Tuesday, June 22, 2010

SO YOU THINK THAT'S FUNNY, DO YOU?

The title above is the kind of thing someone in authority says to us when we are being funny at inappropriate times or in inappropriate places. In school, for instance, where I was somewhat of a class clown. Or in the army, when a staff sergeant might take offense to laughter in formation, especially when he is citing some ridiculous military practice or rule. Or in prison, where, believe it or not, there is a lot of laughter about the sheer absurdity of a group of mostly neanderthal "correction officers" (that title alone, instead of the old "guard", is silly in the extreme) with little training or education have such total control over the inmates. Remember Hogan's Heroes?

And remember back in 2001, a week after 9/11, when comedian Bill Maher returned to the air with his ABC TV show, Politically Incorrect (one of my favorite shows for several years), and made a comment about how the terrorists flying planes into the World Trade Center buildings were definitely not cowardly, and compared this to the U.S. lobbing cruise missiles at enemies from thousands of miles away. Yes, it was over-the-top, and probably in bad taste. But it was intended satirically, not maliciously--and Maher was quickly fired.

Bill Maher had not paid attention to that famous quote, attributed to Woody Allen, Carole Burnett, and many others, "Comedy is Tragedy plus Time." Not enough time had gone by for most people to be ready to hear 9/11 made light of.

As someone who has written comedy, and thousands of cartoon gags, I am always seeing the humorous side of even very serious events. I do remember one cartoon not too long after 9/11 (certainly more than a week after) in The New Yorker. It showed a woman with a cat in a carrier, and a security guard speaking to her, saying, "I'm sorry, he'll have to have his nails clipped before you can board." I remember thinking I wish I had written that one myself.

One of the favorite ones I did for Bunny Hoest that was published in Parade, and I did it while I was in prison, showed a portly middle-aged man with a pile of prison clothing, obviously a new arrival. One guard said to another, "He says that, as a former CEO, he's entitled to a corner cell."
My fellow inmates got a big kick out of that because, even though Bunny and I had never met in person, the prisoner in her drawing looked a lot like me.

Then there's the oil spill, fodder for all sorts of late night talk show humor, and perhaps because after the initial explosion, no human has died from the effects of the massive pollution--yet, it is inspiring lots of satire and comedy. And just as George W. Bush was the butt of many of the jokes after Katrina, British Petroleum is receiving most of the humorous attention--and it's terrible, fumbling CEO just adds to the fuel. Maybe that was why it took a while for anything funny to be inspired by 9/11 and be acceptable: There was no obvious fumbling butt of the joke.

I came up with my contribution in response to a request from my longtime friend and poet Tere Star, who invited people to "Give voice to your feelings about this ecological catastrophe." for the Miami Poets Soiree.
I wrote and posted on FaceBook as well as emailing it to Tere:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
My ocean has suddenly
turned to goo.
That's what oil spills
tend to do.
Wildlife is dead,
BP be through.
But thanks to my theatre historian friend and Broadway musical expert, Bonnie Weiss (http://www.curtainup.net/), I found someone who did a much more ambitious tribute, with fantastic production values, great lyrics, and a first-rate musical presentation. Though some of the visuals are a bit hard to take, I consider it a satirical masterpiece in the wake of this continuing tragedy. Let me know what you think.

And remember, what we can laugh at--we can survive and triumph over.
Jerry

I also publish another blog, inspired by my bestselling book, Moneylove, and focused on prosperity. http://www.MoneyloveBlog.com