Tuesday, February 05, 2008

As the Comic Muses

Probe the deconditioned mind.

That's the way we approach
each performance set of writing
letting go of our thoughts
from the moment we venture
into the compositional playing field
opening itself up to us so that we track
the various energies and perceptive forces
ganging up on us as we welcome
the one true fact of tracking
our imagination sprinting
to the end of all time zones

I think of it as using up the process
A Total Body Energy Burn
that eventually reminds me of dank
decomposition as if creating what's next
requires my entire apparatus to mold

Or perhaps I mean to molt
as in the Latin mutare (to change)
from one layer of breathing deep
to an even lighter interior depth
before recoating the spirit
with another Furry Freak Brother
ready to slip into unconsciousness

On TV the other day the writer
E. L. Doctorow spoke with PBS
talk show host Charlie Rose
and said something very precise

He said

"You write to find out what you're writing"

which made immediate sense to me
and the other handful of writers who
might have been watching the show

The talk show host Rose was surprised
so surprised that he turned Doctorow's
comment into a question pointedly directed
right back at him

"You write to find out what you're writing?"

I went to bed thinking Yes
and simultaneously realized that
the beauty of deterioration
is exemplified by the figure of the writer
since I too would have to say without second thought
that I used to know how to write
but now I just write
to find out what I'm writing

Writing is not routinized
in a pathetic attempt to repeat
what has already been written
but is a projected energy pattern
something embedded in muscle memory
and clarified through improvisation
and constant re/envisioning

If it sounds a lot like comedy
that's because it is

Slowly perception by perception
each instant timed to follow each
next instance of measurable body flow
the poet and the comic must relate
their own internal clock
with the feel of vibratory becomings
so that the nuance of experience
can not only be captured but trigger
an alternative sense universe
of unexpected patterns of communication

Whether performing ones act
stand-up / spoken-word / deadpan
plain idiom or even esoteric collage
of simultaneous data reconfigured in
the presentational immediacy of the event itself

however it is composed
(on the fly by the bye)

it all comes down to timing

body timing
mental timing
sense timing
delivery timing
world-historical timing
the timing of reception

This is where the compositional playing field
topographically morphs into shape-shifting
metamediumistic event

a space where there is no out of bounds per se
but where the players still locate a framework
to unravel their elastic duration in

Is comedic timing visionary?

George Carlin once said
"I'm a visionary. I'm ahead of my time.
The only problem is I'm only
about one and half hours ahead."

Every comedian who knows their shtick
will tell you first and foremost

Timing is everything

and being in time with your material
is one way to get a leg up
in any performance's pure potential to embody
the force-field of being funny
(even when doing absolutely nothing)

Speaking of issues of time and being
funny within a kind of performative force-field
where absolute nothingness rules the day
Jerry Seinfeld writes in Sein Language
(which I translate as Being Language
as I similarly translate his name Seinfeld
as meaning Being-Field or field of being):

"You can measure distance by time.
'How far away is that place?'
'About 20 minutes.' But it doesn't work the other way.
'When do you get off work?'
''Around 3 miles.'"

And yet we might all agree that even the idea
of eventually getting off work sometimes feels
like its light years away

Unless you approach your creative practice
as an avant-garde Artist-as-Artist
who has nothing but time to deliver
what amounts to One Ongoing Work of Art
that is manifestly not work
since it's Art-as-Art-as-Life

But then there's Death

Carlin once said that Death
is caused by swallowing small amounts
of saliva over a long period of time

Even the most deadly serious writing
from the ancient poets of numerical Life
their lines already foreclosed with no bailout in sight
still resembles an abort reboot try again
posture of going back to the drawing board
and tightening up ones act
before they lay it on their next hostage audience

The comic's dilemma of stealing
someone else's material or of having heard that joke before
if not in exactitude then in precise sensibility
relates to remix culture and the art of writing

I am constantly reading and remixing
my morning bowl of caviar insecticide
even as my latest polka ringtone
dots the audio landscape beckoning response
while mold forms over Muse and injects
all brainwave functions with blue poison

Or so that's how it feels today

For today's "performance set" remixes
a variety of cultural influences
that come to me as resonant gestures
from the likes of Seinfeld Ginsberg Olson
and the conversational middle mind of
my Public Broadcasting Network

Someone else perturbs me as well
in the best of all possible ways
a mocking art collector named Steve Martin

The most successful comedian of all time
the artist-writer-filmmaker Steve Martin
has just come out with his memoir
Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life

and in the book he documents his rise
from the heart of America's suburban unknown
to the apex of comedy central in Hollywoulda shoulda
starting with his teenage gig at Disneyland
to his next promotion at Knotts Berry Farm
eventually entering TV writing in the Sixties
up to his grueling stand-up comedy tour through the USA
before eventually becoming the seminal comedic figure
that those of us who followed his career know he is

As he traces his trajectory through time
and relives his strategies of building sets
of what comic's still call "original material"
he makes it very clear that early on
most of his work was "borrowed" from other comics
and that he gradually embedded lessons learned
from tracking these various comedic precursors
into his own act and soon transformed them via
new perceptions that came to him out of nowhere
into what ended up becoming his durational sets
and that as his confidence built and he knew
he was catching the psychosomatic wave
of a particular moment in time
he had to POUNCE on that moment
and see how far he could take it

In other words Martin reveals to us
the same way Ginsberg or Olson
might reveal to us via their poetics
how he taught himself how to see

That is
to incrementally develop a sense of measure
that would enable him to visualize
what it means to become a comic artist

In the book Martin views himself
as carrying forth an avant-garde sensibility
that was "turned fully toward the surreal.
I was linking the unlinkable, blending
economy and extravagance, non sequiturs
with the conventional ... I believed it was
important to be funny now, while the audience
was watching, but it was also important
to be funny later, when the audience was home
and thinking about it ... I didn't worry if a bit
got no response, as long as I believed it had
enough strangeness to linger."

(Aesthetico-Durational Complex?

Watch us disappear

in fact, we are The Disappeared
we just haven't noticed it yet)

At one point during his cosmicomedic search
he sent a postcard to his girlfriend describing
his trip to Cambridge where he visited the house
of one of his favorite poets e. e. cummings

At the end of the postcard he wrote:

"I have decided that my act is going
to go avant-garde. It is the only way
to do what I want."

and although he was not sure what he meant
by those words he was still seduced
by the thought of becoming Art-as-Art

(Yes, artists are still seduced by becoming
what they think of as avant-garde
in that they want to locate
the ultimate measuring rod
for their own derangement of the senses)

Early in his career Martin would strum his banjo
and sing lyrics that were mildly deranged

Live in a swamp and be three-dimensional.
Put a live chicken in your underwear.
Go into a closet and suck eggs.

At this point he was just getting started
but soon would develop an act that defied logic
in that he would get laughs without having
to deliver a never-ending stream of punchlines

Throughout the book he makes reference
to feeling himself become a comedian
by developing an interiorized movement
that runs parallel to his being able to
sync in perfectly with his mind gestures

"I felt as though every part of me was working."

He was now able to generate laughter from the visuals
he was producing both prop-wise and gesture-wise
and was even able to get the audience slaphappy
over enduring silences that would punctuate his act

"Finally," he tells us, "I understood
the cummings quote I had puzzled over
in college: 'Like the burlesque comedian,
I am abnormally fond of that precision
which creates movement.'"

A cross between Ludwig Wittgenstein
and the neighborhood kid who would beg you
to please oh please let him show you his magic act
Martin's friend the comic Rick Moranis called
his brand of humor "anti-comedy"

(something I can relate to having been called
at various times anti-novelistic anti-art
anti-aesthetic and most recently anti-academic)

"I'm so depressed today," Martin would tell
his audience: "I just found out this 'death thing'
applies to me" (eventually he had to excise that line
from his act -- too much new material was fighting
for placement in his variable comedy sets)

He used to end his act with the line
"Well, we've had a good time tonight,
considering we're all going to die some day."

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