By @sixthfoul (Jeff Reguilon), retweeted (…God damn it.):

I wanted to gloat about the Lakers disaster, but then I read a fake Martin Luther King, Jr. quote and it totally turned me around.

That’s about right.

From April 29th through yesterday, there hasn’t been much time for baseball.  I watched a great deal of baseball, to be sure, but while monitoring/preparing for a whole host of events having little, if anything, to do with baseball.  This post will follow the same pattern.  Strap in.

**

I was asked by a friend from West Virginia how long it would be before we could make fun of a devastating national event on the day of said event.  Because I felt it was a wholly inappropriate time to ask, I told him, “Never.”  Of course, “Never” for me turned out to be about five hours, when I told a joke about how the events of the day had really taken “the heat off the sharks.”  (Let it be known: I told that joke first.  Not the guy quoted in the Times a couple weeks later, and not Stephen Colbert’s writers last week.  Me.  And it’s GOLD.)

I spend a great deal of time thinking about timing, and in fact have been working slowly to revive a venture dedicated to supporting comedians who are willing to help discover the boundaries of good humor.  The musty attic of that venture, A Lush In Rio, holds a trove of poorly-written yet well-meaning and hard-striving witticisms, chuckles, and giggles, with a few genuine explosions of glee.  The new face of it will more pointedly ask when it is okay to make fun of… anything.

I’m not seeking to kill humor.  I understand that the answer to the question “When is it okay to make fun of [person, place, or thing]?” is “It depends.”  But I believe that if we all took a bit more time to chart the edge of that border of appropriateness, at times going OVER the line so that we may know what that line is, we’d get along better.  Take yourself seriously, but understand why others might not take you as seriously.

“Never,” therefore, bothers me as a response that I was so certain about, it came from my mouth as soon as my friend had stopped speaking.  Yeah, it’s understandable I would have such a reaction.  But I’ve watched Kelly’s Heroes and laughed uproariously.  Is there anything funny about World War II?  Depends.  I reserve the right to laugh at Donald Sutherland as a hippie tank commander, even though I was born nearly forty years after the war’s end, because it’s fucking funny.  He barks; he conducts music blaring from a loudspeaker attached to the thing; he gives Gavin MacLeod a hard time the way only a hippie can.  Quoting Jimmy Valmer: “I mean, come on.”

The shorthand for all this might be declaring myself in pursuit of a sort-of “Voltaire’s Utopia,” defending the right of free speech for all.  But that’s actually glib.  I’m after humor as effective catharsis, as a means of pursuing and processing debate on the problems whose solutions will define us as a people.  I’m also after defusing the lazy charge that those who use humor as entry into discussion aren’t serious about the topics they choose to discuss.  And I’m after neutering the perception that some of the more hard-core humorists operating today are guilty of prejudice or bigotry. 

But neither am I looking to be soft on the funny.  An effective examination of the boundaries of good taste and humor requires a knowledge of the topic greater than simply a skimming; such research should and must be done so as to avoid being tagged a philistine.  (Which reminds me: I must start reading everything I can about Larry the Cable Guy.) 

I want people to read more.  I want them to seek understanding through reasoned discussion.  And instead of resorting to shouts and slings at the first sign of stress or conflict, I want jokes.  Jokes that highlight folly, and jokes that are pinpricks into overblown balloons.  I think that’s how we’ll be freed from an overabundance of people full of hot air.  And how we’ll know that our pain is real.

The night of May 1st, I watched the Mets-Phillies game on my laptop in my office, repairing shelves that had come down around me the night before.  Around 11pm, I checked the website of The New York Times and, a moment after I had, my mother called me.  A friend came over.  After one bourbon and three hours of news coverage, we left for a diner, but not before watching a YouTube clip of the opening to The A-Team.  Stirring.

After a grilled cheese sandwich and a goodbye to my friend for the night, I walked home, cried a little, and went to bed.

You probably know what I’m referring to on the basis of the date, and would be more certain if I told you I’m from New York (which you could possibly infer by my Mets fandom), or if you knew what year held “The Summer of the Shark.”  But change just a few things around here—and eliminate the reference to The A-Team, say—and I could be talking circuitously about any number of major news events.  The things I find funny are things you might not find funny if you’re closer to them.  But I defy you to carve out an existence wherein ANY joke about murder or poverty or disease or mislaid supremacism is considered in poor taste for all time.  If you have carved out such an existence, then you are, by brutal definition, merely existing.

So they found the man’s medicine cabinet held a bottle of Viagra.  I guess he really wasn’t packing heat…

::Rimshot.::

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