I remember talking to then-Onion staffer Mike Loew back in June of 2000 for his book Tough Call, a compendium of elaborate prank phone calls. The transcribed dialogue of the calls was pretty funny, not entirely mean-spirited, and not without social commentary.
Things were a lot funnier back in 2000. First there was 9/11. 9/11 knocked even The Onion out of commission at first. No one wanted to laugh. Yet the humor pub came roaring back with an issue that was full of outrage and still bitterly funny.
Then there was post-9/11. Now we're post-Bush. It is yet another measure of the Bush 2 presidency that it has squelched humor in its wake -- humor writing lies with the economy, struggling for a toe hold. Thanks For the Memories, George: What Eight Years of Bush Will Do To A Country (Three Rivers Press), Loew's new book, is not particularly funny. It is bitter, and really, who's not bitter? (Dick Cheney?)
I had a similar reaction to Will Farrell's HBO special, You're Welcome, America: I don't want to watch George Bush any more, even if people are making light of him. Please don't ask me to. Here, the uneasy combo of history, indictment and wit never gels (as such commentary does on The Daily Show), and Loew sounds like a grouch -- someone old enough to have seen his retirement savings disappear.
And absent humor, who needs a layman's rehash of the last eight years of the Bush presidency? Only someone who really, really, really, really, really hasn't been paying attention.
In addition to Loew's review of the two terms of G.W. Bush, the book features a bunch of charts and infographics. These, too, fail to tread the line between serious and funny. They either fall off into the pit of sad, like the list "Desperate Times for Banks" or the morass of dull, like a list of Anti-Terror Tactics.
I can't say that failure to make the Bush administration funny is Mike Loew's fault. This is terrible material to have to work with. But some illumination over and above an extended rant is called for. George Bush? Tough sell.