Michael Herr wrote Dispatches, he wrote a novel about Walter Winchell, he wrote a short book (an expanded article) about Stanley Kubrick, he collaborated on the screenplays for Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket.
He also wrote the text for The Big Room, a collection of portraits by Belgian artist Guy Peellaert, centered around Las Vegas. Short essays about Howard Hughes, Milton Berle, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, FDR, Richard Nixon, Bugsy Siegel, Nat King Cole, Colonel Tom Parker, Martin & Lewis, more.
When they talk about luck in Las Vegas, it’s just the way they have there of talking about time. Luck is the local obsession, while time itself is a sore subject in the big rooms and casinos. It’s a corny old gag about Las Vegas, the temporal city if there ever was one, trying to camouflage the hours and retard the dawn, when everybody knows that if you’re feeling lucky you’re really feeling time in its rawest form, and if you’re not feeling lucky, they’ve got a clock at the bus station. For a speedy town like Vegas, having no time on the walls can only accelerate the process by which jellyfish turn into barracuda, grinders and dumpers become a single player, the big winners and big losers exchange wardrobes, while everyone gets ready for the next roll. The whole city’s a clock. The hotels change credit lines as fast and often as they change the sheets, and for a lot of the same reasons. The winners and the losers all have identical marks on them, bruised and chewed over by Las Vegas mitosis, with consolation prizes for anybody left who’s not already inconsolable. Don’t laugh, people. It could happen to you.
The big room is not a clearing that anyone should charge into blindly, unarmed. The way in is hard, as dangerous as the approach to King Solomon’s Mines, and obscure as a tomb. In fact, many a headliner has had good reason to compare the room to the tomb, having experienced for themselves the non-contradiction that once you’ve made it here, it’s all over for you.
The painting evokes a sense of Pacific paradise in which sexual relations are playful and harmless. According to Professor Peter Toohey, “this jealousy is not the product of a threat to an exclusive sexual relationship or jilted love affair – it is the result of one of the sisters having enjoyed more sex than the other the night before”.
So says Professor Toohey. Gauguin.org counters:
Despite the title, there seems to be no rivalry between the two women, who are not talking. Rather, the question might be directed at those who would see the painting in the future and might envy Gauguin and his models their tropical dolce far niente.
Over at Paul-Gauguin.net, you can view his works according to some ranking of popularity.
Breton Village Under Snow.
Here in LA, at LACMA, we have:
And a few others, none of them currently on view:
How about a wood carving?:
“Be in love and you will be happy.”
Gauguin’s ankle was injured in a fight in 1894. This is sometimes referred to as “a drunken brawl,” or “a brawl with sailors,” but in this book
we’re told that
on an outing to Concarneau, he and Anna and a couple of friends got into a squabble with some children
(we’ve all been there, you’re at the beach and you get in a fight with some children).
Local sailors came to the youngsters’ assistance, and in the ensuing brawl, Gauguin broke his ankle.
Anna by the way was not Gauguin’s wife and mother of his kids, but his mistress, seen here:
who would dance with a little monkey for society gentlemen
Gauguin: what a piece of work!
It’s 1539. Henry VIII is 48 years old and single. Wife 1 didn’t work out, Wife 2 got beheaded, Wife 3 died. The Hunt For Wife 4 is on:
King Henry VIII of England was considering a royal marriage with Cleves, so following negotiations with the duchy, Hans Holbein the Younger, Henry’s court painter, was dispatched to paint Amalia and Anne, both of whom were possible candidates, for the freshly widowed king in August 1539. After seeing both paintings, Henry chose Anne.
There is a tradition that Holbein’s portrait flattered Anne, derived from the testimony of Sir Anthony Browne.
Is this Amalia?:
Wikipedia says so but the Royal Collection won’t admit it.
When he met Anne in person Henry was bummed:
succinctly put in:
Worth remembering that the American Revolution started when the federal government sent troops to take away people’s guns and ammunition.
More men from Needham died on April 19, 1775, I believe, than from any other town except Lexington:
The detail in that footnote! What she remembers, the old blind woman: how many of the soldiers had thrown away their coats! It was under the will of this venerable lady that he first received a legacy!
History gets so much more interesting when you get into how do we know this? what is the source? who claims this? who saw it happen?
The Needham Public Library.
Amos Doolittle wasn’t there but he showed up a few weeks later:
My favorite book on this topic is:
Tourtellot is really kind of funny when he rips into his least favorite patriot, vain old John Hancock:
that illustration up top from:
a British book – is there a pro-Redcoat bias?
via Tyler Cowen I learn about Nigerian artist Prince Twins Seven Seven
or more formally Prince Taiwo Olaniyi Wyewale-Toyeje Oyekale Osuntoki. He received his nickname because he was the only surviving child from seven distinct sets of twins.
He came to the United States in the late 1980s and settled in the Philadelphia area, although he traveled abroad frequently. His life entered a turbulent period, filled with drinking and gambling, he said. Destitute, he found work as a parking-lot attendant for Material Culture, a large Philadelphia store that sells antiquities, furnishings and carpets.
When the owner learned that Prince Twins Seven-Seven was an artist, he had him decorate the store’s wrapping paper. Later, he was given a small room to use as a studio.
from his obituary
Here are some takes and items for your Sunday enjoyment!
The coach on Netflix doc series Last Chance U:
The most compelling, complex character on “TV” right now
In an old folder of articles I found this one, about Peter Thiel’s Zero To One
Thiel and his ideas are interesting to me. I’m open to the Vali/OwenE take that he might just be a kinda smart guy who got lucky and thinks he’s a genius. He definitely should not be on the Supreme Court.
I loved Zero To One, but Thiel’s support for Trump makes him seem like a much darker and more troubling figure than I felt he was when I was reading it.
Two interesting points in the article that had new meaning in light of Thiel being a Trump guy:
Is that something like what Trump did (old grouchy white men? white American nationalists? you’d think they’d be served by a lot of political competitors but maybe there was a hole in the market)? What about this?:
Unfortunately, Trump is good at sales and Hillary Clinton is kind of bad at sales.
Sometimes this campaign we get a reminder of how good at sales Bill Clinton is. Here is Bill talking about the Clinton Foundation. This clip is used by GOP and conservative sites as I guess kind of scummy because Clinton compares himself to Robin Hood:
Maybe comparing yourself to Robin Hood is a little much, but when I hear Bill explain the Clinton Foundation as asking for money from people who have a lot of it and giving it to people who don’t have any, it makes it sound a lot better.
Does anyone effectively refute the claim that almost 10 million more people in more than 70 countries have access to life-saving medicines through the Clinton Health Access Initiative?
Silence Of The Lambs
Not topical or relevant at all but for forever I’ve had in my phone a bunch of screenshots of this movie, one of the most gripping movies ever. Saw it on TV some months ago and was struck by how much of it is just a closeup of a person’s face. How unsettling/compelling!
This jumped out at me
In a not otherwise “sexy” article about English literary critic William Empson’s book The Face Of The Buddha:
Enjoyed the caption on this one, from National Geographic’s Instagram:
Thomas Frank, profiled in the Politico 50 list:
Frank went to University of Kansas, University of Virginia, and University of Chicago. Can he be trusted?
Doing some reading about AquAdvantage salmon, a genetically modified animal
A growth hormone-regulating gene from a Pacific Chinook salmon, with a promoter from an ocean pout, was added to the Atlantic salmon’s 40,000 genes. This gene enables it to grow year-round instead of only during spring and summer. The purpose of the modifications is to increase the speed at which the fish grows without affecting its ultimate size or other qualities. The fish grows to market size in 16 to 18 months rather than three years.
Asked Anonymous Investor to take a look at the financials of the AquaBounty company.
I haven’t looked into the science, but if their salmon is all that they claim, AquaBounty should have a big pricing advantage. Because their fish grow so much faster than a normal salmon, they should be much cheaper to produce, and sell — undercutting their competitors.
This reminds of the tiny speculative biotech companies I invest in. There’s no money coming in, only money being burned. But you’re hoping someday for a big FDA approval that will open sluices of torrential cash. In this case, the FDA approval has come But the primary problem (they have a few) is that major buyers like Kroger and Target vowed not to carry the product. My guess is the company will eventually make inroads, just as Monsanto, Syngenta, etc, have in the past. But it might take a long time. Big money usually wins in the end. And the hippies, as always, will go whining back to their yurts.
AquaBounty is selling for around 64 million dollars. Not a bad price for a what looks like a pretty decent lottery ticket.
Not sure why AquaBounty only trades in London. The volume is extremely thin. This is a stock not on many people’s radar.
I do know that AquaBounty is controlled by Intrexon (the same company trying to battle Zika via their patented breed of mosquitos). They own over 50% of AquaBounty. Intrexon trades here under the ticker XON. It’s a 3 billion dollar company. (A year ago it was worth more than 6 billion). Intrexon does a lot of interesting Monsanto-type things, and the stock is sort of a darling of Wall Street. But lately doubt has crept into the story. Intrexon has been slow in providing evidence for many of it’s scientific claims. The company says they don’t want to divulge their trade secrets by releasing too much data. Skeptics speculate that they’re not disclosing much, because, they believe, much of the science probably doesn’t work.
Interesting. Here’s what Intrexon (NYSE: XON) has been up to:
“I couldn’t be more pleased with the birth of these adorable kittens,” noted Blake Russell, President of ViaGen Pets. “As the largest global provider of genetic preservation services for companion animals, we look forward to expanding the life-enriching connections that people form with their pets. Our goal is to bring this opportunity to all pet owners and their families.”
Sure. Anonymous Investor adds:
In the salmon world, AquAdvantage salmon are considered “ugly”. In a test 95% of salmon chose to mate with wild salmon over AquaBounty salmon.
American Dad co-showrunner Brian Boyle has a very fine set of glasses with the AD characters on them.
One fan’s opinion? the show should do more with Reginald.
The Flemish Giant
Somebody at work mentioned that the biggest kind of rabbit is called a Flemish giant.
Well worth the image search.
A good, clear discussion of an often misunderstood issue from this classic
On the subject of Boston:
In Australia this kind of coconut frosted cake is known as Boston bun. Everyone was baffled when I told them I’d never heard of it.
A Boston bun is a large spiced bun with a thick layer of coconut icing, prevalent in Australia and New Zealand. Traditionally the bun contained sieved potato, and modern versions sometimes contain raisins. It is often served sliced, to accompany a cup of tea. The origin of the name is unknown.
In New Zealand they’re often called a Sally Lunn, especially in the North Island
from good times in Australia. A bizarro version of the United States, upside down and weirdly (to a USA observer) developed in all kinds of ways. For instance, Australia people talk about “the deep north” as like a joke on the way we talk about the “deep south.”
Important to remember that on the other side of the equator, you have to flip countries upside down to think about them. Their south is our north. If you think about that pointy part of Queensland as Florida, the Northern Territory as Texas, Tasmania as Newfoundland or Nova Scotia, Melbourne as Boston and Sydney as New York, you’re still way off but getting somewhere.
Huge thanks to the many people of New Zealand and Australia who helped me out. Puts me in mind of this week’s scripture, Matthew 25:35.
Bummed to miss
Had to come back to the USA before the Brisbane Writers’ Festival, so I missed Lionel Shriver of We Need To Talk About Kevin fame apparently light it up with a wild speech about cultural appropriation (attacking what seems to me to be a ridiculous straw man?)
I can’t find a photo of her wearing a sombrero, as she is alleged to have done. Did she really refer to herself as a “renowned iconoclast”?
Which Australian state library is the best?
I enjoy Melbourne’s State Library of Victoria so much:
I mean how can you not admire that they have Ned Kelly’s armor on display?:
Some great illustrations on Ned’s wiki page:
Let’s take a virtual look at Australia’s other state libraries:
Would a better state library be a step towards helping Tasmania’s insane illiteracy rate?
New South Wales:
Impressive. Classic if slightly dull exterior, solid interior, I rate it a 9 (out of 11).
A big swing on the exterior, the interior kind of interesting but also kind of a like a weird mall. I’ll give it a 7.
No independent library building, it’s housed in the Parliament House which is kind of cool. DNQ for the rating system.
Trash exterior, interior so weird as to be kind of interesting. 8.
The old version, once housed in Hackett Hall, appears to have been pretty cool:
Aw yeah! 11/11.
Australia/New Zealand publishing is so good at short books. I read a bunch of short books while traveling.
This one began as speech Flanagan gave, focusing on his disgust for the abuses, catastrophes, and inhumanity at Australia’s offshore detention centers for asylum seekers, but also about a general disappointment in political and cultural life:
Conformists par excellence, capable of only agreeing with power however or wherever it manifests itself, they are the ones least capable of dealing with the many new challenges we face precisely because those challenges demand the very qualities the new class lacks: courage, independence of thought and a belief in something larger than its own future.
The new class, understanding only self-interest, believing only in the possibilities of its own cynicism, committed to nothing more than its own perpetuation, seeks to ride the tiger by agreeing with all the tiger’s desires, believing it and not the tiger will endure, until the tiger decides it’s time to feed, as the mining corporations did with Kevin Rudd, as News Limited is now with Julia Gillard.
He goes on about the alternative:
If I may make a crude summary Flanagan’s argument could be he wishes Australia remembered Matthew 25:35 a little more.
Flanagan and I once shared a publisher, and I’m told his books are masterpieces, especially Narrow Road To The Deep North.
Also good, and more lighthearted if at times equally scorching:
Here’s a taste, where Pieper is digressing about a dog he adopted:
Took a page out of Vali’s book and wrote Mr. Pieper a short and simple fan letter complimenting him on his book. He wrote a gracious note back. Gotta do this more often.
I can’t write to the great New Zealand short story writer Katherine Mansfield because she’s dead:
If I could, I would compliment her on “The Garden Party.” This story starts out so boring and stodgy and Victorian I really thought I was in for it. But it pays off. Spoiler alert this is the last page:
What life was she couldn’t explain. No matter. He quite understood.
‘Isn’t it, darling?’ said Laurie.
This scene, on Brisbane’s Southbank, really reminded me of this one, in Paris a hundredsome years ago:
Impressed by this massive painting at the Milani Gallery in Brisbane by Australian indigenous artist Richard Bell.
(The price in Australian dollars is 55,000.)
Bell caused controversy in April 2011 after revealing that he selected the winner of the prestigious Sir John Sulman Prize through the toss of a coin.
Gauguin placed this painting on consignment at the exhibition at a price of 1,500 francs, the highest price he assigned and shared by only one other painting, but had no takers.
Gaugin didn’t always crush it with his titles (Study of A Nude, etc) but sometimes he nailed it. Here is Where Are You Going?
(sometimes less interestingly called Woman Holding A Fruit)
Of course best of all, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? at the good ol’ Boston MFA.
Charles Moricetwo years later tried to raise a public subscription to purchase the painting for the nation. To assist this endeavour, Gauguin wrote a detailed description of the work concluding with the messianic remark that he spoke in parables: “Seeing they see not, hearing they hear not”. The subscription nevertheless failed.
You can read about Geoff Dyer’s frustrating experiences with these paintings and Gaugin and Tahiti in:
I was bummed I missed that dude at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, bet we could’ve had some laughs.
Let me add to Wikipedia’s list a work by my former roommate Sean Denis Boyland, acryllic (?) on photograph (?), that I’ve crudely approximated above. Begun and completed in the East Village of Manhattan, or perhaps Chelsea, Massachusetts, possibly in the summer of 2003, the artist bought an enlarged framed photo on the street and painted on it. The key was the elegance of the brushstroke which I just can’t replicate here.
Anyone who has further remembrance of this work is encouraged to contact Helytimes.
Re: lost artwork, always taken some perverse pleasure that I saw one of the most famous missing paintings ever, Rembrandt’s Storm on The Sea Of Galilee, before it was stolen from Boston’s Gardner Museum in 1990.
Discussion question: how much does it matter that the original painting is missing when there are extremely good photographs of it?
Three good losties from Wiki’s gallery: Van G’s Scheveningen beach in stormy weather, stolen 2003:
and Cezanne’s View of Auvers-sur-Oise, stolen from the Ashmolean during a fireworks show on New Years’ Eve 1999:
As the thieves ignored other works in the same room, and the stolen Cézanne has not been offered for sale, it is speculated that this was a case of an artwork stolen to order.
And how about Flinck, Landscape with an Obelisk?
The history of pigments goes back to prehistoric times, but much of what we know about how they relate to the art world comes from Edward Forbes, a historian and director of the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University from 1909 to 1944. Considered the father of art conservation in the United States, Forbes traveled around the world amassing pigments in order to authenticate classical Italian paintings. Over the years, the Forbes Pigment Collection—as his collection came to be known—grew to more than 2,500 different specimens, each with its own layered backstory on its origin, production, and use.
from this Fast Company article by Diana Budds (great name) about a color library at Harvard.
Why did Obama talk in this weird way, and not sitting at the desk? I dunno, but it looks like he got some new paintings for the Oval Office to replace Childe Hassam. I learn they are Josephine Hopper’s, on loan from the Whitney:
Says Whitney curator Dana Miller:
How did you feel when you saw the works installed on the Oval Office wall? Does their new context change the way they read?
There was something pretty wonderful about the way the light was streaming into the Oval Office the day we hung the works, in that it mimicked the lighting in Cobb’s Barn. With Hopper it is so much about the quality of light, and I think the early morning light at that moment echoed what we were seeing in the painting and I remember remarking upon that to Barbi Spieler, Head Registrar for the Permanent Collection, who was there as well. For obvious reasons we don’t often see Hopper paintings in natural light at the Museum.
When I saw the official White House photograph taken by Chuck Kennedy of The President standing in front of the two paintings, I thought it looked like a Hopper composition. Hopper’s urban scenes are often of a solitary figure caught in quiet contemplation, and that’s what the photograph captured. The light in the office and the sense of stillness are very Hopper-esque; the sun even seems to be coming into the office at the precise angle of the sun in the painting. And the back of The President recalls the back of the figure in Hopper’s most famous painting, Nighthawks. I’m guessing Chuck Kennedy knew exactly what he was doing. And of course, it was deeply gratifying to see an image of President Obama so intently focused on the paintings.
The paintings are of Cobb’s Barn in South Truro, Mass. — Cape Cod. Both Hoppers were like obsessed with Cobb’s Barn, here is Edward:
Far as I can tell Cobb’s Barn isn’t there anymore. Bit of a bummer, maybe they should put up a plaque or something.
That’s her painted by Robert Henri, who loved to paint babes:
Henri was, by this point, at the heart of the group who argued for the depiction of urban life at its toughest and most exuberant. Conservative tastes were necessarily affronted. About Henri’s Salome of 1909, critic Hughes observed: “Her long legs thrust out with strutting sexual arrogance and glint through the over-brushed back veil. It has far more oomph than hundreds of virginal, genteel muses, painted by American academics. He has given it urgency with slashing brush marks and strong tonal contrasts. He’s learned from Winslow Homer, from Édouard Manet, and from the vulgarity of Frans Hals”.
Now, what painting is in the Oval Office may seem meaningless but I gotta tell ya: I like living a country where the President is expected to have some taste and make some choices about putting some cool art on the wall.
Presidents have different art on the wall, but it means something to them. George W. Bush made a real point of having a bust of Churchill in there. Obama allegedly returned it, right? Ted Cruz definitely tells the whole truth about that?
New president, new art. We can all find American art we like, that’s a great thing about us. You can bet in the Reagan days they made choices about the art:
Looks like Reagan has The President’s House up there.
From the “Artwork” section of the Wiki page on Oval Office:
Most presidents have hung a portrait of George Washington – usually the Rembrandt Peale”Porthole” portrait or the Charles Willson Peale three-quarter-length portrait – over the mantel at the north end of the room. A portrait of Andrew Jackson by Thomas Sully hung in Lyndon Johnson’s office, and in Ronald Reagan’s, George H. W. Bush’s and Bill Clinton’s. A portrait of Abraham Lincoln by George Henry Story hung in George W. Bush’s office, and continues in Barack Obama’s. Three landscapes/cityscapes by minor artists – The City of Washington from Beyond the Navy Yard by George Cooke, Eastport and Passamaquoddy Bay by Victor de Grailly, and The President’s House, a copy after William Henry Bartlett – have adorned the walls in multiple administrations. The Avenue in the Rain by Childe Hassam and Statue of Liberty by Norman Rockwell flanked the Resolute Desk in Bill Clinton’s office, and do the same in Barack Obama’s.
What a slam! “minor artists”. The friggin’ President looks at your painting every day and you’re still minor. These art world guys are tough on each other, I tell ya.
Reader reaction is encouraging me in a White House kick. Be sure to weigh in to Helytimes if you know any facts about Oval Office art. Somebody out there knows what Bartlett had up.
W. B. Yeats the poet had a kid brother, Jack Yeats, a painter.
Early in his career he worked as an illustrator for magazines like the Boy’s Own Paper and Judy, drew comic strips, including the Sherlock Holmes parody “Chubb-Lock Homes” for Comic Cuts
Jack Yeats won a silver medal at the 1924 Olympics (the Chariots Of Fire Olympics). They used to give out medals in art and culture categories, and Jack won for The Liffey Swim:
The juried art competitions were abandoned in 1954 because artists were considered to be professionals, while Olympic athletes were required to be amateurs.
Bring ’em back I say!
As he gave drawing instructions to his friend and fellow artist James Edward Kelly (1855-1933), [Winslow] Homer once said, “You should practice drawing old shoes and getting their character…”
I knew there was a Homer quote about old shoes, and when I went looking for it found it in an “About The Cover” column for Emerging Infectious Diseases, a journal published by the CDC, written by the excellently named Polyxeni Potter:
Since 1995, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published Emerging Infectious Diseases, a public health journal that endeavors to improve scientific understanding of disease emergence, prevention, and elimination.
Widely known for its leading research in infectious disease, EID is also recognized for its unique aesthetic, which brings together visual art from across periods and, through prose, makes it relatable to the journal’s science-minded readership.
In Art in Science: Selections from Emerging Infectious Diseases, the journal’s highly popular fine-art covers are contextualized with essays that address how the featured art relates to science, and to us all. Through the combined covers and essays, the journal’s contents — topics such as infections, contagions, disease emergence, antimicrobial resistance — find larger context amid topics such as poverty and war, the hazards of global travel, natural disasters, and human-animal interactions.
In May 1908 Homer suffered temporary impairment of his speech and muscular control as the effects of a mild stroke; on June 4 he wrote his brother Charles that “I can paint as well as ever. I think my pictures better for having one eye in the pot and one eye up a chimney— a new departure in the art world.” By July 18 he was able to write that he had regained his abilities with the exception of tying “my neck tie in the way that I have done for the past 20 years….Every four or five days I try to do it but….it has been of no use.” Although he never completely recovered, Homer was well enough to attempt a major work, and it is probably Right and Left that he referred to in a letter to his brother Charles dated December 8, 1908: “I am painting when it is light enough on a most surprising picture”.
The Times further reported that [Thomas Kinkade] openly groped a woman’s breasts at a South Bend, Indiana, sales event, and mentioned his proclivity for ritual territory marking through urination, once relieving himself on a Winnie the Pooh figure at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim while saying “This one’s for you, Walt.”
In 2006, John Dandois, Media Arts Group executive, recounted a story that on one occasion six years previous, Kinkade became drunk at a Siegfried & Roy magic show in Las Vegas and began shouting “Codpiece! Codpiece!” at the performers. Eventually he was calmed by his mother.
Reader “Matt M.” in La Jolla writes:
I know you’ve been accused of being “Headstrong” so I thought you might enjoy DVW’s image of the same name, which I saw on the Autry Museum’s Pinterest page.
Love the site!
– Matt M.
Right you are, Matt. Thanks for reading. That painting is oil on linen. Van Wechel is truly one of our finest living buffalo painters.
You can write to HelyTimes Mailbag at helphely at gmail, subject line “Mailbag.”
Nice work boys.
Wilson got his start doing a survey of all the ants in Alabama.
There’s the question of, why did I pick ants, you know? Why not butterflies or whatever? And the answer is that they’re so abundant, they’re easy to find, and they’re easy to study, and they’re so interesting. They have social habits that differ from one kind of ant to the next. You know, each kind of ant has almost the equivalent of a different human culture. So each species is a wonderful object to study in itself. In fact, I honestly can’t…cannot understand why most people don’t study ants.
Plus look at the wild coolness on Bert Hölldobler:
And in the morning I took the Bible; and beginning at the New Testament I began seriously to read it,1920.
Illustration for Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe.
Reading this interview with Mark Normand, comedian I had not heard of, on Splitsider.
This got my attention:
It’s often said when starting in comedy, you’re doing someone else’s act. What was your style when you first started?
I hate to say it, I was Seinfeld all the way.
“What’s the deal?”
Not really “what’s the deal,” but like, rhythm, and that weird voice thing. I’d have jokes like, “Adult books? Get the movie!” It was so bad that I remember one time I walked on stage in New York and one guy went [Seinfeldbaseline], and it crushed me. It was like a stab in the heart, and after that I was like, “I have to change my ways!” It killed me.
How long did it take, then, to find the voice that you use now?
Phew, a while. It took a meltdown. I had a meltdown in New York at some open mic because I was bombing and bombing for like a year, and eventually I was like, “Fuck you, I can’t take this anymore!” It broke me. But it took that meltdown. And I was fighting against it in my head, like, “Just keep it together buddy, keep it together,” when something had to get out. Then I was finally myself, and that’s what did it.
What was the crowd’s reaction like when you had your meltdown? Were you just like, “Fuck you all?”
Yeah, yeah. I was like, “I’m fucking funny, I hate all of you.” And then they started laughing, like, “All right, this is the real you.” Because crowds don’t want the polish. They want a comic who’s the same guy on and off. That’s the best comics – like, Louis C.K., walking on the stage, doesn’t go, “All right, pick it up, here it comes.” He’s just the same. Even if you see a comic bombing, and he goes, “Well, this is awful,” that gets a laugh. Because that’s the first real thing he’s said.
That last line. In my experience watching amateur/bad standup this is super true. In all the best comedy interviews they eventually get to the weird paradox of how hard it is to be honest, how uncomfortable and painful and terrifying it is to find your actual honest self and present it. The drunkest, dumbest audience in the world can distinguish fakery/honesty in about two seconds.
- the you that you want to be or think you are probably isn’t the you that you are. Learning that must be crushing/terrifying/impossibly frustrating.
- if you’re doing standup comedy in the first place, you at the very least have some unresolved tension between the “you” you’re living with and the “you” the world perceives
- being on stage is so weird and unnatural that achieving the comfort to project your best “you” while standing there will require agonizing failures that will hurt and rattle you and could possibly turn you back on yourself in a way that’ll make you worse at being the best you, in a wrenching spiral!
A long process of reconciling various yous, amazing when achieved.
That painting of commedia dell’Arte is by Karel Dujardin. Here’s his self-portrait:
He gets it.
the young Dujardin went to Italy, and joined the Bentvueghels group of painters in Rome, among whom he was known as “Barba di Becco”, “goat-beard”, or Bokkebaart. Here he encountered his first artistic successes.
(Mark Normand photo from his twitter)
In 1899 companies were crazy.
This man, James Hazen Hyde, inherited the Equitable Life Insurance Company from his dad when he was 23. The company had $400 million in assets.
A few years later he threw a crazy costume party. J. P. Morgan and some other tricksters claimed he’d charged the party to the company, which I guess wasn’t true. Hyde lost his job, and the tricksters got their hands on the company themselves.
I hope he didn’t lose his good looks, though.
“Paul may have the genius of a great painter, but he will never possess the genius actually to become one. He despairs at even the smallest obstacle.”
That’s what Cezanne’s childhood buddy Emile Zola said about him.
Cezanne was sorta slouching toward law school back in Aix like his dad wanted him too. Zola was having none of it:
Is painting only a whim that took possession of you when you were bored one fine day? Is it only a pastime, a subject of conversation, a pretext for not working at law? If this is the case, then I understand your conduct; you are right not to force the issue and make more trouble with your family. But if painting is your vocation – and that is how I have always envisaged it – if you feel capable of achieving something after having worked well at it, then you are an enigma to me, a sphinx, someone indescribably impossible and obscure… Shall I tell you something? But do not get angry: you lack strength of character. You shy away from any form of effort, mental or practical. Your paramount principle is to live and let live and to surrender to the vagaries of time and chance… Either one or the other – either become a proper lawyer, or become a serious painter, but do not become an undecided creature in a paint-splattered robe.
Shall I tell you something? But do not get angry. That’s terrific, Zola.
Cezanne got it together eventually. Maybe he was inspired by his buddy Achille Emperaire:
Achille was a dwarf and a hunchback, also from Aix. But he had the stones to go to Paris and hack away at painting. Wikipedia:
Adamant to make the grade, [Achille] would ask for help anywhere, undaunted by the prospect of living in the streets. He even wrote in his letters, ‘When occasionally I can spend 80 centimes on a meal, it feels like an orgy. […] The rest of the time, to skip a meal, I quell my hunger by eating bread crumbs with wine and sugar.’. Also, ‘Paris is a massive tomb, an unquestionable and awful mirage for most people. While a few get along, most of us fail, believe me.’
Getting those Zola quotes from this book I bought at the Taschen store for $9.99.
Thanks for the good work, Ulrike Becks-Malorny!