Monday, June 9, 2014

outrageous vision

In the summer between 7th and 8th grade my family spent several weeks in a student-apartment at a college near Minneapolis where my father took some kind of continuing education, along with a batch of other ministers.

Some middle schoolers would have found my existence during that "vacation" boring, but my mother took me to some places -- swimming, etc., and there were some other kids around; much of the time I was happy to be left to my own devices, with spontaneous options -- like Ping-Pong (!!!) in a rec area connected to the cafeteria.  I improved my game in intensive practice against all those ministers, singles and doubles.  (Did I win?  I can't remember...)

There was one minister from someplace whose first name was Del -- the other men would call him "Mort" because the consensus was that he looked like Mort Sahl.

(-- "Who's Mort Sahl?"
-- "A comedian.")

At that age, I think the only comedians I really knew of were -- Pat Paulsen

and Don Rickles.  (A little later I became vaguely acquainted with the act of George Carlin -- the one he could do on network television.)

I supposed Mort Sahl would be a comedian who was a generational contemporary of those ministers. ...Recently I read this:

---------------------- [excerpt] ------------ Sahl and Lenny Bruce were the Lewis and Clark of comedy in the 1950s.  They pushed out the frontiers of possibilities of American humor in much the same way that John Osborne and other "angry young men" redefined the British theater around the same time.  In the years following World War II there was a great jump in America's sophistication, in part because of the GI Bill that put millions of ex-soldiers through college.

The standard comedy that had worked so well for so long...did not become any less funny; the audience simply evolved new tastes.  New ideas and fresh faces were welcome; individual and unique performers who wrote from their own hearts and with their own vision became more valued.

Perhaps because of the reality the war forced upon people, realistic comedy, comedy of substance, was sought out rather than thought odd.  In a broad sense, the outrageous and absurd finality that the atomic age
  augured helped bring out an appreciation for the outrageous and the absurd in comedy, one of the truest mirrors of a society.

{excerpt, Woody Allen, biography written by Eric Lax, Copyright 1991.  Da Capo Press, Perseus Books Group}


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