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Jimmy Fallon and the Comedy of Personhood

If you’ve spent more than 2 hours on Facebook a week, it’s likely one of your ‘friends’ has posted a video from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. He has take over the video-waves with a brilliant social media strategy that, fortunately for him, has the support of those in power at NBC. Although I am not usually awake when he airs, much less watching TV, I have been well introduced to his later night antics via Youtube.

I’ll be honest with you. I have fallen prey to the Lay’s syndrome as played out on Youtube. You can’t watch just one. So I have found myself, a few times, rolling through clip after clip of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Some of the lip-sync battles he has with his guests, although staged, still have this joy and goofiness that are Fallon’s trademarks. I particularly like how Fallon and his writers aren’t trying to be like their predecessors. He is paving his own path.

No one will expect from Jimmy Fallon the incisive yet comedic style of George Carlin. He won’t have the introverted comedic insight of Jerry Seinfeld. His humor won’t be the over-the-top physicality of Will Ferrell. Fallon is a goofy guy, who delights in the goofiness of others. He’s somewhat awkward and can never keep a straight face. What he has realized is that his comedy feeds off of others. I don’t know if it was because of his many years at SNL, but he’s at his best when he’s reacting to other people. His guest conversation seem less staged than Leno, but to, he find his stride when there’s a game.

You can tell he’s a competitive guy. When he’s playing a games of Catchphrase, Charades, or Pictionary, I’m usually on the floor because I’ve laughed so hard I cried and cried till I’ve fallen. What’s so great about these games is that he’s finding humor in the regular personalities in these ‘irregular’ people, i.e. Entertainment Tonight superstars. He’s revealing to his studio, TV, and internet audiences that these are normal people who make normal mistakes just like you and me. He’s, in a sense, demythologizing stardom, revealing that these idols are just persons. What makes it even bettter is that he is delighting in their personhood. He’s isn’t treating them like stars. He’s completely comfortable playing Pictionary with Jennifer Aniston, Lenny Kravitz, and CeeLo Green (that video is worth a watch because we all have a teammate like CeeLo). He looks at, speaks with, and delights in their quirks and little weaknesses. He is showing to his audience in a subtle way, the cult of stardom is misplaced. He’s also showing to the starts, yes, you can be treated normal in this overly public life of yours. You don’t have to hold this façade of perfection. You can acknowledge you are bad at guessing random words or drawing pictures.

It is also refreshing to see a comedian who, instead of constantly berating the mistakes and foibles of stars, uses his humor to show that they will always make mistakes. He de-romantizes them. None of these people are perfect, despite what the makeup department can do. Whereas the former comedy seems heavy, harsh, and condescending: “hey look at this person whom you thought was perfect. Well they aren’t. Point and laugh.” Fallon’s humor says, “Let’s delight in the fact that this person is human, and being human is rather comical.”

Top Ten Books Read in 2013 -2

Lamy 2000

Lamy 2000

My familiarity with Neil Gaiman came from his penning the comic book series Sandman, which admittedly and ashamedly I’ve never read. He instantly became a cool cat for though when I found out that he writes his novels with a Lamy 2000 fountain pen. So when one of his books, co-written with Terry Pratchett came on-sale in Audible I clicked the buy button. It seemed like right up my alley too. It is a novel about the Armageddon as described in the book Revelation. I speak of Good Omen.Good Omens

I though I laughed a lot at Woody Allen. I was wrong. This novels is hilarious. It follows a demon and an angel who over the millennia have established a friendship. The demon is entrusted with taking care that the anti-Christ grows up as evil as possible. Only neither of the tow want the world to end so they conspire to keep the anti-Christ neutral, only they accidentally switch up babies. From then on there is blunder after hilarious blunder, a perfect comedy of errors.

This is a great book, audio or otherwise, for any occasion.

#popefrancislife

My students have gotten me in the habit of putting #life at the end of any description or tale that involves irony, paradox, awkwardness or humility (ie: those things that the world considers to be mere inconveniences, but in which are contained the meaning of existence). #life, unlike its distant cousin #yolo, is something a of real philosophical sentiment. It alludes to the fact that life is almost predictable. Just when you think you have life figured out and under control, your tire pops on the way to a job interview, you trip and fall in front of that attractive new co-worker, you sleep in late thinking its Sunday…only to remember it is actually Monday. Life is intelligible, but that intelligibility makes it none-the-less unpredictable. In fact, #life is nothing more than expressing that most shared of human experiences: that the only real rule in reality is to expect the unexpected.

As usual, GKC put it better than I;
The real trouble with this world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite. Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is;its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait. (Orthodoxy)

Indeed, what could be more Orthodox than to wake up and realize that a God more rational and loving than you made the universe? What could be more #life? Reality should make perfect sense, but when we try to explain it, we always miss some critical step, trip, fall and end up upside-down. #life

The real misunderstanding, though, is not with the universe. #life, by its very nature, implies that there is something wrong with those that have life. And those that have life are not the objective rules of reality, but us. Pope Francis, with all his talk on sin, healing, Satan and holiness, seems keenly aware of this. In his interview last Thursday, his allusion to the Church as a ‘field hospital’ can only be interpreted in this way. Whether its due to his American upbringing, his Jesuit formation, his contact with contemporary issues or sheer grace of the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis understands #life better than many of the young people who have popularized this slogan.

And he’s up to something. It was not without calculation that he released an interview about finding a new balance in the Church’s theology on abortion but two days before addressing a group of Catholic gynecologists in Rome. On Thursday he surprises the world by saying our Prolife stance can be over-emphasized…and then on Saturday he says that the unborn “bear the face of Jesus Christ,” a strongly emphatic Prolife statement! Is the Pope pastorally self-contradictory? Or is he driving at something deeper.

Could it be that he knows that the root of the Church’s stagnation is a certain spiritual pride, a certain evangelical laxity? Is it that, for too long, Catholics and Christians have spouted their favorite doctrines without applying them in charity? Could it be that the Pope is saying and doing these things, not so much to surprise the media, as to unsettle complacent Christians? After all, he certainly has got our attention. When was the last time we listened this much to the Pope? The world, for its part, can’t seem to figure him out. But it seems to me that he’s got the world figured out. And he’s got us figured out to. And I think he aims to do something about it. So, if you were happy being a back-pew Catholic and coasting along not having to explain or explore your faith, get ready: this Pope is pulling the pew right out from under you. #life #popefrancislife

Why I Am a “Duck Dynasty” Fan


“Why are people standing in line to see me!? I thought Clint Eastwood was cool in all the western movies, but I’m not gonna stand in line to see him…The only person I’d stand in line for is God Almighty. ‘You made the Universe? All right, I’ll get in line.'” -Jase Robertson

I love my home state more than words can say. For all her problems, Louisiana is one of the greatest places in the world to grow up. And the reason I am a “Duck Dynasty” fan is because it has communicated to the rest of this nation precisely why Louisiana is so great.

The main reason I like the Duckmen is not the praying before meals every episode. Nor is it the “family values” that the show portrays. Both of these additions are important to the overall message of the show, but from both a spiritual and cultural angle, they are not the main points I would like to praise. No, the main contribution the Robertsons seem to bring to the world of television is a basic sense of humility.

The fact of the matter is that I do not own a TV. It has been years since I bothered to follow a TV show. “Downton Abbey” is the only program that I have shown the slightest interest in since graduating from college (I watch episodes on my laptop). The reason why I avoid the American palantir is because of the amount of pride I am subjected to when I enter its glow. Much like the televisions or palantirs of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, ours are controlled by those who have the strongest ego, the most vivacious will, and, therefore, those who are most arrogant and prideful…but who are also the best at disguising it. After all, no one on television appears egotistical. Everyone presents themselves as polite, reasonable, even tempered, and even ethical.

At this risk of sounding moralistic, it is this hypocrisy that makes TV so disgusting to me. Whether its a news program full of “talking-heads,” a talk show laiden with “gurus,” a sitcom full of “relevance,” or a crime drama full of “investigators,” I can’t help but feel that behind the smiling faces of all these TV personalities lies hidden the career-driven face of ego. I accuse no particular individual of this, but it seems beyond a shadow of a doubt that the raw success of television is due more to ambition than any other factor. When I watch the antics of the Robertsons, however, I see no such evidence of hypocrisy. The Duck Commander can be commanding, even arrogant, at times, but it is never disguised by politeness or pithy truisms. Whether its sucking honey out of a beehive with a shop vac, trying to catch a lizard by covering the warehouse in saw-dust or suffering from donut-indigestion after an eating contest, these boys are the kind of wise-fools that can be found in any part of our great state.

I once defended Louisiana to a British woman by saying, “Whatever we are, we are sincere. You may bring many charges against Louisiana, charges of crassness or ignorance, but duplicity could never be one of them.” Down here, everyone plays the character called “myself.” Our politicians are corrupt, but we re-elect them anyway, because we prefer honest corruption to the sorts of nonsense the people of California and New York are having to deal with right now. We like Jazz Bands that play old instruments because at least its real music they’re playing: not electronic noises recorded by lab techs and regurgitated by a “DJ” at his computer. We like cooking food we’ve grown or killed ourselves. We like slacking off at work and not making excuses for it. We like dressing weird and growing beards and looking like we haven’t showered in a week…cause maybe we haven’t. We like the Robertsons because we are like the Robertsons: we lead lives free of subterfuge.

So what if Louisiana comes out 49th out of the 50 states in most every survey, poll, study and census. Our citizens might not have the “best quality of life” according to the standards yuppie bureaucrats set, but we lead happy, happy, happy lives. It has a lot to do with our family. It has more to do with our faith. We are proud to be a place where our TV stars sit around the table at the end of the day and praise the providence of God. There is little else for us to be proud of and we know it. God is God. We are but foolish men. And all is right with the world. Welcome to Louisiana.

Getting Priorities Straight

This Easter morning, I awoke after the intensity and beauty of the Easter Vigil to a strange set of headlines. On the top of the paper, in 72 point bold all-caps, was the phrase “Governor’s Tax Plan Offends Both Sides of the Aisle.” Next to it, in 56 point bold, was an article entitled “Escaped Convict found in California.” Finally, under all of these, in 56 point plain, was a picture of a stained glass window captioned “Resurrection.” It made me want to spill my coffee, fall on the ground laughing & otherwise upset the breakfast table.

Did they not realize that Christ’s Resurrection offended both sides of the Temple, the Jewish and the Roman!? Does a convict escaping from death play second fiddle to a convict who escaped from a Louisiana penitentiary!? I understand that the Resurrection of the Christ is old news, but by God, it is greater news than that!

This one front page headline, without meaning to of course, typified precisely what is wrong with Christianity in this country. In the very least, it revealed particularly what is wrong with religious commentators in the media: it is not that they misunderstand our Faith. It is that they misunderstand their humanity. Ask an ancient Pagan what is more sensational, a new tax law or a person rising from the dead, and I can guarantee they will pick the latter. Yet our sensationalized media picks the tax plan. Oh certainly, they talk about the resurrection. They’ll even include a pretty, un-offensive picture, perhaps claiming that it says a thousand words. But the 10,000 words left unsaid is what is so terribly amusing about the whole thing.

Yes, it is amusing. There are some Christian bloggers that would argue-with or editorialize-about this strange juxtaposition of death, Resurrection & taxes, but I would rather laugh at it! What great fun! Here are their priorities: “GOVERNOR CUTS TAXES”, “Escaped Convict Found”, “Human Rises from the Dead.” Again, its not just that contemporary journalist remains uncatechized. Of course they are uncatechized! But what is more appalling is that the are desensitized  To the plight of starving children in Haiti they respond, “Oh, that’s sad,” and get back to sipping their lattes. To the Resurrection of Christ they respond, “Oh, how nice,” and turn the page to peruse the celebrity gossip. My goodness! I can’t make up comedy this good.

Don’t you see: there would be no joke if they were simply Pagans or atheists. If they opened the paper and scoffed at the Resurrection, then they might not be saved but at least they would be sensible. As it stands, many of our contemporaries have access to neither grace nor sense. At least, such seems the case with the editors of the newspaper.

Now, it is a sin to end a story on a critical note. Worse still, it is an offense to end a joke with mere criticism. There is something deeper I would have you see, like the Resurrected Christ telling the Apostles to put down their nets one last time. If we are to dialogue with this secularized Christian culture, then we must be the ones to set the tone of the conversation. In the old days (you know, thousands of years ago), the ancients were sensible enough to argue about Resurrection. Now we argue about fiscal policy. They contested about whether or not a real man could really rise from the dead. We argue about economic systems and paper money, credit and debt which is really unreal. They might have been overly superstitious  we most certainly are. They might have worshiped silver and gold idols: we worship paper that the government tells us is worth silver and gold! Let us, for the sake of Christianity and Pagan sensibility alike, reframe the conversation. Christ is Risen! Believe it, talk about it, celebrate it! Spend this Octave in a leisurely detachment from politics, economics and business! Rid your pockets of that paper money in a spirit of celebration and generosity  Buy candy for poor children! Buy some red wine for your family! But, by the Resurrected God above, don’t waste my time with the Governor’s tax plan!

The Top Ten Books Read in 2012, #10

So I’m doing my annual countdown of the best books I read on 2012. There is a small caveat before I start. I didn’t read as much. I read fourteen less books in 2012 than in 2011. This is in major part due to the fact that I’m still learning to manage my time well as a priest, but it’s also because I decided to read the incredibly long novel The Father’s Tale by Michael O’Brien (remember back when I wanted to do a summer reading? #fail), of which I am not even half-way finished. People have told me they loved it, and it has its moments of greatness. However, it, at least to me, is incredibly slow. It’ll probably show up on next year’s list because I’ll finish it sometime in October. Without further ado, # 10

So I haven’t read a play in awhile. In fact, I haven’t read a play since my Shakespeare class back in 2006. I came across Oscar Wilde’s  The Importance of Being Earnest through the Gutenberg Project. I downloaded it as PDF onto my iPad.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. Wilde has a great wit about him. He channels Shakespeare in the great comedy of acting as someone who you are not, or impersonation. Weddings play into it as well, which Shakespeare used as a great device for wit in his plays; Much Ado About Nothing comes to mind.

I found myself laughing quite a bit at the word play that Wilde uses and even the names. Algernon is strange enough, but that his nickname is Algy puts it over the top.

For a Victorian laugh, look no further than Wilde’s play.

The Absolute Necessity of Awkwardness

To Genevieve and Katie, Who Have Watched Me Learn This


There is much that is lacking in our culture in  the way of acesticism. It is not that we are utterly devoid of discipline. It’s just that our discipline seems always directed toward the most marginal and mediocre of things. A man who ‘works out’ develops large biceps so that, when he sits around in his cubicle, it might feel a little less empty. A stuggling family eats Raman noddles and buys their clothes at Goodwill so that all the children can have iPhones. A soccer mom limits her food intake, not simply to prevent obesity, but so that she might feel sexy in the sequins panties that her husband bought her. Chesterton was fond of saying that it is not the vices, but the virtues, that were let loose to wreak havoc when the Post Christian era began. Thus we see the old forms of fasting and renunciation haven’t disappeared; they just no longer correspond to charity. We still forgo food and beat our bodies into submission; its just that we no longer expect earth and heaven as our reward, but merely the worldly.

Being born into such a situation, it might seem odd that I suggest a reexamination of an obscure form of acesiticism, so obscure in fact that I think hagiologists are the only ones who ever wrote on it. If all the world is mistaken about the nature of self-discipline, why on earth should I waste my time with this ambigious point? Would it not be better to stick to the main issue: the radical loss of meaning in discipline? Perhaps, but (praise God) there are much better writers that can handle that battle. I am obscure, and so that the author may be comensurate with his subject matter, I will keep to reflecting on points of seeming obscurity.
In all the great saints, there was an acesiticism of humility that I can only call the radical call to awkwardness. We read about it in the mendicants mostly, though it is easier to put in proper context when we look at the more recent Saints. It can be seen when Boniface cut down the oak, when Patrick lit the bonfire, when Teresa took off her shoes and danced in the middle of meal time. Therese betrayed it when she snuck into the male monastery while on pilgrimage, and Athanasius displayed it when he jumped out of hiding to stop Constantine’s chariot and argue with the Emperor. JP II was notorious for it, sneaking away in the middle of meeting and meals only to be found lying prostrate before the tabernacle—kissing men, women and children full out on the face in St. Peter’s square—doodling out poetry when he got bored during sessions of the Second Vatican Council. Aquinas was caught talking to the crucifix. Pier Gorigio interrupted conversation to say rosaries. Mother Teresa walked out of committee meetings when she found out how much their bottled water had cost. And the list goes on. The point is that all of these saints knew the great secret of humility and kindness: that we must risk seeming rude and vulgar. “We must defy convention if only to keep the commandments.” (GKC, once more) We must learn what God has always known: that every act of love is at risk of being interpreted as an infringement on freedom and, thus, an act of annoyance.

Now somewhere along the way, our culture made awkwardness the ultimate mortal sin. We have invoked these great disciplines of ours, the schedules, the diets, the exercise routines, the penny-pinching, all in the name of avoiding discomfort. The man at the gym never breaths a word of humility. The family on the tight budget never questions the necessity of wireless technology. The woman haphazardly starving herself never stops to think if her husband should be looking at more than her thinner thighs. At the end of the day, all of these disciplines bring them further from, not closer to, the type of humility that Francis enjoyed or Don Bosco exuded when they spent all their time with animals and children. Saints were always faulted for the ‘awkwardness’ that such a lifestyle created. But the secret that all the Saints knew was that the greatest joys in life begin when we call into question our own limited assumptions and priorities. “There is nothing like pain and discomfort to plant the flag of heaven behind enemy walls.”(CSL, this time) Sheer happiness can never give us such a perspective, for sheer happiness is all too small a feeling. There must be an element of embarrassment or our humility is insincere. There most be that moment when it all seems wrong in order for us to know that it is truly right. The problem, as far as I can tell, with our silly Chicken Soup for the Soul discipline is not that it lacks effort, but that it lacks something of this authentic embarrassment. We look for disciplines that will bring us happy sex lives, better pleasures, stronger contentment, stable relationships, etc. We should look for the discipline that would risk all that in order to bring us back to ourselves and the Other. It is a discipline that constantly bets anything in order to gain everything. And that kind of bet is always embarrassing.

One final note before I leave you to assess your own asceticism of awkwardness; it is not enough to simply defy convention. It is not enough to be counter-cultural, eccentric, and thus enticing. Even the pagans have done the same. I hang out with many artists and eccentrics who, for all their oddness, are no closer to the Kingdom of Heaven. What I have discovered, what I so wish to see more of in the lives of my brothers and sisters, and what I am dying to find more often in my own life, is that radical humility in which I am utterly embarrassed, rolling-on-the-floor-of-my-mind-laughing-at-myself-embarrassed, and then Love comes rushing in and gathers me up. This asceticism of awkwardness should not only make Christians stand out: it should make them give up. Surrender. Make a gift of themselves. Man only discovers himself through a sincere gift of self. A sincere gift of self requires a great deal of confusion and blushing. We are told that our bodies are washed in the blood of the Lamb, and I have often wondered if we see something of that crimson when our cheeks turn red.

Top Ten Books I Read in 2011, #8

Number 8 is …

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

This was my guilty pleasure for the year. I couldn’t help but be attracted by the premise of one of our most popular historical figures being a beast killing vampires. SGS tried his best to integrate the story into actual Lincoln history, which made it all the more interesting and compelling.

I listened to this on audiobook via Audible. It was a great read and let me forget about other difficult things going on.

I’m also looking forward to the movie produced by Tim Burton.

Friday Thoughts – Can The Muppet’s Save Television From Itself?

Last weekend, as reward for completing a paper I went with my sister for a bit of nostalgia, The Muppet Movie. It was one of those times when your glad the characters you love are back on stage. It held every bit of the cheesiness of the TV show and previous movies … and it was awesome. The plot revolved around the Muppet’s fighting for retention of their studio, which is going to be purchased by an evil oil tycoon (who can’t laugh). They had to put on one last show to raise 10 million dollars to save the studio.

SPOILER ALERT: Plot developments from the film will be revealed (and are necessary for me to make my point)

They pitched their idea to every major TV network and were rejected by all of them in typical Muppet outsider fashion. Kermit and company are told they are irrelevant. Their type of genuine homegrown slapstick comedy without violence, cursing, or much to any sex appeal. The show is picked up when a small TV network has to drop its show Punch Teacher because it is being sued.

The Muppet’s are a different sort of brand for Disney. They seem to transcend, in a certain sense, today’s media. They appeal via nostalgia to parents and naturally to kids. They break the mode or rather retain the mode that has been broken. Said mode is that non-human characters; i.e. animation, puppets, claymation, etc. do not dabble greatly in the sins of man (murder, excessive violence, sex). That is part of the Muppet’s brand.

And, frankly, give the world more. America needs actually wholesome television. Spongebob Squarepants is far from wholesome. Thanks to the ‘pioneer’ writers and animators of Ren and Stimpy and Beavis and Butthead cartoons have become more and more adult. The Muppet’s can bring back good childlike entertainment. Bring the brand to a major television network. It can survive. I’m putting all my entrainment eggs in one basket but that’s because I look at the store and its the only one I trust with my fragile entertainment eggs.

P.S. Mahna, mahna

Schoolwork?!

“‘School does not, properly speaking, mean school, but leisure.” Leisure, Pieper says ,is the counterpart to work, philosophical concept of the Sabbath. I, then, find oxymoronic the phrase: school work. School means leisure. Leisure is the opposite, in a sense, of work, yet in this common phrase they are together. I found myself laughing at this insight.

Reflection on Chapter I of Leisure: the Basis of Culture