A Tragicomical, Unsophisticated Blog about the Weird, the Absurd, and the Banal

Saturday, June 2, 2012


There’s an ancient Joke: Caesar is inspecting his troops and he notices a soldier that looks very much like himself. He goes up to the soldier and says, “Did your mother, by chance, work in my palace?” The soldier replies, “No. But my father did.”

Generally, I don’t like bawdy comedy or body horror of any kind told by anyone. It’s cheap. The object is to squeeze laughter out of the audience through primal insecurities. It’s verbal groping. Anything visceral will always get a laugh or a cringe out of the audience, but rarely is it deserved.

But, it works. In fact, it Always works and Allways has worked.

Recently, IB told me that L participated in a New Orleans Ladies Arm Wrestling (NO LAW) competition in which a draw was settled by a joke-off. IB’s favorite, compliments of L, was, “My grandma asked me once, ‘How do you know when you had a good night? When you throw your panties against the wall and they stick.’”

IB elaborated, “I love it when girls tell dirty jokes. Guys get away with it all the time, but women rarely use raunchy humor.”

At the University of Iowa I took a theatre history class in which we read Lysistrata. The primary reason for discussing this play was to begin a conversation about theatre technology. Specifically: props. More specifically: phalluses. It’s a pretty basic gag. A man walks out with a tremendous phallus strapped to his waist and, magically, people laugh.

Lysistrata was written in 411 BC by the great comic playwright, Aristophanes. At the time of its first performance in Athens, the city state was engaged in a 14-year long war with its neighbor, Sparta. Lysistrata tells the story of the eponymous heroine leading the women of both cities in a sex-strike with one simple demand: peace. It is a sex comedy but, more than that, it is a war protest piece.

Cripple Creek’s production of the play, which unfortunately has its last performance tomorrow, captures the play in all its bawdy glory. They made full use of phalluses, writhing pelvic agony, and put perfect emphasis on the right suggestions.

A friend said that comedy only works with good actors. Cripple Creek’s production worked. It was a truly incredible production of this classic comedy. It is testament to Cripple Creek’s expertise that the play has sold out every night of its run.

But, above all, I respect the company in keeping the play thoroughly grounded in the moral: the desire, the craving that conquers all is for Peace. At the end of the play, in fact, the company gets a little heavy-handed drawing pointed parallels to modern day politics. But, then, Lysistrata was not at all subtle about its message at the time. It is in the spirit of this comedy that the audience should walk away laughing and feel guilty if they don’t go immediately write their legislators.

And, while I still don't like bawdy humor, I laugh at it. The vast majority of humanity does, which is why it’s so popular. Lysistrata is proof that there are some things that resonate through the millennia, and one of them is this: sex jokes will always be funny. Even Shakespeare, the creator of most of our language, had an obsession with those things below the belt.

A friend of mine, C, is a German anglophile. She recently earned her masters in English literature and for a long time taught English literature to undergraduate German students. In one class she was trying to teach her students about Shakespeare’s more crass jokes, specifically in Hamlet. On the board, she wrote Hamlet’s quip to Ophelia, “Do you think I meant country matters?”

The class gave her a blank look. She repeated the line with greater emphasis, “Get it? ‘Cunt-ry matters…?’”

People searched for That One Guy who always knows the right answer, but he looked embarrassed.

“Okay, who knows what this word means?” She wrote and underlined, “Cunt,” and again there were only blank stares.

In her exasperation, C said, “Okay, all of you go home and Google this word.” When she related this story to me later that day, she shook her head apologetically and muttered, “I really shouldn’t have done that…”

That was all a very round-about way of saying:

1.) Cripple Creek Productions is nifty;

3.) You should go and see or read Lysistrata;

4.) It's a lovely Saturday late afternoon. I am sitting on a bench in front of Fair Grinds and I would like to be done with this post already. Now I'm leaving.

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