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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Deconstructing Comedy in Chicano Literature, Killing My Soul


When I sit down to write these posts I don't usually have anything set in my mind. The earliest I might come up with an idea or topic to write about is a week before, but that has happened a few times, mainly during the early inception of this blog. I had to voice record my ideas or type notes on my cell phone so as to go back to them and remind myself of possible topics. The latest I might come up with an idea is maybe the moment I sit down, and begin writing, like the post on similarities between Chinese and Mexican cuisine. Not sure why I felt the need to mention how I approach my weekly writing exercise, but it just came to mind, while I decided what exactly I wanted to write about.

Anyhoo, I presented a paper this weekend at the Depressing Place. In my paper I talked about Chicano/a literature and the use of comedy. While preparing my paper, I questioned if I believed what I had written and was going to present. You see, I had a Chicana professor who was very much about humor and comedy, and during our class sessions she would at times tell a joke or a funny story. She very much believed in the use of literature that used comedy in order to get students to better engage in the subject matter of Chicano/a literature. Eventually that led to me writing a paper for her on Chicano literature and Comedy. I had difficulty writing the paper, and during her office hours, I explained, that what I was expected to do was write about comedy from the point of view of a scholar/academic. I told her I knew what funny was, and theoreticians like Mikhail Bahktin, Mary Douglas, Northrop Frye or Sigmund Freund, were not people who I felt could tell me what was funny, and why it was funny. her whole thing was mainly about the deconstruction of the comedic form in order to understand how it served a greater good, especially in relation to Chicano literature. I said, "So when you say comedy in literature, you're talking about a certain approach or form, versus humor, which is "ha-ha" funny." She smiled, nodded and said "Yes, right," to that very un-graduate student explanation, I felt like she wanted to pat me on the head for arriving at what she was saying in my own layman terms. I continued to have difficulty telling her, I know what funny is, and it's stand up comedians like George Lopez. And again she brought up comedy and form.

I sighed deeply that defeated and know-it-all grad student sigh, which annoys even me, and I went along for the ride. I still haven't changed my mind about comedy in Chicano literature. It's to say that yes, theoreticians bring some interesting point of views to the form, use, and purpose of comedy. Many things which apply especially to Chicano literature, such as chaos versus order, which from what I understand are flipped. In other words too much order is chaos, and let's say the conclusion of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream or Twelfth Night Or What You Will where there's seeming chaos at the end,  is in actuality bringing about order through the chaos according to one of the theoreticians above (I think it was Bahktin or Freud). Some of this applies just as well in Luis Valdez's acto "Las Dos Caras Del Patroncito," wherein there seems to be order because the Patroncito has control of his farmworker, who then takes over as Patroncito and then brings about real order through the ensuing chaos of the role reversal or exchange of masks. I like that concept, but at the same time, I have a hard time buying into any scholarship that tries to deconstruct comedy and explain it, that includes anything written by me. I've had moments where I'm writing my dissertation, or for example presenting this paper, and I get annoyed with myself, for feeling like that this isn't me. I want to kick over the podium where I have laid my paper down, thinking that I've sold myself out to a academic corporation.
(^start watching above clip at about 3:45 minutes^)
I keep going back to what I know, or at least think is funny, such as jokes about sex or relationships. Along with sexist or misogynistic jokes and toilet humor (er, see my post on the proper disposal of toilet paper). The phrase, "kicking a box of puppies" makes me grin (I know Mrs. X is going to be glaring at me through her screen for that one).  Or when I was growing up as a kid I remember plenty of jokes about Pepito and his adventures, like the one where he used a pool stick to have sex with a teacher, or another joke where he paints some marbles as frijoles and sells them to some guy who then starts farting them out like a machine gun and killing stray cats that walked by. I guess that would make the Pepito category more cuentos chistosos since there wasn't an actual punchline other than to revel in the hilarity of shooting marbles from the ass like a rapid fire machine gun, or the use of a pool stick to satisfy a nymphomaniac teacher; the funny thing being, that me and my friends would laugh at the joke about the pool stick, but we didn't really know why the fuck Pepito was trying to satisfy his teacher. We laughed though, because it was supposed to be a joke/cuento chistoso, and if any of us didn't laugh, it meant we didn't get it and therefore, we felt stupid for not getting it . . . "When in the elementary school playground . . . ", even though none of us knew what the fuck sex consisted of at the time. I now actually wonder, how the kid that would tell the joke even heard it; possibly from an older sibling, primo, or from the adult males in his family who sat around drinking and exchanging these cuentos with a better understanding of the use of pool stick to please Pepito's teacher. We were telling these jokes in elementary school as early as 4th grade if I remember correctly. So in this sense I knew and know what is funny, at least to me, now that I understand the use of the pool stick. And anything fart-related is funny whatever age you are.

Even now I remember as a kid, sitting in a circle with my primitos and primitas, and telling them I knew a joke or cuento chistoso. And what did it consist of? Me using as many swear words in Spanish that I could think of. The cuento chistoso had characters but their dialogue consisted of them referring to each other as pinche pendejos, pinche cabrones, and pinche estupidos. My primitos and primitas were wide-eyed and uncomfortable, as was I, telling it, but at the same time I remember thinking I was funny as fuck because some of them laughed or chuckled a little bit. The joke never reached a conclusion nor a punchline for that matter, partially because they lost interest and also because I ran out of what little plot I had tried to insert into my made up cuento chistoso.

Even now I continue to think about my professor and how she was great at delivering the punchline of a joke or how she would expose the comedic trappings or structure in a piece of Chicano/a literature. But I would still be irritated because I felt that it didn't make me go, "ha-ha." In my mind I knew what was funny, and it was about taking shits, and genitalia jokes. Or stories about drunk escapades that led to catchphrases amongst myself and friends. Stories that to this day don't get old, when we reunite and catch up on old times. Like a friend who told us about a guy he knew that cheated on his wife by trying to fuck a pig, because apparently the pig fucker "se puso loco," when he did mota. Me and the friend he recounted this story to, looked a at each other for a moment, and then cackled for about 5 minutes. Our friend was trying to tell us that the guy's wife was forgiving because the weed made him lose it like that, which added another 5 minutes to our laughter. Eventually we tried to rationalize with him, and told him look, his weed musta been laced with some fucked up shit, if he had the need to have intercourse with a pig or the more believable explanation, was that he had to get high because he was into beastiality and therefore, wanted to have something to blame it on, so his wife wouldn't leave him after finding out about his mud-bathing mistress. Our friend still thinks that the guy was really on some bad weed and therefore had a proper excuse. "His friend was porking it with a pig!"- keeps coming to mind while I'm in the coffee shop and I'm trying not to chuckle at the phrase. Anyhow, as immature as it sounds this is what I find "ha-ha" funny, but what my professor would view as a head shaking moment.

I've learned to appreciate stand up comedy more, such as that of old school guys like Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, Don Rickles and George Lopez and Artie Lange (not so old school). And in recent years I've enjoyed the work of Patrice O'neal, Greg Giraldo, and Mike Destefano (three of my favorites that were taken too soon). Recently I've enjoyed Mike Epps, Kevin Hart, Dave Chappelle, Cristela Alonzo, Anjelah Johnson, Bill Burr, Lisa Lampanelli, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, Lavell Crawford, and Louis C.K. I guess that shows that my tastes lie more with the insult comics, the comedians too extreme for a prime time television show on a basic cable network, they need HBO or Showtime to showcase their talents on a tv show (with the exception of Louis C.K. who is having success on FX). Anyhow, I'm getting off track.

So here I am, in academia deconstructing comedy in Chicano literature and presenting my work, while loathing myself for not fully wanting to let go of "ha-ha" funny. But I think I understand my professor better, because the more I think about it, some of that scholarship applies, and just because it applies it doesn't mean I have to absolutely avoid discussing what makes something "ha-ha" funny. As I've mentioned in a past post, I TAed in a class that focused on literature and humor, and it was all about explaining the "ha-ha" funny, while delving somewhat into the intent of comedy. My Chicana professor and the theoreticians she's had me read have helped me understand comedy as a tool for muck-raking and placing a mirror in front our society and even in front of Chicanos/as. The deconstruction of comedy helps shed light on order and chaos in the structure of the oppressor/oppressed relationship between Chicanos/as and the rest of American society.

I know I should have some funny antidote to conclude to with. But nothing comes to mind. Then again, I'm the guy that likes inserting the word "fuck" creatively into my writing or any other swear words for that matter. I'm the the one writing about pink poodles dropping steamers in my mochas. Jesus fucken Christ, maybe I'm having some type of mutated identity crisis where I've accepted my Chicanoness, but now I'm struggling between the scholar/academic that's deconstructing the intent of comedy and the guy that likes to laugh and say things that some of my friends back home are too uncomfortable saying, with no intent other than to get a laugh.

Sooooo, meh (shrugging shoulders), here's a really cliche line I can sign off with, "Tragedy is easy. Comedy is hard." Not sure if that means the scholar/academic has won (more shoulder shrugging).

XX
c/s

"I carry a gun in case somebody hurts my feelings." - Mike Destefano

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