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The Beck Week That Was: Comedic Props Edition

Reported by Guest Blogger - October 25, 2009 -

Guest blogged by Aunty Em

It’s been 2 months since this column began and its primary mission remains the same. With a little luck, a lot of perseverance and an astroturfed grass roots campaign, Glenn Beck will eventually be inducted into The Comedy Hall of Fame and the rest of us can get along with our lives. Unfortunately, The Beckerhead isn’t making it easy.

In the pantheon of comedians, there is something of a caste-system. At the top you have your biggies, like George Carlin, Steve Martin, or Robin Williams. These are the comedians that can not only fill stadiums with audiences, but are highly respected by their fellow jokesters. It’s a long way from the top rung of that ladder to the bottom, where the untouchables reside. Just who is on the bottom? Gallagher. Carrot Top and Tommy Cooper don’t even make the list.

Prop comedians.

I contacted a few people this week who make a living making people laugh.

My facefriend, A. Whitney Brown, a cerebral comic feels that, “Prop comedy is the second lowest form of professional humor. The lowest, as everyone knows, is song parody. There are lower forms of comedy than prop comedy, but they are not considered professional. Puns and practical jokes are in this category. I am certain there are some prop comics who are at least mildly amusing. I am certain of this because in an infinite universe, all things are theoretically possible. Even if you reach the very pinnacle of prop comedy, like those two gay guys on Mythbusters, what have you accomplished? You're still a prop comic. Finally, I would like to say one of the main reasons comedians secretly hate the audience is because they often laugh at prop comics. It just makes you want to give up on stand-up altogether.”

Not everyone agrees with this assessment. Another facefriend, Murray Langston aka The Unknown Comic, told me, “Any comic who can get on a stage in front of an audience and make people laff for an hour has a special gift...props or no props.” But what does he know? He’s Canadian and everyone knows Canuks ain’t funny.

If that’s your criteria, The Glenn Beck Conspiracy Hour and Goodtime Jamboree does it for me every time.

But lately it’s been all about the props. Every day Glen Beck adds more props, and more schtick to his show, starting with the ubiquitous chalkboard. We’ve seen the frogs, the money on the desk, and the cans of gasoline. We’ve even become inured to his larger props of building friezes, “Concerned Mothers” and 9/12 Teabagger Mosh Pits, so he needs to go bigger, or go home.

So, the props just keep a’coming and it won’t be long before Beck emulates Gallagher and there will be watermelon all over the first 3 rows. The lackey who sits next to the phone now wears a Mao uniform. The podium now has a picture of Mao with a sign labeling it The Mao Hotline.

Then there was something under a blue blankie that he promised several times he’d reveal the next day, but never did. By the end of the week, this appeared to have been largely forgotten. I’ll tell you my theory about this later.

Props on top of props. Tuesday, he introduced us to his little lapdog named “Press.” Seeing that poor, little dog shivering in his arms, and knowing full well that canines are excellent judges of people, I was afraid there was a pot of boiling water nearby.

Not enough props? Later in the week, he added to his communications depot a fax machine, carrier pigeons, and another phone right on his own desk to his communications unit, since the one with the lackey never rings.

Thursday, he used bottles of Coke and Diet Coke to prove Socialism, I think. All I know is it ended with a rant about “suckling off the teat of Big Government” and I am sure the Coca Cola Company is happy with the product placement. Just ask Muse.

If whole buildings can be props, he also took us that day on another Magical History Tour and showed us, first, the History of American Architecture. He told us how, at first, American Architecture mirrored the European style until architects created a “quintessential” ‘Merkan style, with edifices like The Woolworth Building, The Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building. Yadda, yadda, yadda. He seemed happy with American Architecture until he got to the buildings like 30 Rock, and those other glass box buildings built by the Bauhaus ‘form follows function’ school of architecture. However, Beck never used those words and his complaint of these buildings do not echo the aficionados of Frank Lloyd Wright, who feel glass box skyscrapers are simply cold and sterile.

“These buildings are like our politicians. You can’t see in, but they can see out. And you are reflected” in the building, or politician, or … Again, I’m not too sure because then he showed us one of the ugliest buildings I’ve ever seen and said, “We want something real” and promised us the winning candidate in 2016 would not be one that’s all glass boxey, but a warts and all and …


We’ll get back to that later. But first, I have to take some time to write about the strangest, and most violent, prop he’s introduced yet. More violent, even, than pretending to douse a guy with gasoline and threaten to set him ablaze, or the boiling of rubber frogs. It was a baseball bat to represent The White House. Along his oh-so-clever “dem,” “dese,” “dose” Joisey Gangster accent, the Louisville Slugger was his analogy for the fact that if you don’t do what this President says, “Time for me to use de baseball bat.” One clip from “The Untouchables” movie that said, “It’s the Chicago way,” and another where Robert De Niro, as Al Capone, knocked someone’s head into left field with a baseball bat, cemented the analogy. It was time to bust some heads.

[Ellen has a fuller break down of his break down here. I’m just giving you the highlights.

“That’s a very disturbing scene,” Beck said. So this parent, who references his children and his moral values often, has no problem showing this clip at 5PM EST, which is Prime Time for the kiddies on the West Coast just arriving home from school.

“Which one’s gonna get whacked?” Beck asked. I’m sure he meant it ontologically.

If you stop to think about it, we’re all props for The Ben Gleck After School Conspiracy Hour & Clambake.

“I teach my children that cup stacking is for losers.”

“Progressives view us as a bunch of 3-year olds.”

“I know you are, but what am I?” to quote another prop comedian, Pee Wee Herman. Pee Wee’s Man Boy character and all of Jonathan Winters’ characters are examples of prop comics held in high esteem by other comedians. While they are the rare exceptions to the rule, they only serve to prove what my facefriend David Brenner told me. “Prop comedians are funny, as long as they don't lose or forget their props, while other comedians are funny, as long as they don't lose or forget their brains and mouths.”

Herman and Winters never lost their mouths or their brains, but “some people say” the latter might not be true of the latter.

Other human props Beck dragged out were down-on-their-luck, desperate and stupid Detroiters lined up for “Obama money.” Was it a coincidence that all these people were Black? (That’s how Becker starts one of his conspiracies, by asking questions, but I’ll answer my own question.) No. Not really, because Detroit is 84% African American, so you’re not going to get a large percentage of white folk lined up for anything there. Was it a coincidence that all these people seemed uneducated about basic civics? You tell me. What I can tell you, from a decade in a tee vee newsroom, is that some clips, by necessity, end up on the cutting room floor. With Glenn cherry-picking clips, it seems a sure bet that all cogent responses were jettisoned.

However, all the people shown were poor, uneducated, and Black. The Becketeer told us that this is America’s future. He’s been railing against the entitlement society and galloping Socialism since the election. It’s hard not to think that he’s subtly playing The Biggest Prop of All: The Race Card and one way to do that is to show the queen of spades. This is red meat to his rabid audience.

Besides, I’m white and also an uneducated Detroiter and Beck has not asked me for my opinion. He won’t even retract his revisionist nonsense about Nixon.

Props, or no props, The Beck Crazy Train took many detours and made other interesting stops this week:

• He railed against Americans who are stupid enough to volunteer to make this a better country.

• He began a little speech, first by praising our Founding Fathers, and finally telling us that Progressives were called tyrants back then but later became slave owners. This conveniently omitted how many slaves the Founding Fathers owned, or slept with for that matter;

• He railed against net neutrality, totally turning the argument upside down;

• And, this week he finally got to use his little hide-a-way studio and electronic toy box where he can place someone in silhouette and mess up their voice to provide total anonymity. A “Concerned Parent” expressed his outrage that Anita Dunn said something or other about Chairman Mao. There were even some questions about who this Parent Prop might be. While Richard Wolff mentioned on Countdown one night that the speech was at the same school that Chris Wallace’s children also attend, John Aravosis at AMERICAblog noted the remarkable resemblance of the silhouette to the aforementioned Chris Wallace.

Was Chris Wallace just another prop on The Glen Beck Show? It’s an interesting question.

The Beckereeno has been using his long prop schtick to poke prop wasp nests for so long it has got to the point where some on the right are tired of the fun & games, including Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. Not even The Savage Weiner is a fan.

How bad is the mood out there? So bad that even Prop Comedian/Magician Penn Jillette is feeling the heat over his lukewarm support of Beckolini. Apparently Tommy Smothers, who only ever used a guitar and a yo-yo as props, got right up in his grill. Wouldn’t you have paid money to see that?

Speaking of payment due, the tab came in for Mount Vernon’s Glenn Beck Day. It cost the town $17,748.85, which broke down to about sixty-eight cents for each and every one of the towns 26,232 residents. A bargain if you ask me.

Now I guess I have to tell you about that phone call on Thursday, since I don’t tease and not deliver, unlike Beck (see below). Like everything else on this show it's convoluted and complicated. Try to follow along.

While it’s impossible to know for sure, I think the phone gag and the thangie under the blue blanket are connected with something else: on several different shows this week The Beckeranian alluded to the fact that Anita Dunn’s husband may be getting a shiny, new government job. I think that’s what was also under the blue blanket. I also believe that they were never able to conclusively nail down the facts, so bizarre innuendo was all he had left. That’s why the phone rang on Thursday, interrupting his crazy architecture/politician thesis.

The one-sided conversation went something like this, “And, that is happening? I’ve been awfully worried about him.” Turning to the camera Beck told us that he was just checking on the family. Husband’s got a new job. “I’ve said too much.”

As we faded into the commercial, he bragged, “See what I just did there? I think I just made their lives mi—” I suspect “miserable” was the way he ended that sentence. I further suspect “they” is the White House. Even though it was patently obvious that nobody was on the other end of the prop phone. The boy who cried phone. Who will believe him if a phone ever rings again?

But Beck also did something else that’s quite brilliant, Machiavellian, and just a little insidious. He hinted that he has a mole inside the White House, pushing information at him on his Fink Line. True or not, this might make White House peeps a little nervous. However, if it is true, he just used his informer as a prop.

Not only that, it gives The Glenn Beck Rat Fink Seal of Approval™ to anything he claims to be coming from that source in the future, the one on the dead telephone. While Beck and others on that network are going to great lengths to claim some of their meat puppets are not journalists, simply “commentators,” this pile of manure wouldn’t pass the sniff test in any world of journalism, except in the compost heap called Faux Noise. It’s just another McCarthy tactic.

However another thought occurred to me. What if Beck was being punk’d? What if someone was trying to get Beck to pump out some false information in order to expose him as a fraud? I think Beck was so excited by this possible evidence of Washington Corruption that he promoted it all week as his BIG NEWS, but could never get the story nailed down. There were no facts. No goods on Anita Dunn or her husband. No declarative statements. Just this smear left out there about Anita Dunn’s husband. In the end, all the audience was left with was a fake newscaster at a fake desk with a fake phone faking that he’s taking to a fake White House.

“You think this show bothers them? I hope it keeps them up at night.” Beck said.

That’s either High Comedy or Lowbrow Hubris. At any rate, trying to prank the White House has got to be more fun than all those pranks and other high jinks he played against competing radio stations when he was a Top 40 Jock. Let’s hope he doesn’t glue the locks shut on the Oval Office.

I’ll give the (almost final word to my facefriend Elayne Boosler, who won’t be nominating Beck to The Stand Up Hall of Fame any time soon: “Quite an insult to my profession to call him a comedian. Great comedians always come from a place of truth and humanity. They are of the people, not peeing on them to enrich themselves. They shed light on the human condition to make it better, not carpetbag with ignorance and hate. Great comedy appeals to the best in people (their hearts, minds, and intelligence), not the worst (their fears and
prejudices). Those are called "hack" comedians, and are not given the time of day, much less millions of dollars and endless wasted news time. Great comedy is made of truth and enlightenment. Hate, lies and ignorance are not props, they are tools. He may be a tool.”

"Let's just take a moment to celebrate a true pioneering comic, and not incidentally one of the top Prop Comedians, Soup Sales. R.I.P.

Please join me on facebook. I need new friends after alienating Elayne.

With all my love,
Aunty Em