State of comedy no laughing matter

By Leonard PItts Jr.: Syndicated columnist

Lionel Richie always seemed like one of the good guys. I interviewed him many times back in the ‘70s and found him friendly, funny, gregarious, a great guy to be around.

So it has always surprised me that his daughter is such an idiot.
Maybe I shouldn’t care. There’s a lot going on in the world right now — war, famine, bigotry, war — and one could argue that these things matter a lot more than the idiocy of Richie’s 25-year-old adopted daughter.

But Nicole Richie’s disturbing little stunt two weeks ago in Castaic, Calif., has stayed with me ever since I read about it. According to the Los Angeles Daily News, Richie, trailing a camera crew, was pushing a baby carriage down the street for the latest mutation of her TV show, “The Simple Life,” when she happened upon an 11-year-old boy playing basketball in his driveway.

She asked him if he thought she looked like an “MILF.” The boy replied, “I don’t know what that means.” Whereupon she decoded the acronym: “It means a mother I’d like to f—-.”

According to the boy’s father, the crew asked him to sign a release so the footage could be used. He refused and instead called the production company to complain. We can imagine with what seriousness his protest is being considered.

As Chris Delhomme, the show’s flack, told the paper, “The girls are taking turns on their own as wife and mother in their own house. The premise is fish out of water. These rich celebutantes in the environment they know little about. That’s the comedy.”

Yeah. Right. Ha ha ha.

What bothers me here is not Nicole Richie. Her evident lack of socialization is a personal problem. No, what bothers me is that we ever decided crudity such as this was entertainment.

Granted, celebrity misbehavior has been a staple amusement since the advent of popular culture. The first Hollywood scandal, the rape and murder trials of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, titillated the nation in the early 1920s. We’ve been titillated a lot since then.

But titillation used to be an inadvertent byproduct. Then it was used to sell the product. Now it is the product.

Or is there some value to Nicole Richie that I’ve somehow missed? Is she famous for her acting? Is she famous for her singing?

No, she’s just famous for her badness. Again, there’s nothing new about that. Zsa Zsa Gabor is the gold standard, better known for her nine marriages than for any movie she ever made. We’ve always had a taste for the salacious, for that which proves the rich and famous are not like us.

But has the proof ever been so coarse? By which I don’t mean simply Richie’s potty language. Rather, I mean this sense that propriety is dead, that popular culture crosses lines now for no reason other than that lines are there. No point to prove, no cause to fight, no raison d’etre. Nihilism, narcissistic and pure.

For goodness sake, the woman propositioned an 11-year-old boy! For a TV show!

Does it really need to be explained to her — or us — why this is wrong?
And suddenly the days when her father danced across the stage in a sequined jumpsuit and we called it entertainment seem long ago and very quaint.

Yes, I get the joke. At least, I understand where the joke is meant to be. These Jerry Springer rejects — Nicole, Paris, Brigitte, Anna Nicole, the Osbourne kids — make us feel superior. They are so pathetic, so self-centered, so unacquainted with anything most of us would recognize as real life, that it seems like a hoot to turn them loose in the world and watch them blunder about so that we can laugh at them.

In return for which, we give them money, we give them careers, we make them matter.

Leaves me wondering who should be laughing at whom.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may contact him at:
lpitts@herald.com