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John Murphy | 10.10.08

Movies

Funny as Hell

Funny as Hell

There’s a segment of the Tonight Show called “Jaywalking,” where Jay Leno asks regular Joes (“Joe Sixpacks”?) simple questions about history, politics, geography, etc. Considering the answers he gets, you’d think Burbank a social experiment gone wrong.

Bill Maher, host of Politically Incorrect, adopts the Jaywalking method in his new movie, Religulous. Only instead of a few blocks over the course of an afternoon, Maher has scoured the world for several months to find the choicest examples of religious idiocy to prove that religion is idiotic. So as to not show his hand, Maher saves his thesis statement for the end of the movie: “Faith means making a virtue of non-thinking.” Because he’s taken an hour-and-a-half to strew the screen with straw men, non-thinkers in the audience will nod their heads in agreement.

There’s only one snag: a sneer is not an argument. Proving that religion is false because some of its practitioners are stupid (or edited to look that way) is no proof at all. Among scores of others, Maher interviews an anti-Zionist rabbi, the curator of a Creationist museum, the members of a truckers chapel, and a bling-wearing reverend. It’s easy to see that they make idiots of themselves (the reverend, wearing an expensive suit, fumbles to recall the Bible passage about a certain camel and a needle’s eye). But if art lies to tell the truth, to paraphrase Picasso, Maher manipulates truth to tell a lie. A filmmaker could interview Albert Einstein for two hours and easily cut the footage to make him resemble a slobbering idiot (Larry Charles, the director, is particularly fond of the “Stunned Reaction Shot,” where an interviewee looks suddenly befuddled by one of Maher’s zingers.) Here’s the thing: making Einstein look dumb would not, in fact, be an argument against the theory of relativity.

The point of Leno’s “Jaywalking” is to be funny, not to prove that people are stupid. The point of Religulous is to prove that religion is wrong because people are stupid and Bill Maher is funny. If it were that simple, then I’d say score one for Maher. A shame, then, that real arguments require real thinking.

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TOPICS:    atheism | bill maher | religion | satire
(6) COMMENTS

By Dave AT 10.13.08 07:52PM Not Rated

Dave

Bill Maher was on Larry King Live awhile back and I remember Larry saying that he thought the movie was just plain funny.

But I’ve notice while reading books by Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins (who are all part of ‘The Reason Project’) seem to interpret the bible the same way that fundamentalists do. That is everything is to be taken literally.


By John Murphy AT 10.14.08 03:56PM Not Rated

John Murphy

Uh, Larry King also called “De-Lovely” the best musical biography ever made, but that aside…

“Religulous” is funny in the way “Borat” is funny (same director): queasy, uncomfortable laughs at the expense of real people that is ultimately more depressing than humorous. In both cases, we laugh because the scenes are painfully awkward. The British version of “The Office” does this kind of humor much better and, I must say, with a much deeper sense of humanity.

The funniest bit in “Religulous” was actually a clip from Maher’s early stand-up, when he joked about growing up a Catholic-Jew (mom, Jewish; dad, Catholic): “I’d bring my lawyer into the confessional.”


By Dave AT 10.15.08 12:32AM Not Rated

Dave

How dare you!

Larry King is older than Moses!

Haha.


By chassup AT 10.15.08 09:28AM Not Rated

chassup

You are young, I was once.  Back in the day I’d laugh at almost anything.  I have always had a healthy sense of humor, never took anything too seriously.  Then life happened, and I grew to understand that there are some things that should never be laughed at and that some jokes are not worth the cost to human beings.

I used to laugh at dead baby jokes, then I held a dead baby, ending forever my sense of humor on that subject.  I used to laugh at people who were different, physically or mentally challenged, very religious, very serious, all kinds of things, basically just different.  As I matured and became more self aware, I became more aware of other selves… and lots of comedy just stopped being funny. 

I am old now, but I still posses a healthy sense of humor, although it tends toward self-deprecation… the source material is endless.  Life taught me that often joking about or laughing at a person or group can cause great hurt.  Jokes are supposed to make us laugh, feel good, be happy. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love satire maybe the best, especially when it is good and teaches, but tearing down for the sake of tearing down just isn’t funny, and that’s what I suspect Maher’s goal to be based on his body of work.  It’s lazy, uncreative, and very immature.


By Dave AT 10.25.08 12:41AM Not Rated

Dave

This seems to have upset you.


By chassup AT 10.25.08 11:14AM Not Rated

chassup

No, not upset, not at anybody here.  I am saddened that laughing at people of faith is a Hollywood staple, and that there is an audience who rewards the effort.  There are things one just shouldn’t make fun of, and it is beyond me why anybody would pay to see this film, or even waste time watching it, or promote it.  I’m no prude, and I have a very thick skin, but I abhor bullies.


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