Monday, November 24, 2008

Inishmore Tangent

For some reason, I keep thinking of a Christian comedian named Ken Davis.

My mom used to be a youth minister in suburban Maryland.  This job forced her to sprout antennae tuned to that narrow wavelength of culture that was somehow both Christian and Cool.  Anything to keep the kids attention.  For instance, when M.C. Hammer released his single "Pray" in the early 90s, my mom bought the cassette and displayed it in her office.  I do not know if she has graduated to Kanye West, but I doubt it.

What makes self-identified Christian rock so awful is the clumsy studio grafting of scripture over the devil's music.  The resulting mash-up somehow manages to blaspheme both Jesus and satan.  Christians know they're stooping to contemporary motif and the rest of us resent (nay damn) the co-opted genre.  And yet, as bad as Christian Rap, Christian Ska, and Christian House music may be, you can always redeem yourself by listening to something else.  Wash your heart in the blood of Hendrix, Dylan, or Talib Kweli and be born anew -- the grace of good music is indeed infinite.  

But Christian Comedy ... that coats the soul with a permanent residue of liquid cringe.  There are many ways to get a bad song out of your head.  So how does one un-learn the Antijoke?

Ken Davis comes back to my memory as I try to parse the experience of playing Padraic in The Lieutenant of Inishmore.  But I can't quite articulate why; I just know this thread would be distracting in the longer term paper blog post I'm putting together.  Was it the pasty Lutheran complexion?  The floppy glut beneath the jawbone?  He reminded me of every chaperone we ever had for church group trips -- trying to be the cool one by making a covert detour from the caravan to buy a sheaf of donuts.  Ours would be the deliciously deviant mini-van!  There was something sickly about his humor (and his humour) that made each laugh sound like an penance, or each joke an occasion for pity.  

Not that the jokes were especially bad, just that they were told with a kind of strangled mirth.  I'm not a good enough writer to describe this sensation, but I can try to transcribe what it says to me.  

It's okay.  It's finally okay.  We're allowed to laugh!  This show has been approved before the fact and you will encounter nothing in your laugh to challenge what is most sacred.  We confess up front that what follows is not only TV-G, but in direct service to the humorless authority of our jealous god.  How wonderful that even He allows us to laugh under certain circumstances.  We will bat down other smirking curiosities with redoubled force because tonight we see that it's physically possible to genuflect and guffaw at the same time.  And if you feel guilty, just think ahead to tomorrow's work -- repurposing laughter to mock the damned.

Well, that's as much as I can remember without consulting YouTube.  Here's Ken in his own words now.  Okay, they're not all his Words.  He's borrowing a few from Cosby, I think.  Maybe they came with the sweater ...

But seriously, folks.  

What does Ken Davis have in common with Martin McDonagh?  If I had to wager a mean mini-thesis, I'd say that they both ask us to make a sick moral concession which permits not just laughter, but a creepy righteous laughter on top of it.  For both men, laughter is not really a source of liberation or intuition or existential discovery (the way it is with St. Bill Hicks, for example).  No, the Catholic Laugh can only liberate those who are already saved.  It can only intuit a Law that was already imposed from the outside.  And it can only discover new ways to weaponize this singular joy of living for deployment against the unenlightened.


If I recall, there isn't a single joke in the Bible.  God is only funny if you take him at his Word.  Or if you accept that the joke is always on us.

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