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Opinion

Op-Ed: Have you heard this one? Los Angeles can’t take a joke

A Los Angeles dog, Einstein
When you can’t make jokes about L.A. dogs such as Einstein, the city is officially a tough room.
(David Mora )

A woman left one of the Westside’s roughly 75,000 blow-dry joints and fell in love with my dog. Mid-coo, she asked, “Did you adopt him?”

“No,” I said, “he’s my biological dog.”

I smiled, thinking, Gotta write that one down.

But with Tasers in her voice, she said, “If you went to a kill-shelter and saw the litchrally hundreds of abused puppies in cages desperate for a loving home, you wouldn’t think you’re so funny.”

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A kill-shelter tour would definitely be heartbreaking but that’s beside the point: When you can’t make a dog joke on Montana Avenue, it’s a sure sign that America’s epidemic of humorlessness has come to town. Like the rest of the country, Los Angeles is officially a tough room.

By the way, a nice thing about owning a dog is having someone around the house who’s aging even faster than me.

Testing 1, 2, 3.

From L.A. kids attending far-off colleges and adult friends inexplicably living in other cities, we’d been hearing for a few years how laugh-averse Americans had become. It sounded grim but not a threat to Angelenos. The contagion couldn’t find us, not with our giggling history of riffing on our own bad taste, natural disasters, ethnic strife and grossly overpaid jobs, sometimes all in one joke: “Do I miss the change of seasons? No, L.A. has four seasons: Fire season, flood season, riot season and pilot season.”

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Now it’s 2020 and even Left Coast townsfolk have scowled up, our brains bunched into fists. Instead of shrugging off offensiveness, we patrol the internet/streets craving umbrage/affront so we can indignantly type/chant: “Hey! That’s not OK!”

You know, like the woman in the (illegal) Rustic Canyon dog park who fiercely defended the #MeToo movement when I said, “My dog (Ike) did his domination act on a female labradoodle (name withheld) and an hour later, I got a call from Ronan Farrow.”

There are two quasi-buyable reasons why my L.A. has succumbed to can’t-take-a-joke-ophilia. For one, Hollywood is blamed for every insensitivity known to American life. It promotes violence, decadence, depravity and the demeaning of dogs, not to mention racism, sexism, materialism and pathological sequel-ism. (OK, I’ll cop to that one.) Not unlike humans, when show business people are accused of something often enough, we get defensive, and then we get defensive about being defensive. Next we buy in, terrified of making even the tiniest joke for fear of swift rebuke.

You know, like the greener-than-thou guy on the Paramount lot who said, “Uh, the death of our planet is not funny” in response to this observation: “My dog stopped flying private to reduce his carbon paw print.”

A second and decidedly ironic factor in our grumpy-opathy is L.A.’s overwhelmingly left-wing politics. We coastal elites feel obligated to deeply empathize with struggling others while still finding life tragic enough to be funny. But since roughly Jan. 20, 2017, we’ve spent so much time watching MSNBC, the funny part has disappeared.

Rachel Maddow bravely tries to make us chuckle, but the earlier time slots have already deadened our pleasure centers. Even the commercials are soul-crushing: Honestly, who knew so many Americans suffer from moderate to severe plaque psoriasis? And yet, all those dermally beset Americans can happily skip through dewy meadows alongside their purebred dogs.

It’s (almost) too confusing to joke about; it’s definitely too dangerous. We can’t even make jokes about not being allowed to make jokes.

Let’s say you attend a Hancock Park fundraiser for a candidate from some frowning swing state and happen to note, “Being funny in L.A. now is like trying to do a tight 15 minutes after the Weinstein prosecution rests its case.” There is an excellent chance someone will respond with, “Oh, you poor thing. Try living in Aleppo.”

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Those are the options? Unfunny in L.A. or decimated in Syria?

Maybe our sourpuss epidemic is a cyclical phenomenon and the pendulum will swing back. I’ve never seen a pendulum in L.A., but if there is one, here’s an idea for reversing it: Everyone in town is physically forced to watch “Blazing Saddles,” “Animal House” and “Airplane!” Cinema is our penicillin and these movies are so grotesquely un-PC, so ecumenically offensive yet so wantonly funny, they might nudge L.A. back into being “a great crowd.”

Or not.

In the meantime, local humor will continue sidestepping politics, religion, sex, race, gender, GMO produce and —

Hey. When your dog dies, it’s sadder than losing a family member. After all, you don’t have any mixed feelings about your dog.

Is this thing on?

Peter Mehlman’s latest novel is "#MeAsWell.” He was a writer and executive producer on “Seinfeld.”


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