As a stand-up comic and humorist, honored to write for this magazine, I applaud and welcome the new bi-monthly format. Especially after I looked up ‘bi-monthly’ and confirmed that it means every two months and not twice a month. Phew. The change will allow for more in-depth pieces in the print magazine and more online features. No matter your textual preference, it’s a win-win. Or as we LGBTQs used to say, “It gets better.”
At first I felt a bit intimidated by the new longer lead-time. I’d grown accustomed to the comedy world’s new success metric: instant feedback. Memes, instagrams, and tweets must be as near to real-time as possible. Woe to those in Facebookistan whose posts have unacceptably high incident-to-response ratios. Extreme temporal compression can make even Trevor Noah and Stephen Colbert’s nightly monologues feel so last hour.
A few summers ago I noticed the time change while working in Provincetown. There I have the pleasure of riding my bike to work. No TSA, no delays, no being dragged from the bike. The ride takes ten minutes, if I don’t stop to talk to everyone on the way. A lot of news can get broken in ten minutes. Once as I was racking my bike, someone in line for my show shouted, “Can’t wait to hear what you’ve got on that missing Malaysian plane!”
I deeply regret that Ptown finally got around to replacing the transmitter pole that went down during Hurricane Bob. It used to be that my audiences had been at the beach all day. Without cellphone service their only news was the gossip of who-did-what-to-whom the night before. If I opened the show with a joke on a day’s news item, they had to first process the info and then in a tough second step for relaxed, sunburnt, mildly buzzed people, they had try to get the joke.
This summer, when I’m not performing in Provincetown or prepping for my “Path of Totality Party” for the total solar eclipse on August 21, I’m planning to read Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.
When Lincoln’s beloved third son Willie died, he was entombed in Georgetown’s Oak Hill Cemetery. Three years later Lincoln’s funeral train took both father and son’s coffins home to Illinois where they were laid to rest. Willie’s three-year after-life in Oak Hill is the Bardo and the subject of Saunder’s book.
My friends say the book is historical fiction unlike any they have read. So far I have only read reviews of the book. Many reviewers spend less time reviewing the book and more time debating the fake news reports that Lincoln, haunted by the death of his son and in despair over the ongoing Civil War, visited WiIlie’s crypt several times to hold his dead son’s body. I however have been haunted by the concept of a Bardo
Please excuse my Wiki-deep summary of a Bardo, but briefly Tibetan Buddhists believe it is transitional state between death and rebirth when one’s next life is up for grabs. In the Bardo, when we are newly bodiless, our consciousness remains and we experience a variety of phenomena. In the first moments, we have the clearest perceptions of reality but as our time in the Bardo lengthens, we have hallucinations that arise from the impulses of one’s previous unskilled actions. The Buddhists caution us to make ourselves spiritually fit to handle the Bardo challenge. They must have had soul-cycle back then?
We are in an American Bardo, between the death of the old and the rebirth of a new nation. We can use this time as an opportunity for liberation or waste the time on old impulses and thus have a less than desirable rebirth.
In our hyper-pixelated, demented reality it’s good to take a breath, take some time, take a long view and connect the dots. The benefits of the even a week’s lead-time can be seen in both Samantha Bee and John Oliver’s shows. They are able to laser-sharpen their ad hominems – e.g. “that tangerine-tinted-tyrant” – and then connect those hominems to the to the larger context, the longer-lasting issues of the patriarchy, racism, capitalism, and sexism. And it’s funny. To me anyway. Hey, it’s a free pay-TV country. Go watch your Duck Dynasty.
As a comic I can use my minutes blaming Trumputin for everything, mocking conspiracy theories, taking bets on impeachment and trying to win hearts and minds of those who have neither. Or I can take a mini-bardo between set-up and punch line and talk about my own white racism, political correctness, narcissism and radical laziness. The only way to do it and avoid self-flagellation is by laughing. I take the fight seriously but not myself. And if I do some real time on the soul cycle down in the Bardo gym, I’ll be fit for the long fight for our national rebirth.