Tuesday, September 25, 2012

TO-READ l The Funny Man

I rarely understand or trust people who claim to go to movies or read books to "escape." From what exactly? The horrors of the produce section? The intellectual fatigue involved in MapQuesting directions? I'm sorry, but to say that one who can afford to read reads books for the sole purpose of escaping daily life's like saying (often proudly, I might add) "I read books instead of getting black out drunk!" As if most readers want the thrill of not remembering what happened to them for a couple hours, without the hangover. I mention it because I have, or instinctually want to have the same response to people who decide they need to like the characters they read about, except I'm kind of one of them, and didn't like the funny man; the comedian without a name behind John Warner's eponymous novel about, among other things, wrong convictions, bad impressions, and a culture of celebrity that feeds and starves them both. I didn't like his frat boy-like complicity in making mindless fun of other stand-up comics for the sake of fitting in, without self-doubt. Nor his unabashed conviction that what separated him from, say, a dust-mop on the inside was a mystery that might as well go unsolved, however intimate and full his disclosure. And I thought his jokes were dumb.

But mostly what I didn't like was in the background of my mind, invisibly interrupting the funny man's unfunny act like a heckler in the heretofore empty room I sat in; the thought that all these thoughtless characteristics felt less like the fault of the funny man than the agent that booked him the gig: John Warner. I thought to think it under or absently written. Though the very prefix under should imply a more compelling vantage point from which to spy on a character than what's reported back to us here. Perhaps lazy is a better word. Mark Strand said once he didn't put to paper any word or sentence that came to him too quickly, suspicious as he was that it had come at such a speed for a reason, and a cost. As in, I say Ketchup, you say carrots, I say mustard, you say... you get it. Less creative writing than literature to accompany a 2 for 1 deal at Jiffy Lube.

I think Strand was being a bit much at the time, as made evident perhaps by my own writing in the present and the tried and truer logic of a thousand daily bits of calendar year wisdom: "Take what comes and be thankful," "What is right is not always popular," "Who said anything about Chinese food?" We know them all by heart. And yet, just because what might be called "consumer behavior" is put up with and spit back doesn't mean that it belongs in books; a medium undaunted by real time candid cameras, free to stop and think what purpose there might be in recording and presenting crap as art. Which is when it occurred to me that I was the one being lazy! Me! And Warner, who opens his book, which presumably he doesn't want readers to hate, by cajoling the "star" of his novel to state in front of an apparently rowdy live audience that, before he begins, he would like to confess that he has shot and murdered an unarmed man, is hardly at fault or responsible for creating a character nobody likes.

On the contrary, The Funny Man is written less from one perspective than the experience in general of enduring anonymity, celebrity, and everything in-between. The pursuit of cleanliness, of permanence, of un-derailable grandeur is so impersonal, in part because it's so unattainable, that anyone could get sucked in to going along for the ride. The ride itself, however, is a joy, or whatever it is you call a haunted house; an experience. And like all good horror stories, one that couldn't have been brought to such real life by just anyone.

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