For those who believe a politician plus an F-bomb equals instant comedy, the last 24 hours must’ve been the best of their lives (until the CIA surveillance tapes of Dick Cheney emerge in 2075). A semi-viral (44,000 views so far) clip making its way through the usual channel shows City Council minority leader James Oddo, of Staten Island, cursing — and tossing — out Pia Haraldsen, a Norwegian comedian who’d come to bait him, Borat style, about Hillary and Barack. Oddo has issued an apology for the language, if not for the sentiment. We think that’s too bad.
With one simple “get the fuck out of my office,” Otto unwittingly provided us with a beautifully defined timeline node — the exact point when we as a culture had finally had enough of third-rate, post-Borat ambush humor. When Sacha Baron Cohen stalked Stateside politicians in his three strategic guises (racially delusional chav, Eurofruit, odorous Third Worlder), there was a discussion-stimulating ambiguity in his sneak attacks: One could argue that the joke was not on American stupidity but on American politeness. When Jon Stewart’s correspondents play straight men and women to an assortment of fringe lunatics, they step aside and allow the subjects to shoot themselves in the foot. And The Colbert Report has, by this point, evolved into such a convoluted study on the boundaries of in-joking that it would take an academic dissertation to untangle it.
In this case, however, when Norwegian TV feigns shock that black people in the U.S. are allowed to vote, there’s no ambiguity whatsoever. Nor is this an attempt to get Oddo to say something controversial on record. It’s just a tedious experiment in how long you can jerk a guy around with impunity. So, when the councilman promptly blows up, not having indulged Haraldsen for the barest minimum of time, the primary feeling is that of relief. You could see the tide turning within hours: “Now that’s my NYC” and “Welcome to NY” are the typical responses to the video on YouTube. On SILive.com, a Staten Island Web forum, the reactions are more mixed; some locals are remembering Oddo’s previous, less entertaining outbursts. Does Haraldsen’s origin, the fact that her accent is not a comic put-on, help us side with the Staten Island Republican on the basest, don’t-fuck-with-NYC level? It doesn’t hurt; hometown pride crosses party boundaries with surprising ease. But it’s the shtick itself — the delusion that asking a terrible question somehow automatically impugns the one answering it — that’s taking a real, long-overdue beating here.