Posts Tagged ‘comedy’

Pup Dog SpeaksWednesday, in the wake of the terrorist massacre at France’s Charlie Hebdo, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show said that comedy “shouldn’t be an act of courage.

I’m not so sure he’s right. Comedy, it seems to me, often is, and more so than we might think.

A week before Wednesday’s murders, in an example of pure coincidence, I found myself pondering this very idea while reading one of the books I received. I was reading Through the Wild Blue Wonder, Volume I of the complete collection of Walt Kelly’s classic, brilliant comic strip, Pogo, which ran in daily and Sunday form for a quarter century during my youth.

Originally, I was simply going to review the book and wax nostalgic about what is without doubt my favorite comic of all time, but after the senseless stupidity that played out this week (and is still playing out) in Paris, my feelings about the book have a deeper resonance that I can’t ignore.

The truth is, comedy often is an act of courage, especially when satire and lampooning are employed.

Pogo began as a cute comic about anthropomorphic animals living in the Okefenokee Swamp of the American South. Quite soon, however, Walt Kelly–who drew and scripted Pogo from 1948 until his death in 1973–began to introduce caricatures of real life personalities to the swamp’s denizens. As early as 1949, Kelly began to lampoon publishing magnates and political figures in the panels of Pogo, drawing fire from such iconic personages as publisher William Randolph Hearst. In this way, Kelly’s lovable, innocent, brown-eyed Pogo ‘Possum faced down social and political foes, from Castro to Khrushchev to JFK to LBJ to the John Birch Society.

Kelly may never have feared for his actual life in busting those powerful chops, but he did experience backlash. As a syndicated cartoonist, he felt the pinch financially when newspapers, in retribution for some of the strip’s more pointed social commentary, dropped Pogo from their pages. Also, it cannot be denied that in creating his wildcat, Simple J. Malarkey, an obvious caricature of the paranoid Communist-hunter Senator Joseph McCarthy, Kelly was poking the Big Bear, an act that could easily have gotten him blacklisted entirely.

Through satire, Kelly pointed out our foibles and challenged our fears. In reading Pogo, we grew braver and wiser, and could see more clearly the daily idiocy we so often ignore.

Kelly was not alone in his work, and is not alone. There is a direct line from Pogo that reaches back to the political pamphleteers of Elizabethan England and Revolutionary France. Likewise, there is a direct line that stretches from Pogo forward to The Onion, SNL, and yes, to Charlie Hebdo.

And so, I think Jon Stewart got it wrong. Comedy is commentary, comedy is brave, and in that, comedy is an act of courage, because in the end, one of the bravest things we can ever do is laugh at ourselves.

To the murdered tigers of Charlie Hebdo: Nous ne vous oublierons pas.


Kanji character Raku: happiness, music, joy.

Kanji character Raku: happiness, music, joy.

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In troubled emotional times, I tend to retreat to the uncomplicated, the easy, the predictable. Last weekend, I watched a romantic comedy, but not the latest cookie-cutter Hollywood rom-com. This film was from France.

Rom-coms are one of the most predictable story-types in an art form that excels in predictability. Boy meets Girl. Boy likes Girl. Boy does something dramatically stupid and can’t hope to get Girl. Boy does something dramatically different and outside his comfort zone and gets Girl. Big Red Bow. The only real mystery about rom-coms these days is, will it work?

To be fair, when you’re constricted by the tropes of such an established sub-genre, it is really hard to make it work. The actors can be good but the writing can suck; the writing can be brilliant but the film is hopelessly miscast. Everything works except for the pacing, which drags on (or speeds through) crucial turning points in this oh-so-formulaic form.

But a rom-com from the Nation of Romance? I’ve screened French comedies in the past and found them to be either mindless slapstick or subtler works that are only “comedies” in the way that some of Shakespeare’s plays are “Comedies”: a few laughs, and not everyone is dead at the final curtain.

Thus, I set down to watch this movie (English title, “I Do”) with genuine interest. How would Paris, the City of Love, the City of Light, the land of the New Wave, work within the straitjacket of this genre?


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I’m worried about South Korea. No, not in that global, realpolitik way. I’m worried about South Koreans. I don’t think they’re happy.

Okay, it’s not fair to judge an entire society based on two movies, but I can’t help but see similarities between the last South Korean movie I reviewed (“My Scary Girl“), and yesterday’s movie, “Castaway on the Moon.” I recommend “Castaway…”. I thought it was an excellent movie, but it just makes me wonder.

Both movies are listed as comedies, which at their essence, they are. Both have moments—many, in fact—of humor and laughter, and even though “My Scary Girl” has a body count close to a Shakespearean tragedy, it’s undeniably funny. But the humor in that film is born of surprise and twists, where in “Castaway…”, the humor is more revelatory, as the two main characters unveil themselves to us and to each other. (more…)

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