Somewhere in the last couple of years, so gradually it was hard to notice at first, Glenn Beck went from annoying and somewhat menacing to hilarious. While watching Bill O'Reilly remains basically like watching a talk show with the evil trees from The Wizard of Oz except the trees have political opinions are are more dour and condescending, and Rush Limbaugh's radio show is both in content and in timbre the equivalent of a two-hour fart, Beck seemed to start taking a certain insane glee in his increasingly weird ideas -- kind of like a man perpetually on the verge of total emotional collapse. And there's something riveting about that. For what it's worth -- because it's not exactly saying a lot -- I might just miss Beck's show more than I miss Two and a Half Men.
Because Charlie Sheen may think he brought the magic to Two and a Half Men, but there was really nothing magical about that show except its inexplicably bloated ratings -- it was a 22-minute, three-camera sitcom with a laugh track, for chrissakes. Nothing could possibly be less magical. The true magic came when Sheen shook off the collar of having to be an actor and became, in effect, a pundit with no cause to get behind but the spectacle of his own unraveling. The magic was probably there all along, if the perfunctorily suppressed wife-beating and cocaine-binging is any retrospective indication, but nobody knew it until Sheen broke free.
Beck's show, on the other hand, has always been a platform for Beck to just go ahead and be Beck -- the only thing ever restraining Beck was his own self-restraint. And he has never had a whole lot of it. Even in the days when he was the de facto head of the nation's rootin'est, tootin'est flag-waving toothless ol' coots (which he's since gotten too crazy even for those guys), there were occasional hints of the insanity showing through. How about this quote, from 2005: "You know it took me about a year to start hating the 9-11 victims' families? Took me about a year."
But wait, it gets even better! "I don't hate all of them. Probably about ten of them. And when I see a 9-11 victim family on television or whatever, I'm just like, 'Oh shut up!' I'm so sick of them because they're always complaining."
In more recent times, much was made about Beck's failure to spell oligarchy correctly while he was making a key point about something that involved the terms "Obama," "Left Internationalist" and "Hidden Agenda" haphazardly assembled into some sort of acronym-based mnemonic device, but what was even crazier was that the evidence for the conspiracy he was explaining hinged on an acronym he made up. It was all down or possibly uphill from there, depending on your point of view, because it hasn't gotten any less surreal. I urge you to watch two minutes of this clip from an episode of Beck's show that ran last week. It is nuts:
Now, compare that to an excerpt from Charlie Sheen's now-iconic interview with an awesomely humorless Andrea Canning, which, come to think about it, is kind of like watching Bill O'Reilly interview Beck anymore:
We can conclude, I think, that both of these men are completely off the fucking chain, and though they have both lost their respective jobs as a result, Charlie Sheen has been canny enough to turn his implosion into, uh, more magic with the "Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat is Not an Option" tour (coming to Denver April 28), which basically just puts his implosion onstage to see what happens; the wildly disparate results it's achieved -- booed offstage in Detroit, given a standing ovation in Cleveland -- seem weirdly appropriate to the source material.
It isn't entirely unlikely that Beck will try the same approach. So get this man a chalkboard, already -- let's take off the gloves and see those fire-breathing fists.