What a difference 24 hours makes. The opening of the Americana Music Association conference on Wednesday featured a tribute to the late Porter Wagoner, where people unashamedly professed their love for the man and his music. On Thursday, the Doyle & Debbie Show, showcased in the Listening Room at the conference, threw dirt in the face of every country music fan.
It’s a terrible shame that Doyle & Debbie (Bruce Arntson and Jenny Littleton, respectively) have decided to make ridiculing country music in the name of comedy their forte, for they are very talented singers. Indeed, if they opted for a different path, they could well be the vehicles for a resurgence of traditional country music. Instead, they have chosen to take every horrid, baseless stereotype about country music, country music performers, country music fans, and country lifestyle in general and cram it into their routine. If Hee Haw set country music back 50 years as some claimed when the classic show first aired in 1969, Doyle & Debbie’s brand of humor mercilessly throws it back to the Stone Age.
Without question, both singers have fine voices and a gift for writing songs. And, they do have some funny numbers (especially “Fat Women in Trailers”). However, things such as "Whine Whine, Twang Twang," “ABC’s of Love” (which owes very much to Merle Travis’ “Divorce Me C.O.D.”) and “Just Keep Me Barefoot and Pregnant” take their act far beyond comedy, or even satire. It’s downright rude.
We can have country humor without the smear. Sarah Cannon was a sophisticated, educated woman, yet she could make audiences howl as Minnie Pearl by using subtle stereotypes that celebrated country life. Tim Wilson writes songs that make people laugh with typecasting (e.g., his NASCAR songs “Dale Darrell Waltrip Richard Petty Rusty Awesome Bill Irvin Gordon Earnhardt Smith Johnson Jr.” and “Jeff Gordon’s Gay”) but without the insult (if you have not heard the latter, the title "is what them ornery Earnhardt fans always say," not a personal accusation). However, there is a line between inspiration from country life and insult to the same, and both the late Hall of Fame comedian and the modern country singer/comic know where it lies. Doyle & Debbie could take a lesson from either.