CategoryObsessions

Straight By Fiat

I have this old favorite joke that almost no one else knows or gets, but I can’t stop thinking it’s funny, so I’m going to do my best to rid myself of it by the only method guaranteed to destroy humor: dissection.

Like many things stupid but great, and most things Devon Sawa, I would never have seen the 2002 comedy Slackers if not for its champion, my brother Ian. It’s a pretty slight movie and as teen comedies go it is not exactly shifting any paradigms, though it does feature some ringers in the cast, all of whom appear in the above clip. Yes, that’s Michael C. Maronna, Big Pete from Pete & Pete, playing a character (Jeff) whose sexuality is part of a slow-burning running gag throughout the movie. Here’s what makes it interesting: none of the jokes are homophobic. His friends know he’s gay and they’re fine with it. The target of the joke is repression, not sexual orientation, and it benefits greatly for that. (Note that this movie predates the genesis of Tobias Fünke by two years!)

Besides less-obvious targets, here are some things that I will always think are funny:

I don’t think the clip needs much context, but here it is just in case. Maronna, Sawa and Jason Segel are the scheming heroes, who have been milking the creepy Jason Schwartzman for money. Schwartzman comes to Maronna and Segel with evidence that Sawa has betrayed their confidence to his love interest (Jaime King). Upon seeing it, the guys are infuriated, and in a three-camera sitcom we would already know where this goes: they turn on Sawa together, then eventually they realize that Schwartzman is the real problem, kick him out and reunite. In fact, you can already see this playing out in Schwartzman’s head! Just before the clip begins, he sputters “he betrayed you! He stole my girl! He’s not our friend!” He’s transparency-oblivious character one.

Then Maronna starts his monologue, and it follows that scenario… for exactly five seconds, before veering off into his desperate fantasy of male bonding. He has rehearsed this speech, he has seen an opportunity, and now he siezes the moment to execute his pitch. He knows they will object–this sounds pretty gay!–but he has anticipated that, and before they can get a word in, addends that it is in fact not gay. Triumph. There is no way they can resist now.

In thirty seconds, Maronna covers all four of the humor angles listed above. The first three points are all basically about the tension between expectation and reality, which is also the root of all suffering, which in turn goes back to the old axiom that comedy is pain happening someone else. The magic of point four, commitment, is that he makes the other three completely implicit. Nobody hands him a straight line to set up the zinger. Nobody winks at the camera.* There’s a lot of trust in the audience here, and for me, at least, it pays off in a way that I’m still giggling at ten years later.

Okay, I think the frog is dead now. Mike Maronna is very talented and should get more work. This is all to explain why, whenever I express adulation bordering on the ecstatic for a male role model, I will make a sly face and add “but it’s not gay” after describing how I want to suck his cock.

* For a perfect example of how literally winking at the camera can undercut flawless commitment, see the last forty years of Dwight-and-Jim gags in The Office.

The warning “does not relate to an imminent or specific threat.”

We will discuss Spook Country in the hedge maze

“It sounds like your girlfriend reads a lot of ‘women’s publications.’ I have worked for women’s publications. We make up those sex tips so that people who read sex tips are terrible at sex, and those of us who read William Gibson novels are astounding at it.”

I know I already freaked out about her two weeks ago, but I need to emphasize that Julieanne Smolinski is completely invited to my birthday party.

I lied about Eminem being my spirit animal. Cleo is my spirit animal.

My favorite comic strips always go away! I am very sad about Bobwhite ending; it will leave a sore and empty socket in the jawbox of my daily comics list. For years it has been the funniest, smartest, most personal two minutes of my morning, and it was a privilege to read.

Unlike the bad old days, though, now when comic creators stop doing one strip they start another! I don’t know if Magnolia’s new Monster Pulse will ever replace Bobwhite in my heart, but I will pretty much follow her work anywhere at this point. The same goes for Kris Straub, of course, and F Chords has suddenly sprinted up to become my favorite outlet of his, with a distinctly more personal tone that echoes a little of what he used to do in Checkerboard Nightmare. So fucking go there already, I’m tired of telling you dicks.

And re-read Bobwhite!

Been meaning to write this for three months

A while back Stephen was telling me about those Patrick Rothfuss books for which all nerds have hard dicks. “What’s the best part?” I asked.

“This guy Kvothe gets up on stage and plays his lute, and it’s really moving,” said Stephen. “But not gay, because he has magic powers that make every woman want to bone him.”

“Uh huh,” I said.

“Fine,” he said, “what are YOU reading about?”

Gun-toting bug-eating Muslim lesbians in space,” I said.

Okay, that isn’t strictly accurate. The primary protagonist is agnostic and the secondary one is a dude. But there are lots of guns, lots of bugs, lots of brutality (eg women throwing punches), lots of Koran-analogs, and lots of great characters who aren’t white even on the cover. It is not gentle in introducing its weird setting, and is very mean to everyone you like, and there is torture in it! So avoid it if that’s going to bother you. But while everyone’s sputtering over how many darlings die in George R. R. Martin, I’m going to be over here trying to wave you toward God’s War, easily my favorite book this year.

Here’s some data!

It’s a list of all the songs I’ve listened to at fifty or more times on my computer or an iDevice, since I started keeping track a little over four years ago:

  • “David,” The Radio Dept.
  • “The Police And The Private,” Metric
  • “Too Young,” Phoenix
  • “Good Morning, Hypocrite,” Electric President
  • “Daylight Savings Time,” Josh Rouse
  • “Dance Anthem of the 80’s,” Regina Spektor
  • “Adventures In Solitude,” The New Pornographers
  • “Lisztomania,” Phoenix
  • “Citrus,” The Hold Steady
  • “If I Ever Feel Better,” Phoenix
  • “Like She’ll Always Be,” Jimmy Eat World
  • “Hold On, Hold On,” Neko Case
  • “This Tornado Loves You,” Neko Case
  • “La Costa Brava,” Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
  • “Powerstripe,” Tigercity
  • “My Love Has Gone,” Josh Rouse
  • “Alone in Kyoto ,” Air
  • “You Stopped Making Sense,” The Radio Dept.
  • “Cars And History,” Strays Don’t Sleep
  • “Summer,” General Fuzz
  • “June,” RJD2 ft. Copywrite

A lot of these actually date back to 2007, when my music collection was constrained by hard drive size and I did a lot more walking around with my iPod. On the whole, though, it’s a pretty accurate list of every song that has obsessed me in recent memory, for better or worse. (It doesn’t include soundtrack songs, which I often loop without really hearing when I’m working or writing.)

I find it interesting that there’s a pretty standard distribution evident in the playcounts: the top three songs have been played as many times as the next six put together, etc. If you want to get a sense of how easily I succumb to certain musical tricks, I made a Grooveshark playlist called The Fifty Club.

“Nobody expects to be punched in the face by a man’s beard.”

This is linked on his guest post but it needs additional emphasis! After years of my pestering him about it, Bill O’Neil has FUCKING FINALLY gotten around to setting up a dedicated story blog. Bill/William/whoever was making me want to shred everything I ever wrote and set it on fire in a toilet while he was still in high school, so I’m (mostly) glad to finally be able to slot him into Google Reader. If you don’t do the same then you’ll just have to accept that you and I have different tastes!

“Some of you have worked well. And some of you have not.”

Hey, I’ve talked about her pseudonymously before, but Hillary Eason is an old friend (whom I haven’t actually seen in person since 2002) and one of my favorite writers and thinkers. Now that she’s operating under her own name, you should go see why she’s a perennial pick for my Internet All-Star team.

Anacrusis

Anacrusis/Ommatidia is done! I started it in July of 2003, wrote 2003 stories, and now it is my 30th birthday and my present to myself is, I don’t have to do it anymore. (Landing on this date is only sort of a coincidence: I calculated the timing versus post count last summer, and you have probably noticed some bonus stories appearing on weekends since.)

The website won’t go away, but the every-weekday part of the project is over. You will probably see the occasional story pop up in future, if you keep the feed in your reader, and I’ll try to do a bit of curation and shuffling. I may end up keeping Anacrusis as the chronological record and Ommatidia as more of a categorized library. Or: not.

Now follows a list of things I got out of this deal.

  • About 266 subscribers on Google Reader, which is to say, by my estimate, 133 total readers
  • Some useful characters
  • A lot more confidence about my word choice
  • Very little confidence about my plotting
  • A great deal of evidence that I thought stupid things were clever at 1:30 in the morning
  • A name-drop in a doctoral dissertation that I’m not allowed to read
  • A gig writing for one of my favorite comic artists
  • Some really nice letters from cool people
  • Approximately 2003 fewer hours of free time

If you read and enjoyed this thing, thanks, and I’m glad. I owe a debt to Holly Gramazio, Sumana Harihareswara, Leonard Richardson, Andrew Cole, John Dixon, Stephen Heintz, William O’Neil, Kevan Davis, Ben Wray, Riana Pfefferkorn, Joe McDaldno, Tim Coe, Dave Michalak, Ben Carson, the indefatigable Geoffrey Pieper, Christin Clatterbuck, Kris Straub, Penny Arcade, and all the regulars from the LJ/FB feeds for putting the occasional gleam on my raw monument to doggedness. Many of these people have done me the additional kindness of writing guest stories! I’ll be posting them over the next couple of weeks.

I look forward to having my evenings back so I can devote more time to writing code and also homoerotic fanfiction about Inception characters. You think that’s a joke but it’s not.

It’s a threat.

Remember way back when

I used to talk about Sigurdur Petursson all the time? His spirit has surfaced again, in the person of one Hideaki Akaiwa.

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