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December 20, 2008

Zadie Smith on 'The anti-comedian'

Her piece in the latest (December 22/29, 2008) issue of the New Yorker, entitled "Dead Man Laughing," about her late father, opens, "My father had few enthusiasms, but he loved comedy."

It would appear blood is as thick as laughter because she does too.

An excerpt from her poignant New Yorker mini-memoir follows.

At the extreme end of this sensibility lies the anti-comedian. An anti-comedian not only allows death onstage; he invites death up. Andy Kaufman was an anti-comedian. So was Lenny Bruce. Tommy Cooper is the great British example. His comedy persona was “inept magician.” He did intentionally bad magic tricks and told surreal jokes that played like Zen koans. He actually died onstage, collapsing from a heart attack during a 1984 live TV broadcast. I was nine, watching it on telly with Harvey. When Cooper fell over, we laughed and laughed, along with the rest of Britain, realizing only when the show cut to the commercial break that he wasn’t kidding.

There was an anti-comedian at Edinburgh this year. His name was Edward Aczel. You will not have heard of him — neither had I, neither has practically anyone. This was only his second Edinburgh appearance. Maybe it was the fortuitous meeting of my mournful mood and his morbid material, but I thought his show, “Do I Really Have to Communicate with You?” [top] was one of the strangest, and finest, hours of live comedy I’d ever seen. It started with neither a bang nor a whimper. It didn’t really start. We, the audience, sat in nervous silence in a tiny dark room, and waited. Some fumbling with a cassette recorder was heard, faint music, someone mumbling backstage: “Welcome to the stage . . . Edward Aczel.” Said without enthusiasm. A man wandered out. Going bald, early forties, schlubby, entirely nondescript. He said, “All right?” in a hopeless sort of way, and then decided that he wanted to do the introduction again. He went offstage and came on again. He did this several times. Despair settled over the room. Finally, he fixed himself in front of the microphone. “I think you’ll all recall,” he muttered, barely audible, “the words of Wittgenstein, the great twentieth-century philosopher, who said, ‘If indeed mankind came to earth for a specific reason, it certainly wasn’t to enjoy ourselves.’ ” A long, almost unbearable pause. “If you could bear that in mind while I’m on, I’d certainly appreciate it.” Then, on a large flip chart, the kind of thing an account manager in an Aylesbury marketing agency might swipe from his office (Aczel is, in real life, an account manager for an Aylesbury marketing agency), he began to write with a Magic Marker. It was a list of what not to expect from his show. He went through it with us. There was to be:

No nudity.
No juggling.
No impressions of any well-known people.
No reference to crop circles during the show.
No one will be conceived during the show.
No tackling head-on of any controversial issues. . . .
And finally, and I think most importantly—
No refunds.

I recognized my father’s spirit in this list: No good can come of this. He then told us that he had a box of jigsaw puzzles backstage, for anyone who became dangerously bored. Later, he drew a graph made up of an x-axis, which stood for “TIME,” and a y-axis, for “GOODWILL,” on which he tracked the show’s progress. Point one, low down: “Let’s all go and get a drink — this is pointless.” Point two, slightly higher up: “O.K., carry on, whatever.” Point three, still only halfway up: “We could all be here forever. We think this is great.” He looked at his shoes, then, with mild aggression, at the audience. “We’ll never get to that point,” he said. “It’s just . . . it’ll never happen.” By this time, everyone was laughing, but the laughter was a little crazy, disjointed. It’s a reckless thing, for a comedian, to be this honest with an audience. To say, in effect, “Whatever I do, whatever you do, we’re all going to die.” When it finally came to jokes (“Now we go into the section of the show routinely called ‘material,’ for obvious reasons”), Aczel had a dozen written on his hand, and they were very funny, but by now he had already convinced us that jokes were the least of what could be done here. It was an easy and wonderful thing to believe this show a genuine shambles, saved only by our attention and by chance. (We were mistaken, of course. Every stumble, every murmur, is identical, every night.) In the lobby afterward, calendars were on sale, each month illustrated by impossibly banal photographs of Aczel in bed, washing his face, walking into work, standing in the road. Mine sits on my desk, next to my father in his Tupperware sandwich box. On the cover, Aczel is pictured in a supermarket aisle. The subtitle reads, “Life is endless, until you die” — Edith Piaf. Each month has a message for me. November: “Winter is coming—Yes!” April: “Who cares.” June: “This is not the life I was promised.” There is plenty of hope, an infinite amount of hope — but not for us!

I've mentioned this before and I'll repeat it here: Zadie Smith is more likely than not to win the Nobel Prize in Literature should she avoid a premature termination of her life line a la W. G. Sebald, another sure thing until Mr. Death came calling one day in late December of 2001 while he was out motoring.


an encore performance by Aczel.

December 20, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Whatever — Episode 2: The watch


Back in 2005 the wall clock iteration appeared and since then they've been busy out back in the temporal skunk works.

So much so that after a series of stunning technological breakthroughs they've finally succeeded in miniaturizing the at-the-time cutting edge technology so nicely embodied in the clock version pictured below


such that you can now sport it on your wrist.

How great is that?

"Whether time flies for you or barely moves, you'll laugh whenever you look at this quartz watch, which comes with a leather band."


$15.95 (time included).

December 20, 2008 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

World's oldest spider web


It was 140 million years ago today — give or take 40 million years — that a spider going about its business returned to its web to check for treats only to find it engulfed in tree resin.

Above, what it looked like when discovered recently on the south coast of England, now encased in amber.

Here's the back story as it appeared in a December 16, 2008 post on nationalgeographic.com.

    Oldest Spider Web Found in Amber

    The world's oldest spider web has been found in a piece of amber on the south coast of England, scientists announced recently.

    Amateur paleontologist Jamie Hiscocks found the amber deposits, long hidden by sands and tides, and gave them to an Oxford University team.

    Until the new find, the oldest known amber containing ancient animals dated to the Middle Cretaceous period, about 120 million years ago.

    But Oxford's Martin Brasier and Laura Cotton have now pushed back the "amber window" to 140 million years ago, during the heyday of the dinosaurs.

    The scientists used computer-imaging techniques to create detailed images of "supremely delicate" fossil structures, such as silk threads and forest fungi.

    Early observations of the fossil show that the threads resemble silk spun by modern spiders.

December 20, 2008 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Gift Box Surprise


The best surprise is no surprise — especially if you're prone to cardiac arrhythmias.

I hate it when people surprise me — I'm convinced one day I'll stroke out from the shock.


From the website:

    Gift Box Surprise

    Plastic gift box looks like a regular present but when someone opens it, out pops a gruesome laughing skull with glowing red eyes.

    Scary sounds complete the effect.


Bonus: You can listen to the scary sounds free here.

I was struck by the similarity to the noises emanating from my crack research team when they're really on a roll.


December 20, 2008 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack



I found myself on this site the other day and hadn't a clue what it was about, or how I got there.

Sounds like the story of my life.

But I digress.

My bafflement doubled after I read about it (above).

So far above my TechnoDolt™ pay grade I'm looking down at it.

Not you, though.

December 20, 2008 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Swirlygig Microphone Stand Drink Holder


How do you spell "carrieohkee?"

Not that way, fer shur.

From the website:

Swirlygig Microphone Stand Drink Holder


• Accommodates most beverage containers

• Fits most microphone and music stands

• Dimensions: 6.5" x 3.8" x 6.8"

• Black vinyl-covered metal

• No assembly required



December 20, 2008 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: The birth of emergency medical transport


By Danny Shanahan.

December 20, 2008 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

iPhone App Drink Coasters


Just the thing for your Apple Kool-Aid.

Set of 16: $60.

December 20, 2008 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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