Last night we were drinking with the man who played the lead in the original Broadway production of "Hair" and another guy who knew dozens and dozens of jokes learned in late night bars and diners in the 1970s. Jokes! Sometimes you forget.
But then you remember: you're either one of those fortunates who recall jokes or you are not. Or maybe you know only a few, as I do, memorized feverishly and with labored intensity when you were 13 years old and now only one or two remain ingrained and also effective with adult audiences. The one or two that are not about masturbation. Here's one the jokeman told last night, late*:
There's a fellow who has a really bad, fake wooden eye. He's missing an eye and the wooden one is lodged in his socket in such a way that everyone notices how fake and terrible and made of wood it is. He's a pariah with a wooden eye.
Then one night he goes to a dance and he's feeling very lonely and alienated and bad when he spies a woman who has a horrible, horrible hair lip. He figures: What the hell, maybe she'll accept me for my wooden eye. So he approaches her.
"Would you like to dance?" he asks her.
"Would I?!" she says excitedly.
To which he replies, furiously: "Hairlip!"
Anyway, Woody Allen. His new film Match Point isn't really a comedy per se but it sticks with you like no other Woody flick in quite a while. Woody taught us the art of the pained and knowing chuckle, the intellectual gimp under duress who lets you feel superior twice -- once because you're better than him and again because you're not, you're just like him, which means you're quite sophisticated, aren't you? But Match Point is grim in an entirely new way, a joke told by a drunk at the bar who has told a series of jokes but whose last one takes a weird u-turn into a terrible confession that only a therapist should really hear about -- a therapist who will be subpeoned in a criminal murder trial. The smile goes south. Hair lip!
Then there's "Pets," a neurotic comic bit that is truly and wholey a "bit." But it's still very funny, both as a sample of his Catskills existentialist comedy style and as a snatch of 1960/70s Upper West Side cocktail party atmosphere. This is from the 1979 album Woody Allen: Standup Comic. Listen to that voice -- it's so fey! You'd hardly predict how much intellectual gravitas this kind of material would earn him. But to this day I read portions from the New York Review of Books and reflexively hear that faux-academic voice Woody uses in Without Feathers and Side Effects -- a voice of grandiose absurdity, mocking the authority of the intellectual elite. Go ahead, try it out:
He in no way wanted to be compared, he said, to the Tolstoy of Yasnaya Polyana, the Goethe of Olympus, or the Thomas Mann who linked genius to decadence, and he had no use for Alfred Jarry's metaphysical dandyism or Anatole France's affected mastery. He claimed that he didn't even wish to be known as a Polish writer, but simply as Gombrowicz.**
Anyway, I imagine a 1970s Woody Allen (khakis, white sneakers) in a music video for XTC's 1978 tune "Statue of Liberty." Listen, I think you'll see him, too. It's a photo negative of King Kong: A tiny man in love with a giant green woman.
This song was deemed indecent by the British government and banned from the radio.
* This post powered by Knob Creek.
** "Salvation Through Laughter," Charles Simic, NYRoB, Jan. 12, 2006