Somebody once said you know you’re getting older when everybody you meet reminds you of somebody else. This not only bears out, but it also holds true for news items. At my age, they tend to read like reruns or crib notes.
Today––apropos for summer in Memphis––I was up at dawn to beat the heat when two unrelated articles caught my attention: #1.) Scientists are working on a “smoking vaccine” and have developed a shot that blocks nicotine in the brains of mice. #2.) On this day in history––June 29, in 1613––William Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre burned to the ground.
. . . Mice . . . Fire . . . Which reminds me . . . .of this ingenious poem “The Country” by former Poet Laureate Billy Collins brought to life in animation by Brady Baltezor of Radium.
Sit back, take a cool sip and enjoy this delightful poem. If it whets your appetite for more animated Billy Collins poems, click here.
Editors’ note: We are re-blogging this post from Sharon McCoy in honor of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s birthday: June 27th.
Last year we posted the poem “An Ante-bellum Sermon” from Paul Laurence Dunbar’s collection, Lyrics of Lowly Life. This week’s poetry entry discusses the historical, literary, and cultural context of that collection and its core humor. The bold red titles below indicate live links to those songsheets, audio files, or websites.
Dunbar can be difficult in many ways. His dialect can seem heavy or (to some ears) stereotypical, especially once you know that he wrote for performers who appeared in blackface. We often resist humor in poetry, but blackface offers special challenges that make it difficult for many to want to take Dunbar seriously as a poet. Songs such as Evah Darkey is a King and Who Dat Say Chicken in Dis Crowd can be hard to…
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Today (June 25th) is the 52nd birthday of Ricky Gervais. Today is also the birthday of George Orwell (1903-1950). In his 1945 essay, “Funny, but not Vulgar,” Orwell discussed the meaning of humor and the state of humor in England, and his insights might shed some light on Gervais. He wrote:
We do not know with certainty how laughter originated or what biological purpose it serves, but we do know, in broad terms, what causes laughter.
A thing is funny when — in some way that is not actually offensive or frightening — it upsets the established order. Every joke is a tiny revolution. If you had to define humour in a single phrase, you might define it as dignity sitting on a tin-tack. Whatever destroys dignity, and brings down the mighty from their seats, preferably with a bump, is funny. And the bigger they fall, the bigger the joke. It would be better fun to throw a custard pie at a bishop than at a curate. With this general principle in mind, one can, I think, begin to see what has been wrong with English comic writing during the present century.
To Orwell’s mind, English humorists in the 20th century had grown too genteel, too “aimed at prosperous stockbrokers whiling away an odd half hour in the lounge of some suburban golf course.” Gervais clearly avoids the charge of gentility, and I would think that Orwell would approve of the spirit of much of Gervais’s work. Judge for yourself:
From: “Out of England” (2010)–while the bit about spiders seems a bit random, it transitions into a fun reading of “The Book of Noah” that certainly attempts to “upset the established order.”
It has been said if Kinky Friedman didn’t exist, someone would have to invent him. I’m just not sure who – other than The Kinkster himself – is capable. Richard “Kinky”
Friedman, who is currently engaged in his June “Bi-Polar Tour,” is a man who has worn a lot of ten-gallon hats in his varied career: humorist, songwriter, country music outsider, bestselling mystery writer, columnist, failed gubernatorial candidate, animal rights activist and, most recently, tequila mogul. Just behind the surface of his irreverent outward persona – a sort of hillbilly-Groucho hybrid – lies the heart and soul of a true poet, thinker and humanitarian. As The Kinkster himself has said, “I like to be as misunderstood as the next guy.”
June 20 is the birthday of Charles Waddell Chesnutt, one of the most important authors and humorists of the Gilded Age. Chesnutt (1858-19320) is often discussed in terms of the humor of his works, especially the short stories of his two collections The Conjure Woman and The Wife of His Youth, both published in 1899. In a journal entry from 1879, Chesnutt wrote of the purposes of his fiction, which he viewed as elevating not the black race but the white. He wrote:
But the subtle almost indefinable feeling of repulsion toward the negro, which is common to most Americans—and easily enough accounted for—, cannot be stormed and taken by assault; the garrison will not capitulate: so their position must be mined, and we will find ourselves in their midst before they think it.
So instead of the “assault of laughter,” Chesnutt saw his goal as using humor to subtly influence feeling, or as he put it: “while amusing them to lead them on imperceptibly, unconsciously step by step to the desired state of feeling.” The entire journal entry is printed below. But, first, I will discuss the ways in which I have taught Chesnutt as a figure in the plantation school of American literature.
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As the Jerry Sandusky trial unfolds, more and more disturbing details emerge on the scandal that rocked Penn State Football’s reputation and saw the dismissal of the revered Joe Paterno.
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Well it’s Father’s Day and if you’re anything like me your plans involve something to the effect of a phone call and new profile pic on Facebook. It probably also involves humorous takes on fatherhood and if so you’ve come to the right place.
Today we have Louis C.K. I recently wrote about his approach to comedy but today is for highlighting how much of his comedy is about being a parent. Which is to say a lot. In addition to being wildly successful with his stand up special and TV show, C. K. is also now considered one of the best TV dads with the ways in which he discusses his struggles in being a good single parent.
In this first clip C.K. talks explicitly about why he doesn’t judge other parents, especially in public. Because those people clearly have never had to deal with an endless stream of annoying questions from a child they are required by law to take care of.
This second clip is an animation about an encounter that C.K. himself had with a stranger judging his parenting skills. What follows is one of the more insightful and funny takes on what it means to be a father offered in quite a while.
Margaret Cho said something on Watch What Happens with Andy Cohen a few weeks ago that offended a lot of people.
I can almost hear you thinking it: “And?” Such an assertion would ordinarily be unnewsworthy. I might as well have said “Everybody poops.” You’d look at me funny, and then go about your day, perhaps wondering why I felt the need to share such an obvious and uncomfortable truth. Cho says and does things that would offend a lot of people. This time, however, there was widespread, very public backlash. I have been wondering why this time, of all times, the response to her offensiveness has been so spirited. Through this faux pas, my eyes have opened to the reality of the profound distance between the stage performer and the person performing on the stage. I think this misstep is a pivotal event for humor studies because it provides a teachable moment in which this distance shockingly reveals itself.