Steve Martin Bruce Malamut - Essay

Bruce Malamut

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Jokers like David Steinberg and George Carlin are just that—jokers and no more, whereas [Steve Martin and Randy Newman] (even sounds like a comedy team, eh?) are great U.S. humorists in the ironic and equivocal tradition of Mark Twain, Robert Benchley and the Marx Bros. You never quite know when they're being serious. They are both depraved and blasphemous—queers, nigguhs, bilinguals, schmucks who listen to this stuff ("who actually pay for it," as Martin puts it)—nothing is sacred….

Not to mention both of their attitudes toward the racial question. Both would be happy to A-bomb Rhodesia off the face of the map—after all, it'd be far more efficient than those stupid Geneva talks. Thank God both are apolitical (but look out Barry Goldwater if they weren't)….

Both of these Orange County sons share an ambiguous love for Americana which is more realistic and cynical than modern or idealistic….

The major difference between them is that where Newman has a heart (& a big one, judging by the likes of his most beautiful love songs), Martin shows no pity—he is supercilious to the point of psychopathology. But both Newman and Martin react to the same America, from Newman's brilliant Kurt Weill-like short-stories and lovable deviates, to the wide-eyed gruesomeness of Martin's most brutal skits. "Comedy is not pretty," he lectured a New York audience between two bits called "Happy Feet" and the mortifying "Cruel Shoes" concerning a masochistic foot fetishist's customized toe gear. The effect of this inspired juxtaposition was like grokking a perfectly sculptured bronze of the bilevel masks of tragicomedy. The only competition between these two faces of Dr. Sardonicus is to see who can be more rank and smile the widest simultaneously.

Bruce Malamut, "Evil Minds, Dirty Habits," in Crawdaddy, December, 1977, p. 82.