Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Lowbrow Reader Reader edited by Jay Ruttenberg

(Drag City) Since 2001 Jay Ruttenberg and his crew have been publishing a humor magazine about humor that somehow manages to be analytical, cerebral, and damn near academic without ever sacrificing its own funniness. This collection wrangles the best essays, comics, illustrations, diaries, and original comedy pieces from the journal’s first decade. Other than making sure they find the right balance between theoretical discourse and poop jokes, the magazine has few rules, as their agenda boils down to a commitment to publishing essays and articles on comedy that wouldn’t get printed elsewhere. These can be thoughtful reassessments of the well-known comics and comedies (did you recall that  Adam Sandler’s Billy Madison is “anarchic in a manner generally eschewed by modern Hollywood…as in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure  and the Marx brothers’ Paramount films, the adult world was depicted as a cartoonish joke where dreams go to die”). Or they can be celebrations of obscurities, such as a nostalgic championing of the long-running, but now-forgotten automotive-themed Mad magazine ripoff CARtoons, or the 1971 Alan Arkin/Jules Feifer black comedy Little Murders. They can also go the other way and argue for the tragic unfunniness of well-loved mirthmakers, as seen in sad encounters between female writers and Jackie Mason and Old Dirty Bastard (sadly, in separate incidents) and an elaborate argument against Chevy Chase having any comic merit whatsoever. Certainly there’s some patina of hipster-ism on this bucket of laughs, but quite frankly, it’s a relief to have these Brooklynites turn their ethically-sourced coffee-fueled critical attention towards Don Knotts and the sitcom Wings rather than indie rock.

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