Can you believe this @#%?!.

AuthorZaino, Nick A., III

POLITICAL HUMOR BITES BACK. A new batch of comedy albums released in the past few months take on themes of war, terrorism, patriotism, Bush, Cheney, and even tax policy. Little more than a year after 9/11 was supposed to pull down the curtain on political comedy, more acts are coming out with sharp material than at any time since the heyday of Mort Sahl, Dick Gregory, and Lenny Bruce.

At least six recent albums take on the popular wisdom of war: Paul Krassner's Irony Lives!, David Cross's Shut Up, You Fucking Baby, Marc Maron's Not Sold Out, Lewis Black's The End of the Universe, and two reissues from late underground legend Bill Hicks.

Outrage is a fixture of their acts, though each performer expresses it differently. Krassner is an absurdist. Maron uses fear's own momentum as if he were a judo master, playing out frightening conspiracies to their logical conclusion. Cross is hip, blunt, and sarcastic. Black explodes with everyman anger. But each one's topical schtick essentially comes from the same place--looking at the news, frowning, and saying, "Can you believe this shit?"

Paul Krassner's Irony Lives! is the most overtly political. Krassner has decades of gadfly mischief under his belt. Since his days as a Yippie and as one of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters, Krassner has been a fixture of counterculture humor. He describes himself not as a stand-up comic but as an "investigative satirist." Here's one riff: "Why did our government give $43 million of our taxpayers' money to the Taliban, and they didn't even have to show a business plan? `All right, we'll stop with the poppies, OK?' The reason the government gave $43 million to the Taliban is because they're a faith-based organization."

Maron doesn't hold back, either. "Boy, we really showed those Afghanis for what those Saudis did. But hey, you can't shit where you eat," he says. In one moment, lost in a screed, Maron pulls back to laugh at the thought of ranting about politics in a comedy club. "Hey, Mark, what happened to the funny?" he says. "It seems that you made some broadstroking anti-American weird fucking conspiratorial statements with not a lot of funny in them. And you're making us think in directions that we weren't prepared to do here, and perhaps even judge you a bit. What is it that you're about, huh?"

And if Steve Earle got in trouble for his song "John Walker's Blues," Maron's routine on the subject is sure to raise hackles: "On some level, he just took the semester...

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