MAKING THE WORK // On Base Humour
The other night I came across a post on Quora from someone writing a screenplay who wanted to know: “Is it funny to see people kiss after they vomit or is that too gross?”
I’m squeamish and when it comes to bodily functions I like to pretend I’m an android, so my first reaction in my head was 'of course it’s too gross, you puerile, juvenile pig.'
Then I thought about a friend of mine who, years ago, confided that she’d drunk too much one night and thrown up on both herself and her boyfriend while they were having sex. She was so ashamed that, after she dismounted, she fled to the laundry room (which was closer than the bathroom) and locked herself in. Shivering, she climbed into the laundry sink, scrunched down, and turned on the hot water to try and bathe both the puke and the putrid memory away. Meanwhile, her boyfriend, like any person in love, tried to convince her from the other side of the door that it was no big deal and that she should come out. She silently refused for hours.
While empathetic, I’m pretty sure I laughed with gusto and snorted plenty when she told me about it.
Another friend once asked me if I’d seen the movie The Hangover.
“My brother wanted to go see it, so I went,” I said. “But I wouldn’t have picked it on my own.”
“I bet you loved it,” my friend said. “ I bet you honked like a goose.”
“I did not honk like a goose,” I said, like I was the Queen of England.
But I had totally honked like a goose.
A. uses base humour in his writing in a way that shows his British heritage. He puts a fart joke in each of his plays for his mother because she finds them amusing. If there is a testicle joke to be made, he’ll make it—the more absurd the better. He’s even been hired to punch up another writer’s screenplay because it needed more wank jokes, one of his specialities (which, as he likes to remind me, was also one of Shakespeare’s).
“Do you ever feel embarrassed by the more base jokes that appear in your writing?” I asked him when he was putting his shoes on this morning to leave for the studio.
“Yes,” he said, emphatically, “all the time.”
“Why?” I asked.
“People judge you. And they often interpret them prima facie, so they make assumptions about the writer.”
“Like when your dad asked you what really happened in Thailand after your play where that thing in Thailand happened,” I said.
“Or like when your partner repeatedly teases you about having a secret desire to get testicular implants just because you wrote about a character who wanted a giant pair of ass-slappers,” he said, opening the door to go.
So back to the screenwriter and the barfing-kissing question. What he’s really asking is if he’ll be shamed for having that idea, thinking that thing. And if people will wonder what it says about him.
The advice he—or she—received on Quora ranged from “If you have to ask, it isn’t funny,” to “Anything, including gross things, can be funny if written humorously and well,” to “Not as funny as it would be to see people kiss while they vomit” (the latter from a guy named Dan).
My answer would be that it would depend on how the barfing-kissing functioned in the overall story and what purpose it serves. How do the characters react? Does it reveal something about them? And does it reveal something about what makes us human?
And will it make me honk like a goose?
AN OPEN LETTER // To the Person Who Pooped Themselves at Work Last Week
First, I want to thank you so much for filling out my Reader Survey and giving the mini-mag five out of five pencils at that! So many of my readers did the survey and surprised and delighted me with their generosity and insight. The one survey answer I keep thinking about though is yours. You chose not to out yourself, but you made a confession.
I asked, “If you were featured in the mini-mag, what would the article or interview be about?”
Answers from respondents included things like:
• “How theatre ended up preparing me for a career in nursing.”
• “How dogs are people too.”
• “Bitextuality—writing in two different genres and being unwilling to favour or give up either one.”
• “Crafts and squirrels. Or crafting squirrels. Or crafting squirrels while watching terrible 80’s movies.”
• “How to live a double life.”
But you... you answered, “It would be about how I pooped myself at work last week.”
And so here I am, writing a column about you, only I don’t know who you are. Or, for that matter, any details about this incident you said I’d write about.
I can only assume that you are feeling embarrassed and ashamed. I’ve never had an accidental public pooping before, but I have sleep peed. I was seventeen at the time and woke up mid-stream, squatting on the fawn-coloured carpet beside my bed. I immediately began crying, but I couldn’t stop peeing because my bladder was so full and I had not yet learned about kegels. I squatted there bawling and urinating, feeling like the big, half-naked ape-girl that I was.
The next day when I came home from school, my mother had placed a plasticized sign on my carpet that looked like one of those no smoking signs, but instead of a cigarette crossed out, there was a toilet crossed out. It was supposed to provide levity, but it only heightened my humiliation.
What I’m trying to do here is empathize with you, though I realize sleep peeing at home is not as bad as pooping yourself at work. Still, I feel your pain.
As to why this would be the thing I’d write about you, I can only guess it’s because, in the wake of the incident, it has rattled your identity. You are now a person who poops themselves at work. This may currently feel like the most important thing to know about you because to not know it means that you are in a way unseen.
I said that I don’t know who you are, but I do know: you are all of us. You are the beautiful human who is living in a body that you ultimately cannot control. What is there to do, but celebrate your humanness? Because, as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience." One day, you will leave the husk of your body behind and you will have a ghost of a memory of what a disgustingly fascinating and wonderful thing it was.
P.S. Here’s something for you. It’s kind of like the sign my mother left out for me, but—since you are not, to my knowledge, a sullen teenager—maybe it’ll make you laugh.
SEEN & HEARD // Pantone Color of the Year, 2015
Since 1990, with the help of representatives from various nations, Pantone has been choosing a colour each year that purportedly connects with the zeitgeist. Last week Pantone announced that its 2015 Color (no “u” in colour for those Americans) of the Year is Marsala, described as “a naturally robust and earthy wine red.”
Pantone proclaims that: “Much like the fortified wine that gives Marsala its name, this tasteful hue embodies the satisfying richness of a fulfilling meal, while its grounding red-brown roots emanate a sophisticated, natural earthiness. This hearty, yet stylish tone is universally appealing and translates easily to fashion, beauty, industrial design, home furnishings and interiors.”
Not everyone is happy with the colour. An article at The Atlantic titled “The Problem with Pantone’s Color of the Year” says that Marsala reminds some people of “rust, the grimy, gag-inducing type that lines corners or frat boy dormitory-style bathrooms. Or blood, the freaky dried kind whose iron content has been exposed to the air long enough to evoke a dull brick.”
Whether Marsala reminds you of bodily functions or makes you happy because it’s a colour you can actually wear, you can see it in various guises (including a fox mask) in Pantone’s “story images” here.