Comedy in difficult times
I'm too lazy to go find the section that sparked the following for me, but it's there somewhere in the words above this box, and it's the idea that there's a spectrum. It starts with completely acting as if there is no pain, no trauma, no bad stuff happening at all, individually or in the world -- the pre normalizing therapy/self help era of manners, politeness, reserve, etc. THere's a sweet spot in the middle where people get to not be ashamed of being flawed and having emotional Stuff To Deal With that requires some special handling.
But we've now moved firmly to the other extreme where most people are so in love with their special and unique and precious trauma and pain that they don't want to let go of it because it's become the way they "identify" in the world. And if they let go of their sad story and move on, they have to construct a new identity, and well, fuck, that's a lot of work when the world already gives them so much attention for being so damaged and traumatized and broken. We've romanticized being broken, fetishized it, really. And it's a problem. And I think to some extent maybe -- and this might be the part I'm remembering from your piece -- Lenny Bruce was part of that.
I speak from some experience here, having inadvertently marooned myself in Victimland for too many years before figuring out that there are lots better ways of getting attention and feeling special than identifying with my sad story.
I have no idea what my comment has to do with comedy. It's just my Hyde Park soapbox and I seized the opportunity.
The Answer Man and his fancy learnin’ does a great job explaining when it’s appropriate to laugh at somebody slipping on a karmic banana peel, and also why bananas were never allowed into Nazi Germany…or currently in the half of Congress controlled by the GOP. They do enough pratfalls without any help.
OK, OK, Mike, I’ll stop with the joking. I can't stomach a rewatch of Godfather III.
But still, excellent food for thought in this post.
Even Gingerman have to laugh at their own existence because they know they’re going to be eaten!!!
Coming from another perspective than that of a previous poster, I'll wonder aloud.
As one of our many, all too many "angry, sad, powerless or depressed (a/s/p/d) people," with diagnostic codes and everything we'll not discuss, I'd say my identity (whatever the hell that fiction even means in a universe more akin to Heraclitus' understanding than anyone's - everything is made of change; things and people are not stable things that undergo changes - the stability is imaginary inside this world), uh, as I was saying, my "identity" is affected by the a/s/p/d, but it's not the stuff out of which I'm made. How I deal with it - or don't - is more "who I am" than anything else. Humor is one way to "deal with it": as long as one doesn't ONLY deal with it by means of humor.
No one can reduce themselves to one means of "dealing with" anything terrible without becoming a one dimensional caricature of a human. No matter how marketable, how romantic-seeming from the outside, no matter how much attention one garners in the process. A person on a stage (or wherever one performs) is a fictional character for the extent of the performance. The rest of their lives they're eating those damned Gingermen and not sharing and doing the things humans may get up to out of the limelight when not playing the stage-role and, instead, are playing other dimensions of who they are choosing to be. Well or poorly, as their choices may be.
Our culture may have lost or dulled an ability (if it has ever been widespread) to distinguish a fictional, entertaining character from the person who performs the character. I recall Hunter Thompson once complaining that he went to speak about journalism as Hunter S. Thompson but college audiences wanted Raoul Duke (his fictional alter ego in articles and in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"). So he started just showing up and acting like Raoul Duke and everyone was "happy."
Except Thompson. Who is no longer with us due to eating a pistol, eventually.
Yeats once asked, in a poem, "Who can tell the dancer from the dance?" which is a beautiful thing to consider - but the dancer damn well better know the difference, when to be the dancer dancing and when to go buy groceries and when to go to therapy and ask for help. Even if the damage powers the dance. On bananas. In Nazi Germany or the House of Representatives. Trauma or no trauma.
Memory tends to hang around in some form if desired (or not). After enough therapy and meds and learning some skills - well, the memory of pain can power art just as actually being stuck in "trauma" can. No one can voluntarily control the symptoms of, say, PTSD - and no one winds up with a PTSD diagnosis (or needing one) because they began desiring to have an "identity group." Sneering at people who have difficulty dealing with trauma denotes - or suggests - a certain lack of understanding or empathy; and demanding they all go shut up about it because it aggravates one is the root of mental health stigma.... Blah blah blah.
But dissuading a comic from using trauma and autobiographical "anger, sadness, powerlessness or depression (a/s/p/d)" just because that alone will "fix" nothing... mmmmm - I think it's better to get it out. AS LONG AS ACTUAL PROFESSIONAL HELP IS ALSO SOUGHT. So effort is made to lean into changing in some way one would and should prefer instead of being rolled over and buried by self-medicating e.g. Lenny Bruce, John Belushi, Sam Kinison, Doug Kenney, Hunter S. Thompson....
That's enough of that.
In any case, all I really came to say was I am suspicious that you PROFESSIONALS (dingdingding) in comedy might try to dissuade us entirely inferior dilettantes from using our mere "comedy" to deal with the a/s/p/d and the horror of daily existence. Because you secretly fear - things being what they are in this world - having to share those g.d. Gingermen. If Carrot Top and Pauly Shore can have their inexplicable moments (well, yeah - I know whose kid Shore is, but still, his career remains ** inexplicable**) of cash generating "fame" and an audience, hell - one of us might pull off our 15 minutes as well and the already small world of gigs will become that much smaller. Won't it, Mr. Gerber?
I called the Gingerman and asked, sir. And Pepperidge Farm remembers.
So, sorry, but here I go. The impression I got was you wanted to do an advice column at least partly to get back to comedy writing. And you just sort of condemned comedy. I like.
What is this ... “Godfather III” ... to which you refer? That never happened.
No, it didn’t.
Henri Bergson covered some of this ground in his treatise on Laughter. Speaking for myself, I find that the source of much comedy is grounded in the absurdity of human existence, and the best comics are the ones that are really good at pointing this out to an audience. What is revealed is concealed, what is concealed is revealed, and there is no good reason for us to be here but we're stuck with us so we might as well have a little fun with our predicament. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go set my pants on fire now.