Stagger onward rejoicing

Tag: comedy (page 1 of 1)


People often talk about comic timing, but what does that mean, exactly? Well, here’s an example, from one of the best comedy routines ever: Elaine May as Bell Telephone (in several personae) and Mike Nichols as a self-confessed “broken man.” Watch it just for fun, because it carries a lot of fun. 

Then watch it again and note pace: note that sometimes they rush, sometimes they pause, sometimes they talk over each other. It’s so musical — they’re like two jazz musicians who’ve been playing together forever and have mastered each other’s natural rhythms. 

And then: not on the matter of timing, but rather delivery, you see the genius of Elaine May in three lines, one by each of the characters she plays: 

  • At 2:10: “Information cannot argue with a closed mind.”  
  • At 4:10: “Bell Telephone didn’t steal your dime. Bell Telephone doesn’t need your dime.” 
  • At 6:30, when Miss Jones is told that “one of your operators inadvertently collected my last dime”: “Oh my God.” 

Absolute genius, I tell you. 

Betjeman & Burnham

You probably don’t expect to see an essay that links John Betjeman and Bo Burnham. I certainly didn’t expect to write one, but I did.

When I first came across Bo Burnham’s videos, several years ago now, I didn’t care for them at all. I thought he was childishly eager to pluck all the lowest-hanging comic-satirical fruit, and was all too eager to flatter the sensibilities of his audience. So I stopped paying attention to what he was doing. But people were praising his new Netflix special so extravagantly that I had to check it out, if only so I could say how wrong everyone is.

Instead, I loved it. I think it is a tremendously successful and genuinely significant work of art. I keep thinking: I’m having this reaction to a Bo Burnham show?? And yeah, I am.

Comedy … is not only possible within a Christian society, but capable of a much greater breadth and depth than classical comedy. Greater in breadth because classical comedy is based upon a division of mankind into two classes, those who have arete and those who do not, and only the second class, fools, shameless rascals, slaves, are fit subjects for comedy. But Christian comedy is based upon the belief that all men are sinners; no one, therefore, whatever his rank or talents, can claim immunity from the comic exposure and, indeed, the more virtuous, in the Greek sense, a man is, the more he realizes that he deserves to be exposed. Greater in depth because, while classical comedy believes that rascals should get the drubbing they deserve, Christian comedy believes that we are forbidden to judge others and that it is our duty to forgive each other. In classical comedy the characters are exposed and punished: when the curtain falls, the audience is laughing and those on stage are in tears. In Christian comedy the characters are exposed and forgiven: when the curtain falls, the audience and the characters are laughing together.

— W. H. Auden