By Stacy Jenel Smith
You've heard the old bromide that one gets more with honey than vinegar? Well, forget it.
That's certainly not the case for certain personalities in the entertainment realm who have somehow won big followings by being sour pusses - the irascible, the curmudgeonly, the fussbudgets. What is it about these grumpy folks that wins us over? Do they remind us of some cranky uncle we couldn't seem to help liking despite his growling? Is it because they say what we'd love to say, act the way we'd love to act, if we dared?
Doctors have told the producers of "House" that Hugh Laurie's mean medical man, Dr. Gregory House, who regularly mocks and terrorizes patients, does indeed say things they wish they could say, which is why they love the show so much. Scary, isn't it?
And business people across the land, whose real-life HR departments have strictures against ever actually saying the words, get off on hearing Donald Trump declare, "You're Fired." Trump
's bark and bite have recently been on display as he's attacked former fellow "Apprentice" star Martha Stewart. "Your performance was terrible in that the show lacked mood, temperament and just about everything a show needs for success," he said in a public letter. Then he went on to say she'd made up a story about NBC planning for him to step down from the show "just as you made up your sell order of ImClone" - the stock deal that landed the domestic doyenne in prison. Now that's brutal.
Of course, "American Idol's" Simon Cowell wrote the book on brutal remarks - literally. It's "I Hate to be Rude, but...Simon Cowell's Book of Nasty Comments." In it are such gems as: "If you were singing like this 2,000 years ago, people would have stoned you." And, "You dress better than you sing and you look like you got dressed in the dark." And, "When I think of Madonna on stage now, it's like looking at my mum dancing at a wedding. I haven't liked any of her records in the last five years. My message to her is - give up." He's turned being a grinch into his personal industry.
Jon Stewart is obviously one of the smartest and funniest funny men in the business, and he can be charming, but when he's in his misanthropic mode he can ice a room in seconds. His notorious "Crossfire" exchange with Tucker Carlson a couple years back showed him in a pique of nastiness (not that Carlson looked good, by the way), suggesting that Carlson needed to go to journalism school and responding to Carlson's chiding that he wasn't being funny - "Come on, be funny" - by saying, "No, I'm not going to be your monkey."
Stewart's ranting "Daily Show" cohort, Lewis Black, has won a following of his own with his sourly searing observations (e.g. "Britney Spears comes out and she starts singing about Pepsi, but you don't know what she's singing, because she can't f-----g sing") in his "Back in Black" commentaries - along with his concerts, his writings...and, soon, his own "Red State Diaries" show.
The airwaves are highly-populated by sour puss characters these days. Larry David continues to reign as a misanthrope among misanthropes. Here is the man who gave us a storyline in which he shamelessly exploits his own mother's death as an umbrella excuse for anything and everything he's failed to do or wants to get out of, in addition to using it as a ploy for sympathy. They had to go back into the past to find someone as sour as Ian McShane's aptly-named Al Swearingen on HBO's "Deadwood." They had to go to an uncharted mystery island to find a sneering, hunky, damaged loner as fascinating as Josh Holloway's Frank Sawyer on "Lost." For those who prefer the time-honored "loveable curmudgeon" type, we have Bernie Mac in the grip of exasperation on both small ("The Bernie Mac Show") and big ("Guess Who") screen.
The women hold up their end of the grouchy equation quite well, of course. For example, on "Grey's Anatomy," we not only have Sandra Oh's formidable Christina Yang, but Chandra Wilson's Dr. Miranda Bailey, who is always giving the residents grief. She just had a baby on the show, and barely cracked her grumpy, tough exterior. On "24," we have Mary Lynn Rajskub as the extremely touchy computer analyst, Chloe O'Brian, "a fun character to play," says Mary Lynn. She proves that even pretty young women can be smart-mouthed curmudgeons. So does Alia Shawkat of "Arrested Development," who plays Justin Bateman's sourpuss neice, "Maeby" on the cancelled but not-quite-dead sitcom.
The public has long had a peculiar fondness for certain cranky celebrities. Tommy Lee Jones, for example, has been extolled as "not just ornery, but extra-ornery." Try interviewing him on a day he's not in the mood - that is, 'most every day - and you'll get it right away.