Don’t Make Me Shill

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okay, we get it, you can’t give clues without blurting out the answer

Let me just say up front: I think Kristen Wiig is enormously talented. Loved her in Paul and Extract, haven’t seen Bridesmaids yet but if a bad word’s been said about her performance I haven’t heard it. I even enjoy a great deal of her work on Saturday Night Live, but I can’t help but agree with the criticism that she creates one-note characters and drives them into the ground.

Of all the recurring Wiig characters that have grown stale, I think my least favorite—notable in a list comprising Gilly, Target Lady, and the tiny-handed Lawrence Welk Show singer—may be Jennifer Rubin.

Sure, it was funny the first few times. A rabid right-winger barely concealing her vicious nature with the veneer of civility required of a Washington Post columnist? That’s got potential, most evident when this buttoned-up woman of privilege spits out the kind of venomous aside usually associated with Tea Party protesters. Wiig’s real stroke of genius, though, was turning “Jennifer Rubin” into a relentless booster of presidential candidate Mitt Romney; the incongruity of a doctrinaire conservative propagandizing on behalf of an unprincipled shapeshifter and against such party-line stalwarts as Gingrich and Santorum—whose beliefs clearly line up with hers far more than do Romney’s—creates a frisson that all but guaranteees laughs.

But as with so many of Wiig’s creations, enough is enough. Or rather enough was enough, many appearances ago, yet she continues to haul out this hoary portrayal. Today’s installment of the Ongoing Adventures of Jennifer Rubin is, for me, the last straw.

Disclosure: part of this may be my personal discomfort with the “out in the real world” conceit pioneered by Andy Kaufman and taken up in recent years by Sasha Baron Cohen; in theory, I recognize the humor value of interactions between fully-formed comic creations and regular people, but it frequently curdles into mockery. “Ha ha, check out these idiots who mistook me for the real thing” seems to be the take-away far too often. For Wiig to present her alter ego as an actual op-ed writer strikes me as problematic.

That said, if you’re going for verisimilitude, commit to it. Don’t give the game away ham-handedly for a cheap guffaw the way she does here:

Put aside the jerkiness of quitting on the pages of a newspaper, and you still have to wonder if Greg Smith is really this silly or is playing silly, well, to get a column in the New York Times (which remains shocked by the entire capitalism thing) and a book deal or an appearance on Oprah.

See what I was saying about the venomous asides? There’s a brilliant touch of subtle satire in the idea of a Washington Post columnist accusing the MSM of communist sympathies, but she ruins it with the Church Lady-esque “jerkiness.” Only in a cloistered liberal’s mind do conservatives speak with that combination of prudishness and spite.

But this is, alas, merely a nitpick. Today’s sketch post is flawed in its very conception: as you can probably guess from the above snippet, Wiig’s Rubin is responding to Greg Smith’s editorial in the New York Times about his reasons for leaving Goldman Sachs, and her willful ignorance requires a suspension of disbelief on the audience’s part that is, simply put, too much to ask. To wit:

I’m appalled, too. At Smith, not those profit hounds at Goldman Sachs. The items he cites seem like nothing more that aggressive salesmanship:

What are three quick ways to become a leader? a) Execute on the firm’s “axes,” which is Goldman-speak for persuading your clients to invest in the stocks or other products that we are trying to get rid of because they are not seen as having a lot of potential profit. b) “Hunt Elephants.” In English: get your clients — some of whom are sophisticated, and some of whom aren’t — to trade whatever will bring the biggest profit to Goldman. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t like selling my clients a product that is wrong for them. c) Find yourself sitting in a seat where your job is to trade any illiquid, opaque product with a three-letter acronym.

Oh my heavens: make as much money off your clients as you can??!!

There’s certainly a place for broad humor, but this isn’t it (or in Wiig-speak, is this it?? No!!). Furthermore, to quote that damning passage at length and then expect us to buy into the notion that you don’t understand the unethical, nay, corrupt nature of the behavior Smith describes… sorry, that’s a comedy-killer. There always has to be a kernel of truth at the core of satire; hackwork like this serves only to confuse.

It’s often said by performers that villains can’t be played as mustache-twirlers; after all, they think they’re heroes! I would suggest to Kristen Wiig that, if she really wants to make “Jennifer Rubin” the new Borat (Borette?), she’d do well to keep that in mind.

I mean, conservative columnists are demonstrably wrong on most issues, and they’re rarely sympathetic figures, but they’re not monsters.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 03/14/12 at 07:41 PM • Permalink

Categories: Knee SlappersPoliticsEditorialsElection '12MittensOur Stupid Media

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Major golf clap Mr Gil Mann sir.

Major golf clap Mr Gil Mann sir.

Ditto.  Well done!

Wonderful.

I like some of Wiig’s characters (
Judy Grimes,Penelope,the A Hole Wife,but Gilly literally made me quit watching the show.  Jennifer Rubin is even more annoying than Gilly.

Comment by JasonM on 03/15/12 at 11:14 AM

Thanks, guys. Gocart & G (assuming you’re the same G), I’ll check the exchange rate of written compliments to Alicu-Likes and let you know how much you still owe me.

Shorter Jennifer Rubin:

“sorry”

What a mish mash of nonsense in a Wiig!Let’s go to one point we can find?
  Maybe they are not monsters in some people’s eyes because most monsters are man made fairy tales,whereas these are flesh and blood,cold,uncaring,bigots who do nothing but divide and proselytize for greed,hate,deregulation,no taxes,more pollution, THEIR religion and war!Call them what you want but watch them closely,where this type roams,moans and groans bad things usually follow! ***Cold or Hot I don’t give a damn,JUST STOP DESTROYING THE PLANET!***

I’m sorry but in a very rare departure from loving Gil’s posts, I have to disagree with him on this. 

Political satire, as I’m sure he knows, dates back literally thousands of years. Satirizing a commentator, as opposed to the politician,is probably relatively more recent, though there are lots of precedents.  But they’re mostly in print not on broadcast TV.  That’ the big dif.

If Jennifer wants to be out there (and as a Post reader I find her stuff really boring and tame…snore) then she has to be willing to be attacked and satirized these days. 

I’ll bet that she probably regards Kristin’s satires as excellent free marketing.  I know I would in her position.

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