Laughter On High

Reading the Brendan Behan play Richard Cork’s Leg in the van today.  If I were to tell you a play featuring two prostitutes and two beggers pretending to be blind, among others, all taking place in a graveyard, was funny, you might not believe me, but it is.  One of my favorite George Carlin specials is Life is Worth Losing, where his stage set is a graveyard as well. 

There is that old saying that tragedy plus time equals comedy.  I think it is perspective too.  A war viewed from on high, where two armies butcher each other over nothing more than a disagreement in religious beliefs, is so absurd I can’t help but imagine some supernatural beings having a laugh in the clouds.  What would one think if they watched the battle of Gettysburg from far away, watching an army walk directly into cannon fire, largely over some misinformed ideas concerning the inferiority of certain people because they looked slightly different?  We do strange and horrible things down here.   If someone is watching from above, we surely have provided them with a lot of folly over the years. 

George Carlin On the Sanctity of Life

I’m reading Voltaire’s Candide right now, which is blowing my mind.  I will comment why at some point.  Anyway, it made me think of this piece by George Carlin.  I miss that fucker more and more every year.

Here is the transcript for those of you at work that can’t watch the above video. (Hey, I’ve been there!):

But you know, the longer you listen to this abortion debate, the more you hear this phrase “sanctity of life”. You’ve heard that. Sanctity of life. You believe in it? Personally, I think it’s a bunch of shit. Well, I mean, life is sacred? Who said so? God? Hey, if you read history, you realize that God is one of the leading causes of death. Has been for thousands of years. Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Christians all taking turns killing each other ‘cuz God told them it was a good idea. The sword of God, the blood of the land, vengeance is mine. Millions of dead motherfuckers. Millions of dead motherfuckers all because they gave the wrong answer to the God question. “You believe in God?” “No.” *Pdoom*. Dead. “You believe in God?” “Yes.” “You believe in my God? “No.” *Poom*. Dead. “My God has a bigger dick than your God!” Thousands of years. Thousands of years, and all the best wars, too. The bloodiest, most brutal wars fought, all based on religious hatred. Which is fine with me. Hey, any time a bunch of holy people want to kill each other I’m a happy guy.

But don’t be giving me all this shit about the sanctity of life. I mean, even if there were such a thing, I don’t think it’s something you can blame on God. No, you know where the sanctity of life came from? We made it up. You know why? ‘Cuz we’re alive. Self-interest. Living people have a strong interest in promoting the idea that somehow life is sacred. You don’t see Abbott and Costello running around, talking about this shit, do you? We’re not hearing a whole lot from Mussolini on the subject. What’s the latest from JFK? Not a goddamn thing. ‘Cuz JFK, Mussolini and Abbott and Costello are fucking dead. They’re fucking dead. And dead people give less than a shit about the sanctity of life. Only living people care about it so the whole thing grows out of a completely biased point of view. It’s a self serving, man-made bullshit story.

It’s one of these things we tell ourselves so we’ll feel noble. Life is sacred. Makes you feel noble. Well let me ask you this: if everything that ever lived is dead, and everything alive is gonna die, where does the sacred part come in? I’m having trouble with that. ‘Cuz, I mean, even with all this stuff we preach about the sanctity of life, we don’t practice it. We don’t practice it. Look at what we’d kill: Mosquitoes and flies. ‘Cuz they’re pests. Lions and tigers. ‘Cuz it’s fun! Chickens and pigs. ‘Cuz we’re hungry. Pheasants and quails. ‘Cuz it’s fun. And we’re hungry. And people. We kill people… ‘Cuz they’re pests. And it’s fun!

And you might have noticed something else. The sanctity of life doesn’t seem to apply to cancer cells, does it? You rarely see a bumper sticker that says “Save the tumors.”. Or “I brake for advanced melanoma.”. No, viruses, mold, mildew, maggots, fungus, weeds, E. Coli bacteria, the crabs. Nothing sacred about those things. So at best the sanctity of life is kind of a selective thing. We get to choose which forms of life we feel are sacred, and we get to kill the rest. Pretty neat deal, huh? You know how we got it? We made the whole fucking thing up! 

The Future Will Laugh At Us

Watching a nature show about Ireland.  There is a section about bats on it.  The show is talking about how good bats are not only for the ecosystem, but also how much they help people because of all of the pests they eat.  The show also talked about how people have this fear of bats from all the years they have been associated with vampires and other horror stories dating back a longtime.

Because humans didn’t have a true understanding of nature for so long, until science started explaining things, all of these superstitious stories were allowed to infiltrate our cultures.  Some of these superstitions, or fallacies about the natural world, still persist.  We often look upon human behavior in the past with a kind of comic detachment.  Monty Python and the Holy Grail made great fun of the condemning of witches.  What exists today that people in the future will laugh at in disbelief?

Why Trevor Noah Can Succeed On The Daily Show

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I watched Tevor Noah’s comedy special African American on Netflix two nights ago.  I was curious after I saw he was set to take over for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.  Instead of listening to all of the opinions on the internet I thought I’d just make up my mind for myself.  I suggest you do the same.  However, if you want some kind of opinion, at least based on that special, and his brief stint that I saw on The Daily Show, I think the show will be in good hands.  It’s clear that Noah is ridiculously intelligent.  He also is also able to be harshly critical of political issues in a clear way that points out the absurdity of the issue, while maintaining a smile.  Even when you get the sense his humor is informed by some injustice that makes him angry, he seems able to deliver it in a way that is inclusive.

I was a little unsure of him at the start of his special.  The special starts out with a fish out of water comedy as Noah describes some differences between his home country of South Africa and his adopted home in the United States.  It seemed kind of like Yakov Smirnoff, even if the observations were sharper and more biting.  However, he quickly gained momentum and I got the sense that here is someone that is really able to cut through the bullshit of the world.  At one point in the special he mentioned that he knows four languages and he is learning other ones.  He was also able to imitate almost any accent from any region or country.  He has an ear for language and the absurdity built into the way humans communicate.

He also seemed like a great comedian for this time period.  We are economically and socially more a part of the world than we have ever been, yet so many Americans know nothing of the world, and even rarely understand correctly what they do know.  His insider/outsider status, his mixed race heritage, allows him to translate how different sides view each other.  He seems to both love the US and be terrified of its power at the same time.

I have traveled, by sheer luck, a good deal.  People outside of the US often want the best of our country, but are often terrified by some of our behavior.   And I am talking about friends and allies.  We often don’t understand this, but Noah gets this dynamic dead on.

Whether in his home country, while traveling abroad, or here in the US, Noah gets the absurdity of modern life.  His bit on US airports had me in stitches, because is was so correct in observations about it.  He was able to point out how ridiculous it is that we take our shoes off in airports.  However, if you think he is just US bashing, he is no less critical of other cultures.  He then told a story about a US woman taking off her shoes when entering a Muslim country.  The Muslims began freaking out because they are so afraid of women exposing any part of their bodies.  I’m not doing the piece justice, obviously.  But it was his ability to critique absurdity in the US and at the last moment twist it around, to show that he is well aware that we are not the most insane country on certain issues.

Two of my favorite comedians are Bill Maher and George Carlin.  Maher, even though he treats his right wing guests with respect, is simply too biting in his comedy to ever be listened to by many that don’t share his politics.  Carlin is my all-time favorite comedian, philosopher as much as comedian, but his public persona was one that was someone who was really irritated by what he saw in the world.  I could watch him every night, but I wonder how many could.

Despite his biting comedy, and in standup I much prefer the other two, especially Carlin, Noah again is able to deliver this comedy with a good natured charm.  I imagine him being someone that people would welcome into their home every night, even when he is challenging their worldview.  I think for this reason he is a good choice.  He can speak truth to power in a way that just might knock a few people off of the fence.

If our news media wasn’t so bad I wouldn’t hope for so much from a comedian.  But Stewart has communicated more information than any of the real TV news outlets.  He has big shoes to fill.  I think, though only time will tell, that Noah is up for the job.  But don’t trust me, check him out yourself.

Ninja Turtles, Napalm, and Silly Putty

Ninja Turtles comic spoiler alert

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Somehow I stumbled upon this yesterday and it made me laugh.  It’s such a ridiculous picture if you step back from it.  (No offense meant to comic fans.  Whatever floats your boat I say.)  The imagination of man! 

George Carlin’s book Napalm & Silly Putty, the title anyway, was based on the absurdity of the human imagination.  The same group of beings that could make something to copy the Sunday comics could also create something to melt someone’s skin off from a distance. 

Image from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #44

W., House of Cards, Deadwood, and Reflections On the Illusions of Power

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The other night I watched Oliver Stone’s W. for the first time since it was in theaters, his film about George W. Bush.  There is that old saying that comedy is tragedy plus time.  The farther we drift from those years the more they seem like some kind of strange absurd comedy.  (And yes I am fully aware of the real tragedies that were part of those times.)  Like when you study the horrors of medieval times they almost appear like a Monty Python comedy.  I think people will look back on that point in our history with disbelief.  How did we knowingly choose to put a man like that in charge for two terms?  Why did we invade a country that posed no threat to us?  It was baffling then to many and even more so now.

If you lived through those years the movie might seem too light for what actually went on.  However, if you view it in a detached way, as someone looking back who didn’t live through them would, I think it emotionally reflects how those times will be viewed.

I’ve also, as stated, been watching House of Cards lately.  Given some of the problems with the third season, I still think it possesses interesting ideas.  Combined with watching W. is the idea that our leaders our just people, no different from us.  They may have better luck, family ties, or ambition, but at the end of the day they are humans.  It is only ritual and stage craft that gives them their power.  We are all part of a play.  The power they possess is only in direct accordance with how much power we believe that they have.  In the show Deadwood there is the idea that history is, “a lie agreed upon.”  There are rules and traditions that create the perception of order and therefore create order itself.  It is the belief in these fictitious sets of principles that holds it all together.

To close, I quote Twin Peaks:  “We live inside a dream.”

Sad Song, When Tragedy Becomes Comedy

Today I was talking to my Dad on the phone about Dante’s Inferno.  Surprisingly we both found it funny.  This is a book where people’s souls are tortured in the most horrible ways imaginable for all eternity, often for no more than religious thought crimes or moments of passion.  The religious medieval mind was sure a strange one!  When things go that dark they, at some point, go through the looking glass and pass into the realm of absurdity, and then turn into comedy.

Lou Reed often makes me laugh in the same way, though I’m almost positive that he was in on the joke.  When he was asked about his album Berlin, which many deem the most depressing album of all time, he said he was just, “having fun.”  Whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul, I can put that album on, or any number of his albums, and find myself instantly cheered up.  The final song on it, Sad Song, is the cosmic punchline to the album.  I was going to describe it, but I found this description on YouTube by Adam Pendleton, the first comment at the time of writing, and I really enjoyed it:

So this poem is about an abusive husband, than his wife kills herself. Even so, he doesn’t really care. He half-heartedly chants “sad song.” than shrugs and moves on. Even after she’s gone he thinks of her as “wasting my time.” and that he was wrong for thinking she ever looked beautiful. He justifies his abuse, “somebody else would have broke both her arms.” At least that’s what I got out of it.

As Mark Twain once said, “Humor is tragedy plus time.”