*Spoiler Alert—If you have not read Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose (and you should), skip this article and get it or at least watch the movie version.
“Every joke is a tiny revolution.” — George Orwell
A few years back, I was visiting a friend’s home in Vancouver (2 blocks from the stunning Salmon House) when he asked if I had seen Larry David’s new show called “Curb Your Enthusiasm“. I replied that I had, but that it was not to my taste since I could only handle so much uber-neurotic cringe-worthy self-obsessive humor. Or something to that effect. Not my bag, baby! (although I had loved Seinfeld as a kid)
In truth, I had only watched half of one episode, didn’t find it funny (at all) and had no interest in more. But he bribed me sit down in front of his TV and popped on one episode called “The Ski Lift” promising me that I needed to “get into it” and then all would make sense. I would be enlightened. Right.
And so after watching Larry David eat edible panties due to some crazy kosher Ski Lift Trip debacle along with a fight between a Holocaust survivor and Colby from Survivor, I was hooked. The gateway drug worked. And yes, I watched every bloody episode, from beginning to end. The question is—WHY? What is it that Lawrence Gene David manages to do with comedy that other can’t or won’t. I think I have the answer.
And it’s here that I will rely on the master storyteller Umberto Eco, from the cinematic version of his best-selling novel, The Name of the Rose (starring Sir Sean Connery & Christian Slater). In the film, Connery plays the Franciscan friar, William of Baskerville who investigates a series of murders at a Benedictine abbey connected to a very special (lost) treatise on comedy.
“William: Venerable brother, there are many books that speak of comedy. Why does this one fill you with such fear?
Jorge: Because it’s by Aristotle.
William: But what is so alarming about laughter?
Jorge: Laughter kills fear and without fear there can’t be any faith. Because without fear of the devil there is no more need of God.
William: But you will not eliminate laughter by eliminating that book.
Jorge: No, to be sure. Laughter will remain the common man’s recreation but what would happen if, because of this book learned men work to pronounce it permissible to laugh at everything? Can we laugh at God? The world would relapse into chaos.”
And if by “chaos” Jorge meant Man’s rebellion against the irrational—he would be correct. Comedy makes easy what would otherwise be difficult. It shows us what is true and what is false by laughing at the ridiculous and non-sensical. It undermines the tribalism of the savage, the supernaturalism of the mystic and the tyranny of the dictator. And as Larry demonstrates with Palestinian Chicken, all of this can be done much more effectively than 70 years of debate, war and suffering. In fact, Larry disarms the enemies of reason through laughter, so that he can inject them with some common sense. And it would take no less of a genius than Umberto Eco to understand the power of wit as a form of wisdom. But he’s not the only one. It was Carlin who said, “Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.” Ah George. I miss you.
Palestinian Chicken as Just Desserts
And some of you may be aware, I have a Joint-Major in Political Science and Middle Eastern Studies (don’t worry, it only sounds smart). And so I am filled with generally useless information on what some term “The Arab-Israeli Conflict” (not the right title, if you ask me). And like anyone who studied this region with its underlying tribal-political mess, I have some very clear ideas on how to solve it. But the closest that I’ve seen to anyone getting it right is Larry. Not in form but in substance.
Allow me to list for you what ideas he attacks and decimates, in the episode of Curb titled “Palestinian Chicken”. Proof that Larry is the TRUE Renaissance man.
1. Religious fanaticism, 2. Ethnic tribalism, 3. Peer-pressure, 4. Sexual repression, 5. Collectivism, 6. Genetic determinism and last but not least, 7. Political tyranny. In this episode, Larry chooses Individualism over Tribalism and spits in the face of all those ideas that make living and living well—impossible. He stands up to racists amongst his own so-called “people” in addition to those on the other side. He solves totalitarianism by demonstrating what MAN needs to live—namely free-will to choose values based on his ideas, his desires, achieved by way of cultivating virtues. How bloody Aristotelian.
He also undermined his own play-acted stereotype of a stereotype of the weak, nebbishy Jew. Because our Larry chooses delicious chicken and a hot Palestinian girl—and if you don’t like it, you can go frack yourself. Literally.
Larry is a rebel. And a dangerous one at that. The very best Rebel Ever (in Trump-speak)! The fact that he gets somewhat of a pass from the MSM is a gift to us all. Looking forward to more comedic chaos in Season 9.