Parents Night
Dives For the Short-End Money

Why Comedy

I went to hear a lecture about comedy and community (by the professor who was my advisor in my junior year of college) on Thursday night. With references to Tip O'Neill and the Three Stooges (de rigueur in any discussion of comedy), Professor Martin started with Aristotle's all-too-brief discussion of comedy in Poetics, of comedy as a

"...representation of inferior people [φαυλοτέρων], not indeed in the full sense of the word bad, but the laughable is a species of the base or ugly. It consits in some blunder or ugliness that does not cause pain or disaster, an obvious example being the comic mask which is ugly [αἰσχρόν] and distorted but not painful." (trans. W.H.Fyfe)

The base and the ugly, the downtrodden, the beaten up and beaten down, the "not your night" no success garnerers, the losers and the lost, the get-the-short-end-of-the-stick-in-the-shape-up of life in which one comes very close, and too often meets up, with disaster, pain and catastrophe.

Aristotle is talking about representation (mimesis), rather than of real life, of what makes a comic drama such as one sees in a theater. While the plots of the comedies of Aristophanes are made up (and are often quite fantastical, as Pisthetairos' and Euelpides' search for "Cloudcuckooland"), references to contemporary events and figures (Socrates in Clouds) abound and make understanding the plays' humor beyond the reach of readers who are not willing to look up names, allusions and more. Comedies have, at the least, a foot in the door of reality, in contrast to tragedies, whose plots and characters are drawn from myth.

Aristophanes taught me that there's a lot more to comedy than laughter and "funny stuff." Reading Wasps, Frogs and Birds (which I went on to write a long research paper on), I encountered a tumult of satire; bawdy, scatalogical, obscene humor guaranteed to rile up fellow travelers of the Moral Majority; words for objects, food and everyday items that brought 5th century BCE Athens into clearer focus.

These are some of the reasons that comedy is a genre that, to me, makes more than a lot of sense for writing about life with Charlie in.  The "base," the "ugly," the "inferior": It is not pretty to say it, but these are words that have long been associated with disability and, in particular, with intellectual disabilities; with those who do not speak or have very little and limited language. Polite company today knows better than to talk about a non-verbal person as φαυλότερος or αἰσχρὸς but, of course, that does not mean that people do not, consciously or unconsciously, think these things. If you are curious to uncover ancient attitudes about intellectual disability, comedy is hardly a bad place to start.

In passing, Professor Martin also mentioned Olga M. Freidenberg, a Russian classical philologist. He commented that with quite a bit of political unrest and upheaval occurring all around her in the era of Josef Stalin , she kept at research and writing on classical philological, however much her mother kvetched at what she was doing.

I thought about how someone once asked me what was I doing intellectualizing, or rather over-intellectualizing, Charlie by talking about his communications and limited language and Walter Benjamin. I laughed.

 

Comments

Jayne

Agreed. I have often thought that if I ever were to write our story, I'd call it Autism: A Comedy In Two Acts.
One for each of the kids:)

Kristina Chew

You said it! I don't know where we'd be without our sense of humor!

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