Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Funny, you don't look desperate

Your early preferences for humor leaned toward the physicality of silent film comics, vaudeville comics, and actors whose patter was a thematic linking of jokes.  As you progressed, your preferences began to focus more on actors whose physicality tended more to gesture and timing rather than such overt activities as pies in the face, pushing, shoving, and pratfall.

You were well along in your twenties before you realized you'd for some time been drawn to reading stories where the intent was the take-down of parody and, ultimately, satire.  The more such things you read, the more you felt an attraction away from your favorite visual comics, Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton and Chaplin, into the more plausible everyday-ness of literature.  As if in conflict with your emerging preferences, you began to haunt in particular the silent movie theater on Fairfax, not far from your old high school.

All about you, you were feeling kinships with things you thought funny but could scarcely identify to your satisfaction.  Thus the sense of being distant from real seriousness, a kind of remoteness from gravitas.  "When," many of your friends and acquaintances said, "are you going to write something serious?"

Such questions produced an immediate sense of anger.  You were being serious in your pursuits, but lacked the ability to articulate much less see the object of your search.  One day, in your brief career as an actor on live TV dramas, you became lost on a complex set for a Playhouse 90 drama in which you were to go from one set to another within a matter of a few minutes.  You made a wrong turn and came face to face with a great idol of yours, Buster Keaton, who blinked at your predicament and said, "Take it easy, kid.  We all get lost from time to time."

In many ways, that became a mantra which, repeated and considered in some detail, led you to see that there were ties between slipping on a banana peel or being hit in the face with a pie, being lost, and experiencing loss.  Comedy gave way to humor.  Humor became the personification of loss, despair, and things not being as easy to achieve as you'd thought, then hoped you could somehow manage.  Somewhere in the back of humor is the embers of the fire of despair and hopelessness.  Humor in many ways is the default condition when certainty begins to look not so certain, then borders on becoming uncertain, then illusion.

On many occasions, you've heard rendered as a verdict the fact that some particular thing was not funny.  A good fifty percent of the time, you agreed with the assessment because you felt the attribution of humor is sometimes offered as a defense or excuse for being insensitive, bigoted, or cruel.  The other fifty percent of the time, you found yourself doubled up with mirth.  You watch carefully, sometimes unable to break with cultural conventions you yourself believe to be bigoted, racial, sexist, entitled, trying to articulate your way to as pure a sense of humor as you can achieve.

If you can laugh your way around, through, and beyond despair, you still remain in the game of getting some life lived, experienced, digested without becoming in fact the exact sorts of targets you use humor to take down.  When your impatience, anger, intolerance, and misunderstandings of situations lead you into dark corners, the light of humor shows you ways of avoiding those pitfalls--next time.  You're only too willing this time to pay the toll, which is laughing at yourself.

There were and are times of despair relative to your writing.  Can you work your way through with laughter and a potential for understanding?  Despair leads to stopping.  Laughter leads to continuing.  Despair leads to a refusal to look in the mirror.  Humor leads to polishing the mirror, the better to articulate the flaws.

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