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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

High Society and Cheap Laughs

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The Shouts and Murmurs Dept.

It’s not like I’m looking to be on the cover but it has always been one of my dreams to see something that I have written in The New Yorker. Another, less modest dream of mine was to play football for Notre Dame—a dream that came true for me, I’m happy to say. Granted, a video game allowed me to score the winning touchdown for Notre Dame but it is still a memory I will always cherish. In truth, the video game was about professional hockey. Even with my wonderful powers of imagination it would be a stretch to use the same game to virtually publish a piece in a magazine. But let’s be honest here, a video game called Get Published in The New Yorker! would rank well below playing outside for most children and that rates lower than going to school.

I realize that most of the humor essays I write are a little uncultured for The New Yorker. I need to be sure that the article I submit doesn’t contain content that will automatically disqualify it from being considered for publication in that hallowed tome. Just the thought of The New Yorker makes me use words like “hallowed tome” so I’ll make sure that this essay is free of vulgar words and objectionable situations. I must find the high ground in humor that soars above anything distasteful, repulsive, foul, nasty, vile, unpleasant, repugnant, or objectionable. Removing those words from my quiver of humor doesn’t leave me with many arrows. In fact, I am rendered all but defenseless. There is always “irony” but I’ll have to look that up in the dictionary again because I always confuse it with that other not-very-funny word, “satire.”

To get published in the The New Yorker I have to start thinking like a New Yorker writer. A writer for that magazine wouldn’t think that vulgar words are funny, words too childish to even mention here but that rhyme with “botch” and “cart.” Readers of this magazine wouldn’t think that death and permanent injury are topics suitable for humor. There is definitely no room for a gag about a flock of soon-to-be-defrocked priests trying to run down an altar boy who is hobbled by his pants pushed down around his ankles in some sort of twisted, Vatican rodeo. It’s time for me to start writing thoroughly cultured and sophisticated humor. This isn’t going to be easy.

I need to look at the exact opposite of the things that crack up the lower classes which are videos of kids spiking their fathers in the privates with a football. Smart people don’t like sports—at least not the ones I used to beat up in high school—which is why The New Yorker doesn’t have a sports section. So what do their children throw at their fathers’ nether regions? Cellos? I don’t get it. That would be completely lacking in subtlety and sophistication. I’m just going to start writing and improvise.

During the intermission of the Verdi opera Il Porco Capitalista two wealthy industrialists were at the bar enjoying horribly expensive glasses of champagne. If you have to ask how much the champagne costs you probably aren’t even sophisticated enough to enjoy this essay so perhaps you should go pick up a copy of Guns & Pipe Bombs and stop bothering us with your annoying questions. Over their glasses of champagne (Which represent more than a week of your wages—are you still here?) the industrialists were playing an amusing game of one-upmanship over who had out-sourced more jobs to China and India. They called it a draw because although one industrialist had out-sourced more jobs the other had slashed all benefits for his remaining U.S. workers. The opera was about to resume so they both poured the remainder of their sinfully expensive champagne over the head of their hapless immigrant waiter and returned to their box seats.

Did I mention that all proceeds from the opera go to a local charity? This isn’t part of the essay but have you ever noticed that rich people always have to stage incredibly self-congratulatory events whenever they part with a few bucks for charity? They wouldn’t dream of just throwing some coins in a Salvation Army pot. They always have to put on a black tie affair or a golf tournament to cough up for a “good cause.” Whatever it is there has to be an “open bar.” After the event, when we read about it in the society pages, the rest of us are expected to practically faint from gratitude.

This isn’t going very well, is it? I started out by trying to write a classy essay and now I’m about one paragraph away from exhorting the hapless immigrant waiter to rise up with his coworkers against the elite opera patrons. I’ll be the first to admit that trying to make an armed proletarian revolution funny is a pretty tall order, so I’ll back off of that one. Besides, I’ll also admit that without spell check I could never pull off a word like “guillotine” or “bourgeoisie.”

Maybe I’m not seeing the whole picture. Maybe one of the wealthy industrialists patted the immigrant waiter on his champagne-drenched head and pressed a crisp dollar bill into his palm. “Thank you, Urdiboo. Perhaps this will help you with your family back in Urdiboostan.” In Urdiboo’s other palm the industrialists extinguished their lit cigarettes and returned to their seats. Urdiboo shoved his blistered palm into his pocket. He would savor the unfinished cigarettes when he quit working at 4 a.m. Out of gratitude, Urdiboo vowed to use part of the dollar to erect a cathedral in Urdiboostan in honor of his benefactors—a cathedral or a temple or a mosque, whatever they use in Urdiboostan for praying or whatever they call it.

That was almost completely not funny, unless one of the capitalists fell out of their box seat and caused a serious injury to one of the other rich bores sitting 50 feet below them. Ideally he should land on a dowager who watched him fall through her gold-plated opera glasses. Or how about he falls on an old Prussian? A guy falling down and hitting someone—butt first—so forcefully that he coughs up the ex-Kaiser’s monocle isn’t being lowbrow. That’s just old school humor, it’s show business. Even The New Yorker has to understand that.