The Comedy of Life

Monday Morning Musings:

“It really seems to me that in the midst of great tragedy, there is always the horrible possibility that something terribly funny will happen. Then there is also the opposite, that in the middle of great humor, that something terrible will happen.”

― Philip K. Dick “So I Don’t Write About Heroes: An Interview with Philip K. Dick,” 1996.

“Life doesn’t make any sense, and we all pretend it does. Comedy’s job is to point out that it doesn’t make sense, and that it doesn’t make much difference anyway.”

–Eric Idle

“The most difficult character in comedy is that of the fool, and he must be no simpleton that plays the part.”

–Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote

The play was Funnyman,

A world premiere by Bruce Graham.

An elegantly simple set and lighting

Transformed the bare stage into different rooms,

And the actors transported us to 1959,

New York City.

 

It was about a comic, Chic Sherman,

Based loosely on Bert Lahr—

Remember him as the Cowardly Lion?

He later played Estragon in Waiting for Godot,

Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play,

Which is frequently funny,

Although nothing happens.

A critic called Lahr’s performance “noble” and said

He “transfigured” the play.

 

Funnyman was not a comedy,

Except perhaps in the sense that it is about life,

Which like an absurdist play is frequently funny,

And the leads were all alive at the end,

So it can’t be a tragedy, can it?

But comedy is serious stuff.

For Chic Sherman, laughter is a matter of life or death,

Quite literally–

Because when he was a child, his comic ability

Meant his family had food to eat,

But no laughs brought beatings from his parents.

When his adult life turned tragic,

He immersed himself in more work

In more of making people laugh,

Yet, he is a sad man with a secret,

And a grown daughter he doesn’t talk to.

 

The play is filled with funny moments and sad ones.

In life, too, comedy and tragedy sometimes occur at the same time

Like laughter after a funeral

When all are grieving

Then someone tells a joke

Or slips on the banana peel

And you can’t help but laugh

Because it’s funny

And life goes on.

Just like the show must

Even if an actor is sick

Or the power goes out

Or a theater is being bombed.

The Windmill Theatre in London

Boasted that it never closed during WWII,

Although “closed” was sometimes

Changed to “clothed.”

Wink, wink.

And so it goes.

The show and life go on,

The players clad in splendid costumes, threadbare rags,

Or nothing at all,

(Flashback to teenage me seeing “Hair” with my family—

and boyfriend—comedy of life.)

They move, speak, perform

Until the show ends

Until the actors take a final bow,

And the curtain closes.

An actor has to work with the lines he or she

Is given,

But good performers can make the mundane sublime.

Despite the quality of the play,

Most of us hope for a long run with a full house–

And great reviews, of course.

Even if it is absurd

And no one knows what it’s about.

***

After the play, we bought chocolate at Shane Confectionery

Because life is improved with chocolate.

And perhaps a glass of wine.

 

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Enjoying My Wine at Heritage Vineyards in December.

 

 

 

 

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30 thoughts on “The Comedy of Life

  1. A musing on paradox, what a concept for a Monday morning, Merril. Remember the fool in King Lear? He appeared goofy but always said the wisest things.

    Thank you for helping me get the wheels turning today!

  2. During the last few days of my mother’s life, when things were stressful beyond words, my sisters and I laughed continuously and often. Everything seemed absurd and funny to us, things that might have been sad and upsetting. The perspective of humor is a gift that those who are fortunate gain more of with each passing year. It’s a much more pleasant means of navigating some of the most difficult experiences – at least in hindsight! Thanks for the Monday morning lift!

    • You are quite welcome! Thanks so much for dropping in and sharing your insight, Dorothy. I agree that the perspective of humor is a gift, and one that grows and can be shared with others.

  3. This is a bit long quote from Milan Kundera, but I think it fits well, as if it brings us back to “Waiting for Godot”:

    The first time an angel heard the devil’s laughter, he was dumbfounded. That happened at a feast in a crowded room, where the devil’s laughter, which is terribly contagious, spread from one person to another. The angel clearly understood that such laughter was directed against God and against the dignity of His works. He knew that he must react swiftly somehow, but felt weak and defenseless. Unable to come up with anything of his own, he aped adversary. Opening his mouth, he emitted broken, spasmodic sounds in the higher reaches of his vocal range (a bit like the sound made on the street of a seaside town by Michelle and Gabrielle), but giving them an opposite meaning: whereas the devil’s laughter denoted the absurdity of things, the angel on the contrary meant to rejoice over how well ordered, wisely conceived, good and meaningful everything here below was.

    The angel and the devil faced each other and, mouths wide open, emitted nearly the same sounds, but each one’s noises expressed the absolute opposite of the other’s. And seeing the angel laugh, the devil laughed all the more, all the harder, and all the more blatantly, because the laughing angel was infinitely comical.

    Laughable laughter is disastrous. Even so, the angels have gained something from it. They have tricked us with a semantic imposture. Their imitation of laughter and (the devil’s) original laughter are both called by the same name. Nowadays, we don’t even realize that the same external display serves two absolutely opposed internal attitude. There are two laughters, and we have no word to tell one from the other.

  4. No matter if in a major theater or the secondary venues like Cincinnati, attending a premier is interesting … but not always enjoyable. However, we attended one several weeks ago that was very enjoyable. Cheers to having wine (me right now) and to being able to laugh at life.

  5. Comedy is such a serious thing that few comics are funny off stage.So many comics take their own lives compared to other actors they obviously miss the humour of real life.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

  6. Marvelous post, Merril. I love absurdity. Love paradox. Loved the Eric Idle quote particularly. I”m reminded that the most laughing I do these days, I do on Monday nights when the hospice choir I sing with, rehearses. It’s as though laughter brings us close to that raw place, that true place where sadness also resides. Had a boat down here in Chincoteague in the pre-Peace Corps years, named Pair ‘O Docs
    Killed two birds with one stone … BTW, I too saw Hair, live. I calculate it was 1968 maybe. Were you that young woman in the row in front of me?

    • Pair O’Docs! I love it! Your hospice choir must be intense and rewarding. I didn’t know there was such a thing, but I can imagine the laughter would be a release. I must have seen Hair sometime between 1972-74 at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. I was in high school then. So sorry, not me there in 1968. But wouldn’t that be cool if we were both there at the same time? 🙂

  7. My blogging friends today seem to have theater on their minds. Richard Gilbert wrote about Hamilton. So I am getting a taste of the paradox and laughter in my inbox. Love it! I remember the huge controversy around Hair in 1968. Oh! Calcutta!, too. Remember that one? It was playing in London in the summer of ’71 when we took our first “grand tour.” We saw Fiddler on the Roof instead — from the peanut gallery — mostly because of the price of 50 cents a ticket. In those days, you could get real bargains, and we were trying to do Europe on $5 a Day.

    Cheers! It’s after 5 p.m. Bring on the chocolate and wine!

    • Thanks for your comment, Shirley. I never saw Oh! Calcutta, but I remember it being controversial. By the time I saw “Hair” in the 1970s, it wasn’t quite as big a deal. I love “Fiddler.” Yes, wine and chocolate! 🙂

  8. Comedy helps ease the tension created by tragedy. Film directors such as Hitchcock have used this to great effect to get us to relax right before we realize we’re right in the thick of it.

    After so much sadness, it is a relief to be able to laugh.

    Merril … you’re right. Life is improved with laughter, chocolate and wine. 😉

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