Standing at the counter of a clothing store, I noticed the salesgirl wearing a sweater with the sales tag still hanging from its neckline. In what I hoped was a soft and discreet manner, I leaned forward to quietly point out the all too obvious embarrassment. She shrugged and said, “Oh, I know. I was just posing for a picture to send to a friend about this beautiful sweater our store is selling.” Amused, I could not help but recall another woman who used the sales tag as a prop in her comedy routine — the one and only Minnie Pearl.
“Minnie Pearl” was the stage name for Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon. A country comedian, she appeared on the Grand Ole Opry for over 50 years and was a regular feature of the TV show “Hee Haw” in the 1970s and 1980s. Her persona was reflected in her signature greeting at every performance — a resounding “How-w-w-DEE-E-E-E! I’m just so proud to be here!” Her humor was clean and described by one critic as a “gentle satire of rural Southern culture.” Pearl always appeared dressed as a country girl in a frilly dress wearing a hat with a $1.98 price tag hanging from it. Laughter always followed as Minnie described her vain attempts to attract “a feller’s” attention.
When I mentioned Minnie Pearl to the young sales clerk, she just stared back at me with a quizzical look and said, “Who?” Lordy, Lordy, what is this world coming to? Here’s this Millennial woman and she has never heard of Minnie Pearl.
Now that I think about it, this twenty-something woman is probably more familiar with the likes of Amy Schumer, Kathy Griffin, and Michelle Wolf. However, the humor of these three contemporary female comedians can best be described as “blue,” which is a polite way of saying vulgar.
I had never heard of Michelle Wolf before her recent “performance” at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner on April 28. Wolf made news for her tasteless jokes and insulting remarks, especially those aimed at White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, who happened to be sitting just a few feet away from her. They were so vulgar that C-SPAN, for the first time ever, cut off its radio broadcast. Having read the comments made by Wolf, I can only conclude that this relatively unknown comedian was trying to make a name for herself by testing the limits of the First Amendment. I guess some comedians have to use obscenity to make up for a lack of talent.
I am a proponent of free speech, but just because you have the right to say something, doesn’t mean you should. Does humor today have to always be gross, obscene, and crass? Minnie Pearl’s humor was self-deprecating. Michelle Wolf’s humor was a mean-spirited series of smutty, personal insults. Does comedy always have to embrace the perverted to be popular?
All these thoughts raced through my mind as my wife and I left the clothing store. Minnie Pearl paid $1.98 for her hat. I fear our culture will pay a far steeper price for making the vulgar acceptable.
I miss Minnie Pearl.