Monday, August 2, 2010

Humor Deficit

There's lots of talk about budget deficits. But the humor deficit, arguably easier to address, is raging out of control. There are way too many people taking themselves way too seriously. People seriously need to lighten up.

You see it in Charlie Rangel's pissy response to Luke Russert's question, "What are you going to do if you lose your job?" You see tea partiers being unintentionally funny when they hoist photos of President Obama sporting a Hitler 'stache.

I've been known to laugh at comedy that excoriates people, especially when it's aimed at politicians and celebrities who have started to believe in their own hype. But there's a special place in my heart for comics who use themselves as the subject and object of their humor. Dave Chappelle is a genius at this. Chris Rock of "Everybody Hates Chris" fame also uses self-deprecation to great effect.

I'd like to add another to the list, Greg Keeler, one of my English professors at Montana State. He ought to be better known than he is, because he is one of the funniest people on the planet. He teaches poetry, and he's also turned his talented hand to writing songs in the cowboy poet tradition. The first time I met Greg was at a retreat at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel the week before my first semester at MSU. I was slightly older than most of the other students, and the professors had already heard Greg perform many times before. But his songs, delivered in Greg's deadpan, Kristoffersonian voice (I think that's a good thing, by the way), completely cracked me up. From "Bunny Hell" to "Trout Fishing Beatitudes," I was the only person to laugh out loud.

After that, I made sure to take a poetry class I could with Greg, hoping some of his magic would rub off on me. To no avail, because my poetry still sucked. Still does suck. But I always had fun in his class, and he was unfailingly encouraging.

The first time my husband Don ever met Greg was at an English department picnic. Don was instantly charmed when Greg invited him to shoot targets with a BB gun he'd brought along. The target? "Poetry Man" comic books another student had made, with Greg's cartooned image on the cover. Luckily he had brought a big stack of them along. People were shootin' 'em up!

Who knows? Maybe laughter is some kind of wealth engine we can use to attack our budget deficits.

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