(for when YouTube removes the link, it is a scene where Matthew and Joe bet on whether the next song on the radio will be good or not. The song that comes up is “Wichita Lineman.”)
Some things I like about the scene: the idea that depending on the circumstances you could believe this was a good or bad song. Matthew trying to sell it. Also Matthew’s honesty.
This may have been the first time I heard this song?
Tuned in to see Tracy light up Jussie but really found the advice around 2:20-2:50 to be succinct and profound.
Although fifteen years later [Marcel Proust] would recall his year as a soldier with total delight, as “a paradise,” at the time he complained bitterly and his mother had to write him consoling, babying letters, telling him to think of the twelve months as twelve chocolate squares.
Imagine the guys in the barracks finding your letters from your mom telling you to think about your year as twelve chocolate squares.
In his short biography of Custer, Larry McMurtry mentions a few other short biographies he judges fine, including with a characteristic lack of false modesty his own biography of Crazy Horse, and this Edmund White biography of Proust.
So, I got it and read it. Wonderful act of compression. Thoughtful, succinct, at times funny, human, gentle, this book is a great guide to the man and artist, what his work meant and what he was after.
Thought this was wild:
In 1911 Proust became a subscriber to Théàtrophone, a service that held a telephone receiver up at a concert, which allowed people to stay at home and hear live music on their receivers.
The few hundred pages of Remembrance of Things Past I was supposed to read in college (“Proust, Joyce and Modernism”: a class I chose to take!) were tough going for me. Proust won’t be hurried. This guy didn’t even get a job until he was in his thirties. This was an unpaid job, as a librarian, and eventually he got fired for being out sick too much. Proust is not interested in going at anyone’s pace except the languid pace of a man lying in bed, leisurely following the meandering paths of his own memory.
Proust always claimed that he had a bad memory and that, besides, a carefully reconstructed recollection, prompted by photos or shared reminiscences, was invariably colorless, Only an involuntary memory, triggered by a taste or smell or other sensation, could erase the passage of time and restore a past experience in its first, full effulgence.
Proust’s world was pretentious and can seem ridiculous. Proust himself was a great mimic, reducing people to fits of laughter with his impressions. He loved collecting anecdotes and gossip, grilling waiters for details (Proust was an extravagant tipper.) White says that Georg D. Painter’s Marcel Proust: A Biography, the one-volume edition, is
so amusing that it could be used as a source for a stand-up comic.
I’ll be looking into this claim.
How about Proust’s maid, Céleste?
Céleste’s great anxiety was Proust’s morning (or afternoon) coffee. It had to be ready the moment he rang for it, but the preparation took at least half an hour, since he liked the water to be dripped, drop by drop, through the grounds in order to produce the thickest, strongest possible “essence” of coffee. Nor could he bear for it to be reheated…
This is after Céleste had been standing up for hours listening to Proust recount gossip he’d collected on “rare midnight sorties,” Proust waiting til midnight to go out because he was so afraid of dust. Well, White tells us we read Proust because he knows that
only the gnarled knowledge that suffering brings us is of any real use.
Maybe Céleste pondered that while she remade the coffee.
Leaving the house was a challenge for Proust, but near the end of his life he made an outing to see Vermeer’s View of Delft:
On the night before he died Proust dictated a last sentence: “There is a Chinese patience in Vermeer’s craft.”
White tells us. Man Ray took a picture of Proust right after the author died, you can see it here if you’re so inclined. I’m told by the Met that Cocteau wrote of the scene:
Those who have seen this profile of calm, of order, of plenitude, will never forget the spectacle of an unbelievable recording device come to a stop, becoming an art object: a masterpiece of repose next to a heap of notebooks where our friend’s genius continues to live on like the wristwatch of a dead soldier.
True despair hours:
comedy and hog farming, from this article in Hobby Farm.
Whenever I need a boost in either comedy or idyllic poetry I just call upon the muse Thalia
José Clemente Orozco painted these crazy frescos at Dartmouth around 1933. My pal Larry Gonick sends a vivid closeup:
Gotta check these out. If you haven’t read Larry Gonick’s Cartoon History Of The Universe:
Strongest recommend! Epic achievements in bringing history to life by both artists.
From Comedy’s Greatest Era (1949):
Sennett used to hire a “wild man” to sit in on his gag conferences, whose whole job was to think up “wildies.” Usually he was an all but brainless, speechless man, scarcely able to communicate his idea; but he had a totally uninhibited imagination. He might say nothing for an hour; then he’d mutter “You take . . . ” and all the relatively rational others would shut up and wait. “You take this cloud . . .” he would get out, sketching vague shapes in the air. Often he could get no further; but thanks to some kind of thought-transference, saner men would take this cloud and make something of it. The wild man seems in fact to have functioned as the group’s subconscious mind, the source of all creative energy. His ideas were so weird and amorphous that Sennett can no longer remember a one of them, or even how it turned out after rational processing. But a fair equivalent might be on of the best comic sequences in a Laurel and Hardy picture. It is simple enough – simple and real, in fact, as a nightmare. Laurel and Hardy are trying to move a piano across a narrow suspension bridge. The bridge is slung over a sickening chasm, between a couple of Alps. Midway they meet a gorilla.
Agee speaks of the side-splitting laughter that would erupt in silent movie houses, and how you just can’t get that level of laughter from “talkies,” no matter how funny.
the best of comedies these days hand out plenty of titters and once in a while it is possible to achieve a yowl without overstraining
but nothing like what the “ideally good gags” of the silent days would provoke.
Wasn’t sure I understood what levels of laughter in the movie theater Agee was talking about until I saw the Jackass movies:
As Zinoman puts it, “His smirking tone was so consistently knowing that he seemed as if he must know something.” This was an attitude fit for the cynical mood of the 1980s, and Zinoman emphasizes Letterman’s significance as an avatar of cool noncommitment, a figure of his time. In that, Letterman resembled that other pop-cultural phenomenon of the era, Jim Davis’s Garfield – the rotund cartoon feline also riven by self-doubt and haunted by grandiose fantasies of domination while projecting an aloofness that often verged on the cruel.
from Naomi Fry’s review of Jason Zinoman’s Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night in the Summer 2017 issue of BookForum. (A little behind on my Bookforum).
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.
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. 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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
looked it up at Online Etymology, my new fave site.
algorithm (n.)1690s, “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.
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.
Asked an Osaka resident what was going on in Japanese comedy these days, and he directed me to Buruzon Chiemi.
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.
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.)
4) No art?
The Lampoon is full of beautiful art that makes the words tolerable.
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.
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:
Also enjoyable, this photo from an Australian reader:
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.
Hearing all these points about The Al Smith Dinner.
There is something grotesque about a white-tie banquet with the wealthy and powerful laughing about how they’re all on the same team. On the flip side, there’s something great about the wealth and powerful laughing about how they’re all on the same team if the team has some common, positive values.
The Al Smith Foundation raises money for the sick, the poor, and the orphans of New York. It honors a great, cheerful, positive public figure who rose up from poverty to run for president despite religious prejudice.
The dinner is an old-fashioned truce. Swallowing the noxious flavor of eating with your opponent is how societies can function and remain peaceful.
History offers many stories about how deeply fucked up things get when someone violates the tradition of a ceremonial truce:
People who jockey for political power should have to sit there and be made to at least pretend to be humble.
IMO this is a great tradition even if only for giving us this wonderful gif of Mitt Romney ironing himself.
Through a friend from my Catholic childhood, I got to go and sit up in the rafters a couple times. McCain, who must’ve known he was about to lose, gave one of the best performances I’ve ever seen.
Obama smashed too, of course.
Perhaps the two funniest candidates in American history?
Made it to the Romney/Obama one as well.
I remember a guy younger than me in the crowd was pumped, felt sure Romney was gonna win.
Watched this year’s on C-Span. Man, it was gnarly. Here are some takes:
- The #1 thing holding Donald Trump back is that he’s too sensitive. If he had a thicker skin, if he could laugh off attacks on himself, believe he could’ve won. Hillary was right about the “baited with a tweet” thing. If he had one ounce of Reagan’s ability to laugh something off Trump could’ve pulled it off.
- Al Smith’s nickname was The Happy Warrior.
Which candidate can be said to be more Happy Warrior? Thought Hillary did a good job of Happy Warrioring at the second debate, under very tough conditions:
and it worked for her!
- Much of the preliminary business of the Al Smith Dinner is talking about how much money has been raised for charity. As you listen to that, it’s hard not to be revolted by Trump’s total scumminess on charity. My perception was the room grew angrier and angrier at Trump as they heard this, and so were primed against him by the time he got up there. A politician is one thing, but a rich guy who gives nothing to charity? That sucks. That’s the complete opposite of the values of this dinner.
- For someone on the verge of achieving a lifelong dream she’s worked impossibly hard for, Hillary seems miserable. What is the lesson there? Is it campaign fatigue and going to bed every night with a knot in the pit of her stomach? Is it the regular reminders that a lot of people, probably a majority, just kind of don’t like her? There’s something real devil’s bargainy in the cruel twists that seem to meet Hillary’s ambitions.
(should admit I am 100% in the tank for Hillary. Even her soldiering on in the face of all this I admire. Will the rest of the media admit as much?)
- This event must be as close as possible to a pure nightmare for Donald. New York’s elites laughing and booing at him. In front of him and behind his back. Read anything by or about Trump: his greatest fear/source of rage is being mocked by Manhattan.
This headline would’ve appeared to Trump if he summoned the vision serpent. We are caught in a snobs vs slob death spiral. A sharp commentator points out there was a real Nelson Muntz aspect to Donald at this dinner:
Is Nelson in his way a sympathetic character? Trump’s father was a nasty piece of work, has there ever been a bully who wasn’t bullied?
- Hillary had some great jokes but she is not great at comic delivery. Then again, who’s the best over-70 year old joke deliverer? (Gotta thank Medina for asking that one). My first picks: Mel Brooks or Bill Cosby.
- Katie Dunn’s parents would only let Al Smith marry their daughter when he promised he would never become a professional actor (per Caro’s The Power Broker, p. 117). In those days you went into politics because everybody liked you.
- There’s a lot terrible about the Catholic Church, but in my experience growing up around the Catholic church I saw a lot more attention to and help for the sick, the old, the poor, the dying, the disabled, the mentally ill and the homeless than I’ve seen outside of it.
In Al Smith’s day the Catholic Church provided a social welfare system for the poor and the unfortunate and the immigrant. Other churches did the same thing. Think how many hospitals are named after saints. As far as I understand it the Mormon church still does. The Catholic Church in America is in a managed decline.
What will fill the social welfare vacuum? Who will take care of the poor, the sick, the immigrant, they dying? Who should?
Sometimes it seems like the domestic political argument in America is between two answers: “the government” and “nobody/family/somebody’ll handle it/I don’t know but not the government.”
Bill Clinton and George Bush both succeeded at least in pretending to find happy compromises, “the third way,” “compassionate conservatism,” etc. For awhile I felt like Paul Ryan was doing a decent job of at least pretending, too. But man when Trump came along he went the sniveling way. Is he more dangerous and more vile than Trump?
- “They’re laughing at us” might be Donald’s campaign theme. From The Washington Post:
It’s a horrible feeling to be laughed at and it takes dignity to rise above it. Watching him at the Al Smith dinner, in a way I almost felt bad for him. If I could give Donald Trump advice I would tell him to relax and return to being a clown version of a rich guy. It was a good job and he was well-compensated. But he doesn’t listen.
In a way DT feels like a dangerous, bitter, vile version of this guy:
- Al Smith’s father was an immigrant. Not from Ireland though, from Italy. (Ferraro = blacksmith = smith). His mother’s parents were immigrants from Ireland. A frustrating thing about this election is we couldn’t have a serious talk about immigration. How much should we have? From where? Infinite? If not infinite how do we sort out who can come?
Talking in Vulture about being backstage at Fallon with Trump:
Did you meet him?
Well, what happened was, after the show, he came out and was just standing there. So I said, “Mr. Trump, a picture?” And he said, “You betcha. Just give me a minute.” Then he turns and walks down the hall, all the way to the other end, and gets on the elevator. “Just give me a minute,” and then he leaves the building. It was hilarious, like a Buster Keaton movie or something.
Thinking very strongly about driving to the desert or the redwoods alone while listening to Norm’s audiobook.
Also: is the essence of comedy noises or physical?
I saw Louis C.K.’s stand-up show a few days ago, and he had this section where he was talking about how doing stereotypically “black” or “Chinese” voices was racist, but the voices were still funny. And I was wondering how many people in the audience were making that distinction, too.
I don’t know what other people think about this stuff, but Louis and I talk a lot and he really thinks that the essence of comedy is noises. I would say the essence of comedy is physical, but he thinks it’s sounds. So there I think he’s right, that the sound he’s making is funnier than the observation.
Enjoyed reading this article from Vanity Fair. The jist of the article is that Ermahgerd Girl was intentionally making comedy when she took this picture. Does that change the funniness of this?
According to Ari Spool, a New York–based reporter and self-described meme scientist for Know Your Meme, rhotacized speech—that is, speech in which the “R” sound is somehow disfigured—tends to be amusing for English speakers.
But it’s not just about the imagined voice. “[It’s] also the absurdity, rhythm, and timbre of the words,” Spool said. “We call this type of voice-heavy meme writing ‘interior monologue captioning,’ and it’s a common ingredient in a successful image.”
Guys! Really excited about tonight’s Great Debates Live at the UCB on Sunset. If you’re in LA hope you’re considering coming, last I checked there were 14 tickets left. The UCB’s doing us a huge solid by letting us perform there, would be great to sell it out. We’ve got some great fun planned, special guests. Little Esther is gonna warm up the crowd:
You can buy a ticket for five bucks right here:
But before we can all have fun together, I do have to just dispense with an unpleasant sort of cloud that’s hanging over this event. The rumor that so-called “Debater X” is planning some kind of mischief for tonight’s live Great Debates event is just that — a rumor. This is a guy who won’t even reveal his face, let alone his name, so how he acquired any credibility at all is beyond me. The best theory I heard — by best I mean most amusing in its ridiculous — is that Debater X is a famous athlete. HIGHLY doubt it. Just doesn’t fit the psychology here.
What “Debater X” is is something much simpler. He’s a troll. Trolls are all too common in the anonymous world of the Internet, where you can hide behind your avatar and fire darts from the safety of a desk covered in crinkled Chipotle wrappers. So, do not worry about Debater X, just grab a ticket, come on out, show’s at 8:30pm, enjoy yourself!
Gave me my first job ever. I only met him once, for thirty seconds.
I hated the actual work of working there. I had no idea how to write in this man’s voice, no clue what he was going to be into. I was terrible at it. On the show at that time he’d often throw out all the comedy and just telephone his assistant Stephanie on air instead. From my office I could see the Hudson River and I’d stare at tugboats going by. After six months I got fired.
Still it launched my career. People still ask me about it and probably will be for the rest of my life.
Steve Young had the office next to me, he’d been working there since 1989 or 1990. His office was full of records of industrial songs, and every once in awhile he’d play one for me. I remember one that was a rap that helped KFC employees remember how to make biscuits.
What a great man.
Another memory: every single day I ate the same thing: a BLT from Rupert’s deli downstairs.
Another one: they played the show, or at least the top ten list, on the radio. Sometimes, on my taxi ride home, the driver would be listening to it.
If you haven’t seen the last Norm MacDonald appearance there’s no helping you, but watch this old one. In these late episodes it’s easy to forget how sharp and fast and energized Letterman was at full strength.
The guy I’ll really miss though is Paul Schaffer.
“The secret I finally learned, after all these years, is just stay loose with this stuff,” says Paul Shaffer. “Swing with whatever happens onstage, because everybody else is.”