Take my wife…please.
Open any how-to book on comedy and the first lesson begins with some variation of the following. The key to being funny is not what you say but how you say it. The secret is timing. Even though this admonition customarily refers to a specific joke or punchline, it also can apply to life in general.
Just ask George Carlin. On September 9 and 10, 2001, Carlin was recording a new album at the MGM Grand Las Vegas based on his show titled, “I Kinda Like It When a Lotta People Die.” As you might guess, those were the last performances using that label, and the album was shelved. A retooled version of the show now titled “Complaints and Grievances” was recorded two months later at New York’s Beacon Theater. Carlin considered reviving the original performance as an HBO special “Life is Worth Losing” in 2004, until he again postponed the project in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Strike two.
Nor does the timing maxim apply only to comedy. The karma of timing reared its ugly head once again on Sunday with the mass shooting at the Annual Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California. A gunman, using an assault rifle, murdered three people (including a six year-old boy) and injured more than a dozen others . Once he was identified, we quickly learned from a now deleted Instagram account this 19 year-old urged others to read Might Is Right published in 1890. This volume would be on Oprah’s reading list if Ms. Winfrey was a white nationalist or neo-Nazi. It champions social Darwinism, women as property and the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race.
What does this have to do with timing? As mentioned in a previous post, last Tuesday Trumpist Senators Ted Cruz and Bill Cassidy introduced a resolution that would designate the anti-fascist movement Antifa as a domestic terrorist organization. [NOTE: In deference to Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan and others I will no longer refer to current members of the Trump caucus in Congress as Republicans.) For the record, not a single death has been attributed to an individual associated with Antifa. On the same day, FBI director Christopher Wray told the Senate Judiciary that the majority of domestic terrorism “was motivated by what you might call white supremacist violence.” Senators Cruz and Cassidy, add Gilroy, California to that list. Like Carlin, you might want to re-tool your material.
A second ingredient in comedy is irony. Take Dana Gould’s story about the Black Dahlia…please. Black Dahlia was the pseudonym given posthumously to Elizabeth Short whose mutilated, bisected body was discovered in 1947 in Los Angeles’ Leimert Park neighborhood. The crime was never solved. Gould closes with the following perfect blend of timing and irony.
And to this day, some sixty years later, the police still don’t know…..what she said to deserve that. It must have been a doozy!
Not to be outdone, Trump chose the Gilroy shooting to exhibit his own sick sense of irony and timing. After ten days of demeaning minorities to solidify his aging, white male base, Trump described the situation in Gilroy as “horrific” and the white supremacist he enables and inspires by spewing hate and refusing to renounce even his most bigoted followers as a “wicked murderer.” Makes you wonder if Lady McLania is sleepwalking around the second floor White House residence, muttering “Out, out damn spot.”
Well, two can play at this game. As a long time frustrated stand-up wannabe (many of my former students think I became a professor primarily for the captive audience), I will try and demonstrate how these two tools of humor–timing and irony–come together.
In the wake of the Gilroy tragedy, I’m sure there will be new calls for the Senate to act on a bill passed in the House last February which mandates background checks for all firearm sales including gun shows and private transactions. But that would not have stopped the Gilroy gunman who legally purchased an assault weapon and ammunition in Nevada. What might have stopped him? A limit on high capacity…….MAGAzines.
Thank you and good night.
For what it’s worth.