May I Have This Laugh?

TV Eye

<i>Outlaw Comic: The Censoring of Bill Hicks</i> will air on Trio as part of its month of programming devoted to Uncensored Comedy.
Outlaw Comic: The Censoring of Bill Hicks will air on Trio as part of its month of programming devoted to "Uncensored Comedy."

I think I have a pretty good sense of humor. I still guffaw when I see those men on Mr. Personality wearing those candy-colored rubber masks like it's the most legitimate of courting accessories. I mean, who in their right mind would hear the premise of that show and think, "Oh yeah, I have to get in on that"? Of course, there is humor of a higher caliber on TV. Interestingly enough, it comes from adult cartoons -- The Simpsons, South Park, and most of the offerings in Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, among others. Other than that, comedy isn't something I take too seriously. That is, until I watched three specials on the subject that premiere on cable network Trio in June.

"Uncensored Comedy" features three original documentaries that collectively ask: What makes something funny, what makes or breaks a career, and, most importantly, given today's climate, when do social paragons for good taste turn into censorship?

The first of the three specials is Uncensored Comedy: That's Not Funny! (premieres June 8, 8pm). Colin Quinn, Bill Maher, Sarah Silverman, Matt Stone and Trey Parker (South Park), the staff of The Daily Show, and others address how they approach hot-button issues -- religion, ethnicity, sexuality, and gender. While often taboo in other public situations, comedians have a special -- and some would say ideal -- platform from which to approach otherwise difficult topics and encourage a public discussion. Is this their responsibility? The 90-minute special by Robert Small (MTV's Unplugged) is a provocative starting point for what is a very complex subject.

Why is it that when bad things happen it launches a litany of bad jokes? That's the question in the half-hour special Sick Humor (premieres June 8, 9:30pm). The weakest of the three specials, Sick Humor does not answer the question, but provides as source material a treasure trove of truly tasteless jokes regarding the Challenger disaster, 9/11, the Monica Lewinsky-Bill Clinton affair, and other current events. Mostly spread by word of mouth, these jokes seem to carry a certain cathartic release at the same time that they elicit groans. Be warned: You'll find yourself laughing out loud one moment, offended the next.

The last and best of the Trio specials is Outlaw Comic: The Censoring of Bill Hicks (premieres June 15, 8pm), a documentary on the short life and career of rock & roll comic Bill Hicks. Starting his career at the age of 15 working strip clubs, Texas-born Hicks was admired by fellow comics but all but unknown to the general public because appearances on such career-building shows as Late Night With David Letterman or The Tonight Show were rare or, because of the controversial nature of his work, edited beyond recognition. Hicks did have one famous appearance on Letterman, when the network decided to let him do his set as is. Unfortunately, the set never made it on air in a last-minute move that some called censorship and others called bad luck. Outlaw Comic includes Hicks performing material from the lost Letterman appearance, in its entirety. Archival footage from throughout Hicks' career gives a well-rounded picture of the troubled, sharp-witted comedian who died from cancer at age 32.

"Uncensored Comedy"programs are recommended for mature audiences. Other programs scheduled to coincide with "Uncensored Comedy" include a rare 1963 performance film of stand-up comedian Lenny Bruce followed by the short "Thank You Masked Man," starring Bruce as the Lone Ranger. Danny Hoch stars in Jails, Hospitals & Hip-Hop, a satiric commentary about the mainstream's appetite for urban culture. A series of "un-PC shorts following the adventures of a socialite and her 85-year-old Chinese houseboy" are featured in the animated film Mr. Wong.

A look at controversial TV is also included in the "Uncensored Comedy" lineup. Included are Goodness Gracious Me, a BBC series featuring Asian comedians poking fun at British and Asian stereotypes, and the very short-lived UPN series The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer. In Pfeiffer, Chi McBride (Boston Public) stars as a black British gentleman forced to take a job as a butler in Abraham Lincoln's White House. Other documentaries include Amos 'n' Andy: Anatomy of a Controversy, Mort Sahl: The Loyal Opposition, and An Audience With Jackie Mason.

Check local listings for airdates and more information.

Other June Specials

The MTV Movie Awards air June 5, 8pm, on MTV... Oliver Stone's documentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Persona Non Grata, debuts on HBO, June 5, 8pm... Turner Classic Movies hosts a film festival of Bollywood films made from the 1930s to the present, Thursdays in June... The Sundance Channel celebrates Gay Pride Month with "Out Loud: Gay Love Under Fire," a festival of films about gay, lesbian, and transgendered lifestyles... Point of View launches its new season of documentaries June 17 on PBS.

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