I doubt that Twain would "have ben one of Whoopi's
biggest fans." While not above a bit of bathrrom
humor himself, it's hard to believe he would have
found the scatology of Whoopi's early work to be
impressive. Recall her routine about the various
categories of her bowel movements. Unless you're
on something really fun, it's not funny, nor is it,
more to the present point, Twainish.
Yes, Twain's humor was sometimes shocking, for those
days, but he did not often use shock for humor.
Surprise, of course, but not gratuitously. The secret
of any good joke is surprise, as in "It's easy to quit
smoking, I've done it a hundred times." But Twain, like
Groucho or George Burns, had a subtlety of delivery that
kept the joke from being telegraphed. "Goodnight, Gracie,"
is only funny when Gracie says it because George delivers
"Say goodnight, Gracie," with such silk. Twain could do that,
cigar and all. He could also have done "Why a duck?" and
without Chico. He would have found "Who's On First?"
However, he would not have admired "Jumping Jack Flash" or
much other of Whoopi's film work, with the exception of
"The Color Purple," where Spielberg should get the credit
and where Twain would have seen Pap in Danny Glover and wondered
about his copyright and cursed its expiration. He would have
thought "Where's Poppa?", Carl Reiner's supposed masterpiece,
not just dark--Twain could do dark--but neurotic and ultimately
Jonathan Winters would have brought Twain to the theater if he'd
been performing a hundred years ago, because of timing. Nobody,
nobody, except maybe Richard Pryor, ever had oral timing like Winters,
yet Twain's writing reeks of it. He'd have approved. Still even
Winters, among these prize winners, couldn't have written "Puddn'Head
Wilson," much less Huck finn.
So we come to Richard Pryor, who could hve written Pudd'n Head,
but not Huck. Are Mudbone, banana knife, Moline tractor, Tupelo
down below One Below, and all his rest really in the same league with
the Jumping Frog, the Yankee, Tom, or Huck? Pryor's humor was shock
humor, too, though of a higher grade than Whoopi's, and it was
probably of a grade Twain would have much appreciated. Just as did
Twain, when Pryor used the word "nigger," as he often did, it was
always in the *good* fighting sense of the word. He was out there
on the edge to make, and indeed prove, a point.
Alright, come to think of it, I'll give the Kennedy Center Richard
Pryor's prize as a damn good try, anyway. But that's the only
near-hit I'll concede so far to this so-called Twain Prize.