WEST ORANGE, N.J.—When I was a young man, and the editor, or the producer, or the executive, would tell me that he was about to censor me, the reason was always, “Your material offends the older people.”
Now that I’m one of the older people, when the editor, or the producer, or the executive, tells me he’s about to censor me, the reason is always, “Your material offends the younger people.”
Was I born into a time warp? Are we baby boomers the only people in the history of the world with an actual sense of humor?
There was always hate mail. In the eighties it came from the Baptists, or the Catholics, or the Citizens for Decency, or the National Organization for Women, or the Log Cabin Democrats, or just about anyone who insisted on taking a joke personally instead of writing it off as commentary on the Ship of Fools we all sail through life on.
And then people started asking me questions about “satire,” usually followed by the question, “How do you know where to draw the line?” Amazon.com Gift Card i... Buy New $25.00 (as of 01:05 EST - Details)
So I learned about this line thing. I was never quite sure what they meant, but everybody knew there was a line somewhere and that I shouldn’t cross it. People would support you one day and then suddenly turn hostile because you “crossed a line.” So suddenly I had to become Northrop Frye and trot out literary theories about satire and “the line” just so I could get through the interviews.
First of all, I never liked the term satirist because a) it’s French, b) it’s associated with Jonathan Swift who, in my opinion, was so heavy-handed that he couldn’t write his way out of a paper bag, and c) it forces you into the “Humor” section in the bookstore, next to the New Yorker cartoons and the hillbilly joke books. Nevertheless, a BBC radio guy asked me one time to define my brand of satire, and so I gave him the same definition I’ve been using and trying to live by ever since:
Satire is a machine gun on a swivel. You aim at a target, fire, move one foot to the right, fire, move again, aim and fire—you hit all the targets, without exception, and about one in ten targets will scream. When that happens, you hit that target twenty more times.
That’s how you identify the sacred cow, then exterminate the sacred cow.