An Assemblage of Fools

by Michael Channing

Last Monday was special. Not only did I have a good set at the open mic, but I was part of a much larger work of art that grew from the seeds of my frantic rambling. I talked about my fiancée and I going to a Bruce Springsteen concert the week before. I told the audience that while I liked Springsteen and some of his songs, he wasn't part of my soul in the way Rush and Living Colour were. Those two bands informed and influenced my childhood while Bruce was simply that guy who sang a couple of songs that would have kicked a lot more ass had they not so prominently featured the very un-rock-and-roll glockenspiel.

Glockenspiel marching band

Hail Satan!

Anyway, as I made the blasphemous announcement that I liked Rush more than Bruce Springsteen, an acoustical ceiling tile fell on my head.

I took my smiting in stride, finished my bit on the concert, talking about the white gangsta next to us who had dropped acid to enhance his experience of "Dancing in the Dark" and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."

Bruce Springsteen wearing a Santa hat

Hail Santa!

My set moved up from there. I got some good laughs, ended on an applause break, said "Thank you," and sat down. Would have been a great night had that been it. But the next two comics picked up the Springsteen theme and ran miles farther than I could go.

Cody Hughes said that living in Hendersonville, NC was like living inside a Springsteen song, except without the final uplifting line. He quoted from Thunder Road, "It's a town full of losers, and I'm pulling out of here to win." Hendersonville just stops at "It's a town full of losers."

Nick Shaheen (Nick Shaheeeeeeen--You gotta repeat it like that. Don't ask, it's too long an explanation.) went up next and talked about the guy he knew on Facebook who's profile pictures were always Springsteen album covers and who named his dog Clarence. That guy also happened to be a raging republican, anti the working man, and supporter of the troops aka supporter of wars. So Nick posted on that guy's wall a story about Springsteen campaigning for Obama. The guy disappeared from Facebook for twelve days.

Cody and Nick didn't just talk about Bruce. They had other bits, great bits about something or other, but I felt proud to have inspired the recurring topic. Because I felt part of a larger conversation, a greater piece of art. I felt as if I belonged.

I don't make friends very easily. My usual technique is to stand near people who are talking and interject dick jokes into pauses in the conversation. So what Monday felt like was more than acceptance. It felt like community. Like family. That's what we are, right? Not lone wolves in competition with each other, jealous of another's successes, gloating over our own triumphs, and secretly celebrating when our rivals bomb. No, we're a band of merry men and the occasional woman.

Yes, we are separate, but that is the strength of Comedy. We all have different skills, different specialties. I tell exaggerated stories. Other comedians wield puns or insults. Some focus on current events, while others ford through history for their material. A few comedians create characters, complete with monologues and costumes. Others make up their acts on the spot, in the moment. And Comedy encompasses more than just standup. It's videos and essays and sketches and comic strips. Comedians are actors, musicians, and novelists. And yes, even puppeteers.

I'm a link in that long lineage. From the court jester to George Carlin. From the Marx Brothers to the Hughes Sisters. I'm in there somewhere.

So my Springsteen material angered the gods and they threw a ceiling at me. But I tipped a succession of dominoes that resulted in a much greater event, one I couldn't have created on my own, one that wouldn't have existed without me. A single comedian can do great things. But we are greater than the sum of our collective talents. We blend our capabilities to create a spontaneous overflow of humor and emotion, and sometimes we challenge the gods themselves, like the Romantics or the Transcendentalists.

No. Like the Avengers.

Stan T. M. Lee

Hail Stan!

Once in a While, I Get Something Right

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Chokes and Warbles
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Chokes and Warbles, a collection of essays and poems by Michael Channing