Wednesday, March 14, 2012

I can't decide if it's like Fat Elvis or Wrinkly Jagger.

Everything I know about writing funny stuff, I know from reading P.J. O'Rourke, (well, except for the parts I know from reading Florence King,) so writing this pains me more than I can say:

P.J. is just not as funny anymore. Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy reading his writing; I'm not sorry I bought the hardback and I'll try and get it autographed, and it's still funny, but he's lost a half-step.

Compare "Ship of Fools", his tale of a cruise down the Brezhnev-era Volga on a tour boat full of American peaceniks, to the newer "Republicans Evolving", a record of a cruise through the Galapagos on a ship crammed to the gunwales with Texas Republicans. The latter is funny in a way that elicits an occasional snort or an involuntary smile. The former was funny in a way that elicited gasping shrieks of neighbor-waking laughter and running into the next room to read passages to your housemate.

The decline was first noticeable at Peace Kills, which lacked the hilarity of Give War a Chance, and was readily apparent in Don't Vote..., which suffered from the inevitable comparison to his masterwork, Parliament of Whores.

Maybe it's just the green-eyed demon of a fangirl talking here, but marriage and fatherhood have not been good for the razor edge of the O'Rourke wit; these are the writings of a contented man. Perhaps there's at least a grain of truth to the old aphorism that people raising kids are too busy to raise hell.


Anonymous said...

I agree. I've stopped buying his stuff. The Muse is fickle, I fear.

cheers, erich martell
albuquerque nm

Anonymous said...

George Carlin, sadly also saw his funny decline. Seemed he was a bitter old man in the end.

Jim said...

Talent fades. It seems to track joints which don't work quite so well any more, higher foreheads, and the conviction that your couch is preferable to the disco.

I haven't been reading P.J. much lately, but I intend to correct that. Maybe his stuff is like liquor. If it lacks beautiful kick of fresh shine, it may have gained that nice glow of voting-age bourbon.

treefroggy said...

It's the fatherhood thing. Fatherhood forces a degree of optimism on men whether they want it or not. Some sort of evolutionary biology thing.

When they're all grown up, the edge will return. If he survives fatherhood.

Brad K. said...


I don't know if is the family, the changed political environment (maybe Texan Republicans aren't as liberal as a bunch a hippies. Go figure.)

A friend pointed out, there is no humor without pain. Joy, sure. But humor requires someone be hurt, be threatened, be embarrassed, or look stupid.

Like the blonde joke. Bubba and Harley are standing, looking glum, up at a flag pole. This blonde walks bye, stops, and asks what the problem is. Bubba tells her, "The boss told us to measure how high the flag pole is. And our ladder isn't that tall." The blonde reaches into her purse, pulls out a wrench, unbolts the pole, and lays it on the ground. She pulls a measuring tape from her purse, measures the recumbent pole, and tells Bubba and Harley, "Well, the pole is 22 feet, 3 inches." She puts the pole back up, tightens the base again, puts the tools back in her purse, and proceeds on her way. Harley turns to Bubba, "Well, ain't that just like a blonde. We need to know how tall this think is, and she measures how long!"

I just really like that story. And I generally don't like blonde stories.

Perhaps it is the years of experience, but perhaps P.J. sees less pain around him. Maybe he is looking at children and neighbors, and seeing nurturing opportunities more than pain and . . humor.

Anonymous said...

My oh so liberal parents did one of those Volga cruises, just before PJ did his. They actually had the book and thought it was wonderful, completely missing the sarcasm about their attitudes. I read the book and laughed, recognized my parents "peeps". They were very ingrained in that society, Dad was a draft counselor, Dave Dellinger of the Chicago 7, was in our house a couple of times, we went to see MLK. Thank God for Atlas Shrugged, I'd still be lost without Ayn! Larry Weeks

El Jefe said...

You're absolutely spot-on about PJ.

I was first made aware of him when he was doing pieces in Car and Driver (especially the one where he is off-roading in Wales) in the late '70s. I have been a fan ever since. But, with time comes - I don't know - enlightenment? demoralization? but his prose has gone south. Not that I don't get a few good chuckles out of him.

I think he kinda lost me when I saw (forgive me) an episode of Real Time with Bill Maher and he didn't exactly come through with his normal bravado.

Keith said...

I only recently began to read PJ. I got Don't Vote for cheap when Borders went under and found it enjoyable. However I just managed to get a copy of Holidays in Help and could tell right away that the writing in it was much sharper.

DirtCrashr said...

Maybe it's not so much that PJ lost a half-step, it's that you gained a double-step.

Anonymous said...

It's happiness.

I have observed a number of people, writers or not, who "lost the funny" once they became happy with their lives.
They no longer see the bright side, they live in it.

DirtCrashr said...

Larry - your folks sound like mine! I remember reading National Lampoon back in the mid 70's in HS and it was laugh-out-loud hilarious stuff. The iassue with the trip to Canada where everyone f*ing swore all the f*in time, the James Bond send-up and other fake ads - it was *cough* liberating to make fun of our social Class-types and all the Hippies around us, but made us early cynics...

1911Man said...

It's the money, not the wife.

Absolutely no comparison between early, broke-ass Elvis Costello and later, rich-wanker Elvis Costello.

Anonymous said...

PJ hasn't been funny in a decade, whether in print or in person.

LabRat said...

Some writers get old and stay funny or even get funnier, and some lose the edge. I'm very sad to agree P.J. has largely lost his, though I will still buy the new book and probably more to come.

King got more reactionary, but no less funny.

I can't point to any one thing that makes the difference, either. Some only seem to get wickeder after marriage and parenthood, even. Wealth included. Calvin Trillin didn't start to really lose his bite until he lost his wife.

Anonymous said...

I thought there was a great missed opportunity when the American version of Top Gear was launched and P.J. wasn't on it. The UK Top Gear guys aren't there to be car guys or drive fast (that's why they have the Stig). They are there to bring the funny.

While P.J. has lost the political funny, I think that he'd have endless opportunity for The Snark in reviewing new cars, deriding old cars, driving like a drunk redneck, etc. That seems like it would be the perfect marriage.


Anonymous said...

PJ has always been witty, but never very funny. I feel the same way about Gutfeld who is a tad funnier, but only occasionally. I am gratified that you're a Flo King fan. With Charity Toward None is tucked on the shelf behind me.


Chris said...

Wait, i thought it was abbott and costello,who's elvis?


the pawnbroker said...

How is PJ O'Rourke like Rush Limbaugh?

Bueller? Class? Anyone?

LabRat said...

Oh. P.J. on the American Top Gear.

.....I am now profoundly mourning a concept I had never suspected until just this minute.

Ed Foster said...

Like RUSH? Come on. Rush is a self obsessed buffoon who has been believing the "on loan from God" meme for far too many years.

P.J. grew up, and is showing the mature side of the curve. I won't make any definitive statements until I read the book (this weekend), but I suspect that what we lose in yucks we might make up in insight. Sort of looking at a problem from both sides.

Metamorphosis gives us caterpillars and butterflies. Each is part of the whole.

Tam said...

"How is PJ O'Rourke like Rush Limbaugh?"

Uh, they're both bipedal upright carbon-based life forms? Past that, you've got me stumped.

the pawnbroker said...

As different as night and day, right?

Except that they're both just entertainers...not gods, idols, or even mentors.

And entertainers just burn out. Exposure, and success, and expectations can do that.

Cut them both a break.

Tam said...

That makes no sense.

Entertainers are people peddling a product. (Or giving it away like free ice cream on the internet.)

Entertainment, like any other product, is subject to quality fluctuations and consumer preferences.

Roberta X said...

the pawnbroker said...
"How is PJ O'Rourke like Rush Limbaugh?"

Oooo, I know, I know: neither one has been eaten by wild dogs!

Okay, my turn: How is a raven like a writing desk?

the pawnbroker said...

RX: I dunno, but I'm sure Poe has somethin' to do with it?

TK: There ain't no free lunch, or ice cream. If there is value, there is a motive, and a price or cost. Like here at VFTP.

And denying that time, age, exposure, money, contentment, and the pressure of past successes, is irrelevant to future ones is to deny your own damn post title and content.

Limbaugh is a pus-filled pimple who once was treated like EF Hutton, but now few -except brilliant BO PR spinners- are listening. PJ is (was?) an enormously talented and insightful writer and humorist whose output has dulled to the point of disappointing his most faithful fans. But both keep on keepin' on, because when the fire wanes, the money becomes the motivator.

Yes, as entertainers they -and the King, and Mick- are alike. Sad? To us maybe, but probably not so much to them or their bankers.

Tam said...

And that has to do with "Cut them both a break", how?

Suppose there was, say, a pawnshop that used to give great service and had reasonable rates, and was sometimes flexible on terms because the owner was doing it as a hobby business on the side.

But then his help left and the new help was surly, and he ran into dire financial straits and the rates went up and the flexibility disappeared...

Do I cut him a break and continue to patronize him out of loyalty from the old times, or do I take my business elsewhere? Do I tell other that his service is still just as good as it always was, or do I mention to my friends that maybe they should lower their expectations if they decide to use his services?

the pawnbroker said...

"Do I cut him a break and continue to patronize him out of loyalty from the old times...?"

As to PJ, apparently the answer is yes; you did buy the book and probably will buy the next one, yes? He'd probably call that a break and so would I since he is profitably coasting on the past.

Rush too, as I gather his financial backers are back. Out of self-interest to be sure, but does that matter to him as long as the checks clear? He's a pompous prick but he always was, and the idea that as I referenced above, his antics can be co-opted as diversionary fodder by irony-challenged leftinistas, causes me to say cut him a break or ignore him entirely because ragging on him helps the wrong cause, and hell it can even help him as any publicity is good publicity in the world of "entertainment".

As for that 'broker, eff him if he is such a maroon to risk his good name with bad lackeys. He should cut his hours if need be and man that counter himself; his face and his history will bring those notoriously peripatetic customers back and keep them loyal, and he will have his business and his financials back in the black in no time. Ask me how I know.

Apologies for the delayed response; effin' real world intervened.

Captain Tightpants said...

Glad I'm not the only one who felt this way.

Justthisguy said...

No big deal. Nothing lasts forever. M'self, I like me some grumpy old spinsters.