In Praise of Andy Rooney

I watched 60 Minutes tonight as I usually do every Sunday. It was a rerun but I watched it anyway. And, of course, there was Andy Rooney sitting behind his desk at the end. Andy Rooney is 91 years old.  He has been sitting at that desk (his own woodworking creation) since 1978..which means, if my always dubious mathematics is correct, that no one under the age of 32 has ever lived in a Sunday evening world without Andy Rooney.

That’s a helluva run. And 60 Minutes has been just the last segment of a very long career.

I know a lot of people take shots at Andy Rooney. They find him repetitive, cloying and irritating. They frequently presume that it’s easy to do what he does, particularly the way he seems to do it. I know my children feel that way. They see Andy Rooney as the humourless old guy who told Ali G to take a hike. I wouldn’t expect anyone who’s cut their teeth on Sacha Baron Cohen to warm up to Andy Rooney. Some gaps cannot be bridged.

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It does seem that very often Andy Rooney slips into a formulaic structure. When he starts pawing through a pile of magazines or a box of toothpaste tubes, it’s pretty clear where the next few minutes are going. But the art of the piece is always in the writing (not the delivery) as simple as that writing may, at first blush, seem to be. In fact, it’s that ability to sort through the clutter, distill the obvious and expose the idiocies of daily living that keeps Andy Rooney current. He may repeat himself on occasion but, very often, the point he’s trying to make  bears repeating. And , believe me, there’s nothing simple about doing that kind of writing.

Andy Rooney certainly doesn’t need a shmuck like me defending him…but I have been a fan for all of my professional years. I particularly liked his period in the mid-1970’s when he was turning out longer format programming for CBS like Mr. Rooney Goes to Washington and Mr. Rooney Goes to Work.  To see him craft those subjects with his own rhythm and timing is to enjoy a truly talented writer at the top of his form.

No one who offers commentary on tv (particularly if it’s humour) can deny the influence of Andy Rooney on their work. They can try to hide it. They can claim to be originals. But somewhere..deep, deep down..there’s a little Rooneyesque phraseology percolating away. He forced a generation of television commentators out from behind their desks. To sit there and deliver the goods made it look like you were shamelessly aping the master.

He’s 91. He’s been at it so long that I’m sure he must, in his heart of hearts, occasionally feel like a caricature of himself. But nobody’s been consistently better at the game. Let’s give the man his due.

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2 Responses to “In Praise of Andy Rooney”

  1. Right on Dave. I find him amazing as you do. And what he does at his age is quite a feat.

    And one more thing. A lot of the younger people in their late 20s and early 30s also think he is a hoot and is a must watch with them.

  2. I LOVE Andy Rooney and have been watching him on 60 Minutes since 1979. He was the highlight of my week when I was a kid, and I still enjoy his curmudgeonly wit. My biggest disappointment came when I moved to Washington, D.C. and discovered that he was there doing a book signing while I was living there–and I missed it! So nice to come across others who understand and appreciate all his contributions.

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