Inside the Soap Box

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After all, he says, "If I was gonna go out here and stand on a soap box in Central Park, it'd be a long time before I could get a million people in front of me...We made a list of what things you are not supposed to have on a comedy show: AIDS, the Holocaust, school shootings. Then I thought, with our kind of humor, let's do stories on the untouchable list, so we did that. We dressed up a guy like Hitler and sent him to a bank in Switzerland to try to get his money back. We had the Sodomobile go around the states where sodomy is illegal. I had a dozen gay guys fucking each other in the back of the bus. We did a thing called Teen Sniper School, which they did not air. We produced it before Columbine, and Bravo said they could not air it. It was a how-to if you want to have a school shooting." Moore disagreed with Bravo's decision to yank the segment, but he did not argue the point. "I understood how they felt."

More and more, television basks in the blue glow of self-righteousness, from the smug Sunday-morning talking heads to such indignant prime-time and late-night fare as NBC's The West Wing and Law & Order, CBS's Judging Amy, and ABC's Politically Incorrect. Sets are filled with high-minded moralists from the left and right who know what's good for you. They preach and pout from behind coffee mugs and SteadiCams; they mug and moan without end, to no end.

Even Comedy Central's still-entertaining The Daily Show has fallen prey to condescending smuggery. That show's cast of deadpan correspondents exists only to poke fun at the freaks, the endless cavalcade of bizarros out in the sticks who set up garbage museums in their basements, chase lizards, or swear Bigfoot's in the back yard. The correspondents deliver their pieces with a self-satisfied smirk behind which they're laughing at the subject: Look at this yokel. Their stories are meaningless, a vapid punch line to a joke that goes on forever. If The Awful Truth is a sassy 60 Minutes, then The Daily Show has become a live-action National Lampoon. One is smart; the other, merely smart-ass.

"When The Daily Show or any of these other shows go out with the camera and do these little things--the reality-based stunt to see what people's reaction will be--they're just doing it to piss people off," Moore says, quite correctly. "Or they're just doing it to be smart-asses or to go, 'Look at me. Isn't this clever?' We're doing it because I want this gun problem dealt with. I want better candidates on the ballot than these losers we've got this year. That's what's motivating me. I'm not sitting there thinking, 'How can I piss off Al Gore and G.W. here?' I'm thinking, 'I deserve better. I'm an American, I live in a country of 270 million people, and I deserve better on the ballot than Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dumber.'"

The first two episodes of this season's The Awful Truth have been brilliant, piss-off television--so much so, George W. Bush tells Moore to "go get real work," to which Moore responds by calling his own dad and asking him whether he owns an oil company or a baseball team he can run. In the first episode, which aired last week, Moore took a traveling mosh pit to each presidential candidate (the segment was shot during the primaries), insisting he would endorse the first of the lot to jump in the pit. Al Gore, Steve Forbes, Orrin Hatch, Al Gore, George W. Bush, Gary Bauer, and Bill Bradley all refused to indulge Moore; as such, they come off as humorless dolts unable to give or take a joke. Only Alan Keyes would jump in the pit, prompting Moore to admit, "Keyes may be a right-wing lunatic...but he's our right-wing lunatic."

In another segment, Jay Martel--a former writer for Moore's defunct show, TV Nation, which was canceled by both NBC and Fox--introduces a 7-foot-tall walking handgun he wants to offer up as the National Rifle Association's new mascot: Pistol Pete, a self-proclaimed son-of-a-gun who likes to remind little kids that "every one of your friends is a potential sniper." The NRA's current mascot, Eddie Eagle, is a bird--and, as Martel wonders over footage of a slain duck falling from the sky, "since when are birds smart about guns?" Martel takes the purple, mustached Pistol Pete to the world's largest gun show, held in Las Vegas; to the NRA headquarters; then, finally, to Capitol Hill. Each time, Pistol Pete is given the boot. "The organizers," Martel mutters, "decide a gun show was no place for a big gun."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky