. The cucumber character goes on a shooting rampage, killing nearly all the show's major characters, shooting most of them bloodily in the head. Behind the killings, a laugh track howls.
Another clip features the "Veggie Fables" characters singing a song called "God Is Watching." The lyrics predictably associate Christianity only with condemnation. The happy vegetables sing about how God watches you shower and touch yourself, and they then turn angry and promise, "Your flesh will burn, your bones will churn, your soul will be torn asunder. You wretched, heathen, heretic, burn in Hell! For eternity!"
Comedy Central is pathetic, a naughty channel for Lost Boys who don't want to grow up, both the arrested adolescents who make these ugly, filthy shows, and the arrested adolescents who enjoy them.