Nola Studiola: What makes you laugh?
I could watch “The Three Stooges” all day long. Maybe it’s a sign of my age, but this past winter I spent one of the best New Years Eves of my life in my parents’ living room near Cape May, New Jersey watching episode after episode of “The Three Stooges” with two of my nephews and my brother-in-law. My face hurt. My sides. It’s perfect comedy and the more tempted I feel to explain what makes it so great—the interpersonal dynamic like that of the three fates or muses or Weird Sisters—the greater the chances are of ruining its appeal. Whatever. It’s just fucking hilarious. That late night session of manic laughter set the tone for this entire year.
Every so often I go back and watch the entire run of “Monty Pynthon’s Flying Circus” on DVD. Terry Gilliam’s animations in particular, and later his films, were central to my worldview and creative development. My favorite sketch though is probably the one about the great composer
Johann Gambolputty-de-von-Ausfern-schplenden-schlitter-crass-cren-bon-fried-digger-dingle-dangle-dongle-dungle-burstein-von-knacker-thrasher-apple-banger-horowitz-ticolensic-grander-knotty-spelltinkle-grandlich-grumblemeyer-spelter-wasser-kurstlich-himble-eisen-bahnwagen-guten-abend-bitte-ein-nürnburger-bratwürstel-gespurten-mitz-weimache-luber-hundsfut-gumberaber-schönendanker-kalbsfleisch-mittleraucher-von-Hautkopft of Ulm. I’m smiling now just thinking about it.
More recently, I find myself attracted to that cringe factor when you watch someone making a terrible and humiliating decision and you want to scream, “Don’t do it!” Ricky Gervais’s character of the original version of “The Office” does it well and he’s covering a lot of the same ground in his newer show “Life’s Too Short,” which is also terrific. The best thing I’ve seen on TV lately was “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret,” which starred David Cross. Trust me on this, Alison—see it. I don’t watch a lot of standup comedy, but Cross is without question the funniest person working today:
“So I was watching all the Katrina coverage and I got really angry at… Christians who didn’t pray hard enough… It’s their fucking fault. First off, they needed to pray against the people that were praying forKatrina to hit, because New Orleans is a den of sin and iniquity; an area where gay people dance! But now they have to pray double, and if they had just put that little effort up front, we could’ve avoided all of this. I think it’s time we take a lesson from history, and return to human sacrifice.”
The only book I know of that fully captures that cringe effect—not that it’s terribly funny in print—is Celebrities in Disgrace by Elizabeth Searle. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever read and it saddens me that it didn’t sell a million copies. That said, it is painful to read at times, but brilliantly so. What an absolute classic. Plus is engendered a rock opera about Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. There’s very little literature that makes me laugh. Cervantes, Pynchon. Dahl’s The Twitscomes to mind, but that’s pretty cruel too.