Friday, January 27, 2012

Fresh Air with Terry Gross: Just for Laughs

Comedy is serious business, and interviewing contemporary comedians is like stepping into a minefield. A journalist could easily blunder and sound like a fool. Would you want to be stung by a Stephen Colbert or Don Rickles putdown? National Public Radio's Terry Gross, however, seems to relish the opportunity to question the men and women who make us laugh. She even requests an insult from Rickles in Fresh Air with Terry Gross: Just for Laughs. As the title suggests, there are many funny moments, but this is not all. The three CD audiobook is also filled with surprisingly frank discussion about dysfunctional families, racial and sexual stereotyping, societal hypocrisy, religion or lack of, and personal pain - all the putty from which comedy is made.

Not being a regular follower of celebrity news, I learned a lot about Steve Martin, Joan Rivers, Will Ferrell, and Tina Fey that others may have already known, but I doubt there are many interviews as candid about their lives good and bad. Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock comic Tracy Morgan both nearly melts down and nearly explodes. Sacha Baron Cohen speaks as himself instead of one of characters. George Carlin explains why he uses the seven forbidden words. Trey Parker and Matt Stone amusingly tell how they do the voices for South Park. I enjoyed every interview regardless of whether I actually care for the comedians' work.

My favorite track was Gross's interview of groundbreaking political comedian Mort Sahl, who actually wrote lines for both presidential candidates John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan (but not for Richard Nixon). Though liberal politically, he has enjoyed the company of many politicians and believes that former Secretary of Defense Alexander Haig was the funniest man he ever met. His entertaining interview adds history and emotional perspective to this wonderful collection.

Fresh Air with Terry Gross: Just for Laughs. HighBridge, 2010. 3 compact discs. ISBN 9781598878974.

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