—From the Fool—
Lots of times when I don’t think I’m being funny I turn out to be funny. And times when I think I am, I’m not.
It might be where people are standing, so if you see me from the bright side I’m funny, but shadow side it gets pretty desperate.
These days you can’t tell if somebody thinks he’s being funny or not. I guess we try to develop a talent for deniability. Plus, there’s lots of people who are armed against any misunderstanding. My uncle Ed used to do a big laugh if he said something funny so you knew that you’d better chortle it up if you knew what was good for you.
Serious and funny have a lot of definitions. It’s like love and money. It all depends on more than is dreamt of in our philosophy.
I was thinking about my responses to seeing live theatre, and suddenly “circus” popped into my brain-pan. Specifically, the difference between high-wire work and trampoline gymnastics. I love the goofy ebullient joyous flips the trampoline makes possible, and I am highly entertained. I like being entertained.
High-wire is entirely different. Something crucial is at stake, and every moment is intensely present, but also intimately linked to what is to come. I remember holding my breath during most of the film Man on Wire. Would I call this being entertained? Yes, I would, with another vital dimension added.
Most reasonably well-done theatre is entertaining and I am happy that it exists. Trampolines for everybody is a good thing. But I wish there was more wire-walking. Do you know what I mean when I say that in the latter case, everything is connected, and everything comes electrically alive from the previous moment, and something is at risk?
Yes, we all know that the lines have been written and memorized and directed, but in the moment, they are kicked into our awareness by what happened a nano-second before. You can almost see the lightning bolts, whether it’s comedy or tragedy. OK, I’m exaggerating, and an audience doesn’t really want to be electrocuted or exhausted. But for me, I want to know that the interaction matters.
I saw a short piece from Dell’Arte’s Slapstick at a theatre conference years ago and then saw the rest of it via film. Funny? Entertaining? It was all I could do to keep my skivvies dry. And every single damn moment came uniquely from the moment before. The physical acrobatics were so extreme that if somebody lost concentration for a moment there would be a trip to the E.R. They were on the high wire, and they took you with them. And when you realized what the plot was dealing with, how dark and how painful, they still had you right there.
Lenny Bruce could do that for you too, and so could a clown like Dimitri, so it doesn’t have to be a play. But whatever it is, I am happiest when it holds me in the palm of its hand and leads me, second by second, to its destination at the other end of the wire.
Some day I’ll be toast. Or more accurately, some day I’ll be burnt toast. Most adults would agree, except those who expect to be raptured.
But as brainy anthropoids, it’s possible to carry two utterly contradictory thoughts in mind simultaneously. It’s almost a requirement for living past the age of two. In this case, it means a full logical understanding, based on Daddy’s funeral, that we’re mortal, and making big bets that we can subvert it.
The key is in symbolism. We can charge the machine-gun nest if we visualize the flag waving in front of us or the symbolic death of being thought a coward. We’ll shoot ourselves in the head for getting an F in Geometry rather than suffer the brain-blast of failure’s humiliation. Symbolic thinking makes us the most glorious, most hideous species on the planet.
The lust for money, lust for power, lust for fame, lust for lust—many sources, I imagine. But I can’t help feeling that much of the dynamic is a weird perversion of the universal survival instinct. If I can only accumulate enough bucks, enough clout, enough trophy pussy, enough column inches in the press, I’ll survive. If the rest of my species crashes and burns, it’s their problem: the survivors are those who’ve honed their insanity to Olympic heights.
I think it’s possible somehow to comprehend fully that you’re mortal, that you’re a temporary test model, and at the same time to try to keep chugging as long as you can. I’ll enlist medical science and music and lots of green vegetables, and that’ll have to do.
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