Was the last joke Abe Lincoln heard funny?

I can’t be the first amateur historian / comedy writer to get interested in this question.

It’s presumed that John Wilkes Booth, who knew the play, waited for what he knew would be a big laugh line, which was:

Don’t know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal — you sockdologizing old man-trap.

Let’s back up a bit.

Lincoln, as errbody knows, was watching Our American Cousin at the time of his death.

The plot of Our American Cousin is a coarse but honest American goes to the UK to claim an inheritance and gets involved in the various shenanigans of his snooty distant relatives who are trying to keep up appearances and marry off daughters and so on.  Seems like a pretty good premise.   A Frasier-esque farce satirizing pretension and manners.

good source for these images is BoothieBarn, though not sure how to feel about the name

Our American Cousin was written by Tom Taylor.

He had a career as a lawyer and bureaucrat and magazine editor.

Our American Cousin doesn’t seem to have been his biggest hit, that might’ve been:

which isn’t a comedy. They made that one into a movie a few times, most recently in 1937.

Our American Cousin premiered in New York in 1858 and was a hit.

Stealing the show was Edward Askew Sothern as Lord Dundreary:

Askew Sothern almost hadn’t taken the part:

At first, he was reluctant to accept the role; it was so small and unimportant that he felt it beneath him and feared it might damage his reputation.[7][8] He mentioned his qualms to his friend, Joseph Jefferson, who had been cast in the leading role of Asa Trenchard in the play. Jefferson supposedly responded with the famous line: “There are no small parts, only small actors.”[9]

Huh.

After a couple of unhappy weeks in the small role, Sothern began portraying the role as a lisping, skipping, eccentric, weak-minded fop prone to nonsensical references to sayings of his “bwother” Sam. His ad-libs were a sensation, earning good notices for his physical comedy and spawning much imitation and merry mockery on both sides of the Atlantic. His exaggerated, droopy side-whiskers became known as “Dundrearys”. Sothern gradually expanded the role, adding gags and business until it became the central figure of the play. The most famous scene involved Dundreary reading a letter from his even sillier brother.

Sounds funny enough.  Kind of like this:

I can’t determine if Sothern was in the Ford’s Theater production, or if they got a different Dundreary.  Appears on this night Dundreary may have been played by one E. A. Emerson.

But top bill the Ford’s Theater night went to Laura Keene.

Born Mary Francis Moss, she married a former British Army officer who committed some crime or another and got transported to Australia on a prison ship.  To support herself and her kids she became Laura Keene, a popular actress.

She appeared with Edwin Booth many times, they even toured Australia together.

At this point, she lined up investors, along with an architect who specialized in theaters, and a new theater was constructed to her specifications. Named the Laura Keene’s Theatre, it opened on 18 November 1856. In 1858, Our American Cousin debuted in Laura Keene’s Theater.

A badass, as they say.  A strong female multi-hyphenate.

Some years later they revived the play for a kind of benefit night, and that’s how Lincoln ended up there.

John Wilkes Booth waited for a big laugh line:

Halfway through Act III, Scene 2, the character of Asa Trenchard, played that night by Harry Hawk, utters this line, considered one of the play’s funniest, to Mrs. Mountchessington:

Don’t know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal — you sockdologizing old man-trap.

Harry Hawk in costume:

I found that image through the website for The Persistence of Dreams, this four minute recreation movie of that night at the theater (warning: violence):

Sockdologizing was a made up word, invented in this play.  It seems that around this time people found the word “doxology” to be funny.  It may have been a play on that.

The phrase sounds weird to our ears.  But I bet if you heard it, delivered with solid timing by a charming actor like Harry Hawk, playing into the role of the lovably blunt Asa Trenchard, it was probably amusing.

Anyway, I conclude that yes, the last joke Abe Lincoln heard was pretty funny, even if it may not be exactly hilarious to us these many years later.


Fascinated by: Ray Dalio

Ray Dalio, billionaire founder of Bridgewater Associates, one of the world’s largest hedge funds.

That’s a 30 minute video he made about how the economy works, nbd.

A brilliant person with an atypical mind who lays out their worldview in a kind of manifesto can pretty much always get my attention.

Three of his Dalio’s beliefs:

  • “algorithmic decision-making is coming at you fast”
  • evolution is good
  • to achieve success you must face and accept harsh realities

You can read his Principles online.  Soon they are coming out in book form, I’ve pre-ordered.   Here’s a sample, from the Principles website, which is www.principles.com:

A lot to think about in Ray Dalio’s Principles.

BUT: let’s limit our discussion today to one moment in his TED Talk above.  We’re going to talk about a joke and the audience reaction to it.

You’ll have to watch about one minute of the talk.  Start at 14:30.

Dalio is describing a complex system where everyone in his company rates each other and is radically transparent with each other.  Everyone can rate each other, in different areas.  Even a lowly employee can rate Ray, creating charts like this:

At 14:46 he says that because of this, at Bridgewater there is no politics.

Which: Ray Dalio is 100x smarter than me, but I’ll bet ten dollars there are indeed politics at Bridgewater Associates, probably insane, high-order, wildly weird politics.

Anyway.

At 15:13 Ray Dalio makes a joke.  This being his TED talk, no doubt a joke he had practiced.  Radical transparency, he says, doesn’t apply to everything.

You don’t have to tell somebody their bald spot is growing or their baby’s ugly.

People laugh a little bit.  Dalio continues.

I’m talking about the important things.

People laugh a LOT.

Dalio seems even thrown by how much the audience laughs at the second part, not the intended punchline.

Why?

The audience laughs because Dalio is missing the point.

Dalio inadvertently reveals he doesn’t know what the important things are to most people.

What are “the important things?” Making sound investment decisions? Tweaking the algorithm properly? Workplace communication?

Whatever, yes, in theory.

But really?  No. To most humans whether your bald spot is growing and whether your baby is ugly are the important things.  It would hurt way worse to be told either of those than that you’re ineffectively communicating in the meeting.  That pain is a measure of importance.

The audience is expressing laughter / disbelief at the fact Dalio assumes workplace discussion is more important than stuff like whether your baby is ugly.

Perhaps Ray Dalio doesn’t get it because he’s trained himself not to feel that kind of sensitivity.  That’s one of the points of Principles, to train your mind to get that nonsense out of the way.  It’s served him very well as an investor.

But it’s a little robotic, and a little detached, and a little inhuman.

If I worked for Dalio, I suspect I’d rate him low in the category of “empathy / compassion / understanding for what matters to people / sensitivity.”

But then, are those categories even in the algorithm?

Oh btw James Comey used to work for Ray Dalio, and also Dalio recently recommended allocating 5-10% of assets to gold.

speaking of

algorithm

source: Wiki user Fulvio Spada

looked it up at Online Etymology, my new fave site.

algorithm (n.)Look up algorithm at Dictionary.com1690s, “Arabic system of computation,” from French algorithme, refashioned (under mistaken connection with Greek arithmos “number”) from Old French algorisme “the Arabic numeral system” (13c.), from Medieval Latin algorismus, a mangled transliteration of Arabic al-Khwarizmi “native of Khwarazm” (modern Khiva in Uzbekistan), surname of the mathematician whose works introduced sophisticated mathematics to the West (see algebra). The earlier form in Middle English was algorism (early 13c.), from Old French. Meaning broadened to any method of computation; from mid-20c. especially with reference to computing.

The man from Khwarizmi.

Wiki:

Few details of al-Khwārizmī’s life are known with certainty.

He worked in Baghdad as a scholar at the House of Wisdom established by Caliph al-Ma’mūn, where he studied the sciences and mathematics, which included the translation of Greek and Sanskrit scientific manuscripts.

 


A Norm gem from the Bookbinder

always such excellent dispatches over there


Career. Woman.

Asked an Osaka resident what was going on in Japanese comedy these days, and he directed me to Buruzon Chiemi.

 


F Minus

I don’t like to give bad reviews to books on Helytimes.  Why call limited attention to bad books?  However I must condemn this book.

img_8925

Let me admit that I didn’t read it.

I oppose it because:

1) I was not consulted on it and didn’t hear about it until it was published

2) I was not included in it

3) many geniuses were not included in it, and the selections don’t represent anything like a best of.   

Impossible in an anthology to please everyone.   But I suspect anyone familiar with the Lampoon will find the table of contents to be the funniest part.

(That’s the only part I read.)

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-7-54-40-pm

4) No art?

The Lampoon is full of beautiful art that makes the words tolerable.

Example I happened to find here.

Example I happened to find here.

A mistake to print an all words anthology.

5)  the whole point of the Lampoon is you can write and “publish” dumb bad practice material that no one will ever see.

On the other hand: I was lucky and was given issues of the Lampoon by my cousin when I was a senior in high school.   That gift changed my life.  So maybe this book will do that for someone.

Still, I must grade it an F minus and recommend that you not purchase it on Amazon or your local indie bookstore.  For example The Harvard Book Store:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

found on the website of Dr. Barbara Long

Here’s a funny review by one Helen Andrews of Sydney, Australia in the Weekly Standard.  (Shoutout to Chris McKenna who I guess reads The Weekly Standard?)

I think you’ll get more value for your book dollar in:

treee

available at Amazon or your local indie bookstore.  You’ll enjoy it.


Enjoyable.

Also enjoyable, this photo from an Australian reader:

stevie-hely-book

Available at Amazon or your local indie bookstore.


Fo

People are mad that Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature?  Why?  Because he does music, which is not the same as literature?  What is the difference?  More sounds? Instruments are allowed?  Hmm.

Anyway, have heard no mention in the convo about the time a literal clown won the Nobel Prize.

OK fine Dario Fo was a playwright but what he did was more than just write words down, right?

Mr. Fo attributed the State Department’s change of heart to the intervention of President Ronald Reagan, a former actor. It was, Mr. Fo said dryly, “the gesture of a colleague.”

Was reminded because heard he died.  Dario Fo obituary.