Saturday, September 30, 2006

Luck of the Draw

I once wrote a joke about Newt Gingrich that unleashed quite a follow-up from my fellow freelance comedy writers. Newt's half-sister is a lesbian and she went to Washington, D.C. and appeared at events, speaking out on various lesbian causes. I wrote that she talked about the terrible shame her family first went through when they realized one of them was a politician. See, it's the last second left turn. You thought I was going to say something else, right? Instead of talking about her, I turned it back on Newt. That's comedy, baby. It was also a fairly elegant joke. I mean I could write a little essay on the joke's social worth making the audience realize they sort of assumed being a lesbian was something to be ashamed of, blah, blah, blah, and then asking them why they felt that way? That is one of the highest forms of comedy when you make an audience confront something that is true in society by drawing it out of them in real time.

So it was a pretty good joke, plus it was the first one on this particular subject to be televised. Then the fun started when everyone else jumped in. For the rest of the week I got to sit back and listen to my colleagues amplify on the topic. I loved that part of it. Of course, we went from fairly elegant to crude in no time. By week's end Newt was mad at his half-sister because she got more chicks than he did in high school - that sort of thing. I was in the clear - I had written a socially redeeming joke about lesbians, and it had unleashed a torrent of abuse on Newt Gingrich. It doesn't get much better.

The reason I thought of this tonight is I was just upstairs, listening to the radio, and that old Sonny and Cher song, "I Got You Babe" came on. Sure, it's lightweight but there is an undeniable charm in that tune, as well as one cool song-writing feature: The bars in the verses are grouped 6 at a time, which is unusual. Anyway, I thought about how weird it is that some people come through life and leave a cute hit single and others are genetically programmed to be Newt Gingrich. Actually, Newt could have run a zoo - he's really into animals - but there is a certain percentage that are just natural born politicians. While that's nothing to be ashamed of, I suppose, it hit me how lucky I am. Anyone of us could have been born Jeffrey Dahmer. Imagine when you first started realizing you had this secret about yourself. I bet some serial killers go through profound depression when they first start getting these fantasies. I'm sure some fight them before finally giving in. While it is impossible to feel sorry for a serial killer, I do have sympathy for a little innocent kid, who is just beginning to realize he has these horrible urges. What an unfortunate way to be born.

Of course, that is an extreme case, but there is also a small percentage of people who are politicians from the moment of conception. I like the way Sonny Bono did it. He was mainly a singer and song writer - for example he wrote "Needles and Pins", which has quite a sophisticated bridge and modulation in it. Then late in life he became a Republican Congressman, who drew massive praise from Newt Gingrich for his ability to get the House to laugh and then cooperate.

So where is this going? And I know you're not on needles and pins waiting to find out. Okay. Tonight I sense the horrible war in Iraq. I also know there are rooms where detainees are probably being tortured by Americans as we speak. I think horrible thoughts about the way things have gone. I can't stand what these men have done - Cheney and Rumsfeld and George W. - and yet I still feel so fortunate. Anyone of us could have been born like that. What will they leave behind to mark their passage through the world? A cute single like "I Got You Babe" or more violent deaths than any serial killer in history? Meanwhile, I get to write jokes that just come and go. With all this violence, I get - through nothing I deserved - to be a national comedy writer. I could just as easily have been born Newt Gingrich. Or even Jeffrey Dahmer. Yikes.

It's so easy wishing you were better in some area. Sure, things would have been much improved if I was more comfortable in social situations. Or this or that. But tonight, despite all the wars outside my window, I'm at peace. The world has grown more horrible but there is calm joy in my soul. Sure, I'm sad about Bush and Cheney and Newt Gingrich, but I'm just so grateful I wasn't born a right-wing politician. What a personal tragedy that must be. When I think of this administration I feel so sorry for who these people are, and how lucky I am not to be one of them.


At 8:58 AM, Blogger Frank Dufay said...

Wow. I din't know Sono Bono wrote Needles and Pins. That was a great Searchers cover...always learning new stuff here.

I'm glad, Bill, you're not a rightwing politician. I'm not sure, though, whether its a nature or nurture thing.

Imagine, though, what its like to be George Bush's Dad. To quote the Talking Heads: "My god, what have I done?"

At 9:51 AM, Blogger Bill McDonald said...

I do the music stuff off the top of my head so I just rechecked and Sonny co-wrote it with
Jack Nitzsche.

At 10:02 AM, Blogger Bill McDonald said...

Thanks, Frank. Your comment has led to quite a fun morning reading about Jack Nitzsche whom I didn't know about.
I also read about the Searchers and was amazed at how closely their career path mirrored the early Beatles from Liverpool to Hamburg.
The Internet has made Searchers of us all.

At 1:36 PM, Blogger LaurelhurstDad said...

An interesting comparison, Bush and crew with serial killers.

I think that some people are just born to be bad. They can't help it, it's the way they're wired. The only good thing about this fact is that they are usually isolated and loners. They do their evil on random victims. The country as a whole gasps a collective "how horrible" and continues on.

The real evil is when a group of these perverts get together and gain power. Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rice, et al is an example of collective evil in power positions. And look what happens.

Sometimes the death penalty is necessary.

At 5:04 AM, Blogger Frank Dufay said...

We tend to forget --or we're too young to remember-- it wasn't just the Beatles (and Stones) it was the "British Invasion." Personally, I argued the Dave Clark 5 were w-a-y cooler then the Beatles...their drummer stood up!

Yeah, yeah, yeah...glad all over.

At 5:08 AM, Blogger Frank Dufay said...

Sometimes the death penalty is necessary.

As someone fundmentally opposed to the death penalty...I still have to agree.

At 7:47 AM, Blogger Bill McDonald said...

The Dave Clark 5 were indeed tremendous. "Glad All Over" rocked, as did "Catch Us If You Can". In addition they could do some pretty amazing harmonies on a song like "Because". Those are half-step chromatic ascensions harmoninzing with the lead vocal in the line "It's right that I should think about you." That level of singing is not found in many rock bands. It's more on par with "If I Fell" by the Fab Four.

At 6:31 PM, Blogger Frank Dufay said...

Those are half-step chromatic ascensions harmoninzing with the lead vocal in the line "It's right that I should think about you."

Uh...yeah! That's just what I said back then!

It is a wonderful song...and now I know a little bit better why and it'll be going through my head all night. All day and all of the night.

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