Monday, March 27, 2006

Comedy Is Not Pretty

I think Steve Martin said it on one of those seminal albums from the Seventies, long before he grinned and shucked his way through Roxanne, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and, God help us, Cheaper by the Dozen 2 (shouldn't that have just been 24?)

I'm thinking a lot about comedy lately--and I force myself to think about it when I'm thinking about all that other stuff I shouldn't be thinking about.

I see you ugly, Steve, and raise you. Comedy is smack. Comedy is Harry Jones, Aunt Hazel, Big Harry. And when it works, when it kills, it's China White--when laughter envelops you--no, buoys you--pure as an infant's first bathwater.

That's why I think about it a lot. That's why I am sorta scared of it--as I might be of a harder drug, say your heavy stuff over a dabble in weed. Chekhov, Pinter, Shakespeare, Kushner: I've lived in their words crafted with pain and euphoria. I know what to expect from the Canon, the shifts and turns of the text are as exactingly carved as a World Cup ski course. But comedy...comedy's dangerous. Specious. Unalloyed. Precise and pregnant. Underrehearsed and overexhilarating.


That's why I want it, why its disciples are legion, sycophantic, why they spend years riding the escalators at Pipers Alley, cursing at the 22 bus on Clark night after night, crowding late-night sets and improv jams and comedy fight clubs and Thisfests and Thatfests.

That's why I want to work so hard at it, to tie off the arm, the pinprick of open that vein, yield to the draught of laughter, the adrenaline thrust, the communistic rapture.

...Or maybe I've been reading too much Nelson Algren.

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