Superman on Trial

Superman on Trial
Superman on Trial

Superman on Trial is a BBC Radio dramatic presentation created in honor of the Man of Steel’s 50th Anniversary.  Here’s the plot synopsis from Wikipedia (which I expanded from a one sentence to a five sentence summary):

Poisoned with Kryptonite and put on trial for causing as many disasters as he prevents, Superman must relive his past as his closest friends as allies try to save him from eternal imprisonment in the Phantom Zone. Prosecutor Lex Luthor (who is also running for Mayor of Metropolis) squares off against Superman’s advocate, Lois Lane in front of acting judge, Ganthet. Luthor claims that because Superman is an alien, he should not be “meddling in human affairs.” Witnesses appear from both the comic world, like Jimmy Olsen, and from the real world, like Adam West (tv’s Batman), Jenette Kahn (then-President, DC Comics) and Dave Gibbons (DC Comics artist/Co-creator, Watchmen). In the end, Ganthet rules that because Superman was raised by human parents, he acquired human values and was thus part of humanity.

A few quick thoughts about this 1-hour programme (I spell program in the British way since this is a BBC production):

  • If you aren’t very familiar with the comics, some of the stuff in this show is a little weird.  Mostly, they don’t do a very good job of explaining who Ganthet is.  He just rumbles and sounds ominous, as if Michael Clarke Duncan were the judge.
  • Maggs’ decision to put Supe on trial by using testimony from creators of comic books demands a suspension of suspension of disbelief.  In the world of the story, the Superman tales were created as promotional/ documentary material about Superman, but the show conveniently takes the Umberto Eco “Myth of Superman” approach, forgetting that if the comics were documenting real events, Lois and Lex would both be elderly.  Once you’re willing to forgive that convenient collapsing of time, it’s an amusing development.
  • I particularly like the sections in which Batman appears, testifying both as Adam West and as the Batman himself.  In the case of the latter, Lex brings up the uncomfortable idea that Batman’s own worries about Superman’s potential as a world-changing force spawned the Superman/Batman fight in The Dark Knight Returns.  Oddly, despite the fact that Lex calls Dave Gibbons to testify, he doesn’t bring up Gibbons’ own exploration of this very subject through the character of Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen.
  • William Hootkins does an excellent job chewing the scenery as Lex Luthor.  Most amusing, for my money, is his angry rant to the Luthercorp legal department at the end, in which he delivers the credits by threatening to sue all the people involved in the radio play, especially William Hootkins.
  • The end wasn’t all that satisfying to me, as it returns to the overall message of Superman itself: nurture beats nature.

An amusing audio play, well worth the time.  I’m not sure it’s worth the money though.

Glimpses of Children’s world

Yar, where be that treasure?!
Yar, where be that treasure?!

There’s a reason Kids Say the Darndest Things survives as an idiom and a television show.  If you follow my twitter feed (and if you don’t, WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH YOU? Just kidding, I still love you, loyal reader.) you know that around one in ten of my tweets is something about my kids or something they said.  I suppose much of what makes them funny and adorable (other than the familial bond) is the overlap of innocence and maturity.  Usually when I notice the kids saying something really cute, it’s a turn of phrase that has more extended meaning for me than it does for them.  Or it seems more advanced than we’d expect.  Or it’s sage wisdom (hence the other idiom, From the mouths of babes…*).

Here are a couple recent utterances from my kids:

Upon leaving a restaurant where she’d just eaten pancakes for dinner.

Avery: Why do they serve pancakes for dinner?!

Me: Yeah, what kind of weirdo would order pancakes for dinner?

Avery: That would be me.

and

Upon seeing the letters “I i” on the back of one of his Animal Baby magazines (a great toddler pub, btw), Finn commented on the second letter.

Finn: That’s an “i” for Finn!

Me: Yep, that letter is in your name.  [Pointing to the first letter.] Do you know what this letter is?

Finn: [Pointing to the second letter.] This is a lower case “i” for Finn.

Me: [Pointing to the first letter, the upper case “I”.] Right! What’s this?

Finn: [Quiet for a moment.] A tower?

But there’s an ancillary moment of humor when the child realizes they’ve said something funny and they try to re-capture that glory.  (Lisa Lampanelli has an extended bit about doing exactly this with her first joke that killed at a family Thanksgiving.)  This happened sometime last autumn:

We’re eating a meal that has a side of quartered new potatoes.

Finn: I don’t like potatoes.

Me: But you like french fries, right?

Finn: Yeah.

Me: What do you think french fries are made of?

Finn: French.

All the adults bust up laughing.  He immediately tried it again, to much less effect, and then Avery got in on the action, asking my question again. For days (it seemed like weeks) afterward, Avery and Finn became a tiny Abbott and Costello, with Avery occasionally saying “Finn, what are french fries made of?” and Finn delivering the punchline “French!” with gusto and a huge smile.  You could almost hear a distant rim shot each time.  I should have taught them to do that routine with jazz hands.

– – – – –

*I realized as I typed this that I didn’t know what followed “From the mouths of babes….”  A quick search reveals its from the Bible, the second line of Psalms 8:2

From the mouth of infants and nursing babes Thou hast established strength, Because of Thine adversaries, To make the enemy and the revengeful cease.

Like a missing panel from a proto-pulp graphic novel

The Monocled Smoker watches over his city from atop its highest buildings
The Monocled Smoker watches over his city from atop its highest buildings

When Metrics go bad

The recent “Facebook: Now What?” episode of NPR’s excellent economics podcast, Planet Money, explored how Facebook ads work and how they make money.  One of the things they discovered is that some old media uses Facebook “likes” as part of their pricing structure — they advocate or charge more for ads on programs or publications that have a lot of likes.  Thus, a secondary market in Facebook “likes” has sprung up, with businesses buying “likes” from marketing companies, who then pay people with armies of work at home social media folks who “like” sites for work.

"Alex from Facebook at Mozcon" by Thos Ballantyne, used under cc-license
"Alex from Facebook at Mozcon" by Thos Ballantyne, used under cc-license

The end of the podcast highlights the problem with the Facebook model — they only have something to sell as long as their user-targeted data is valuable; when the user data gets polluted by fake accounts or by accounts working for money, the value of that data drops precipitously.  The self-reinforcing system in which people pay for likes, get paid for likes, and then think they’ve accomplished something because they have a lot of “likes” creates a real threat to Facebook.  It seems like the people who spend money based on the amount of likes something or someone has are the losers here.

Another recent episode explored the economic issues at the heart of another Planet Money episode, “How Do You Decide Who Gets Lungs?”  During the course of that story, we learned that doctors regularly manipulate their treatments for some kinds of patients (by putting them in the ICU when they don’t need to be there, or putting them on a waiting list before they belong there) in order to raise their chances of getting an organ donation.  The rules designed to determine who should get the organs were gamed by doctors hoping to do the best for their patients.

And once again, we see the phenomenon at the heart of many problems explored in Leavitt and Dubners’ books Freakonomics and Super Freakonomics, namely that metrics often create unintended motives to do better by the metric instead of doing better at what the metric purports to measure.

See also: Following 29k, Gender Pretending

Stephen Fry’s English Delight

Fry's English Delight, series 1 Fry's English Delight, series 2 Fry's English Delight, series 3 Fry's English Delight, series 4

Series 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Fry’s English Delight is a radio show produced and broadcast by BBC4 about the nature of the English language.  It’s fun and educational, perfect for word nerds like you and me.  I might be cheating to put it in my “Books I Read” category, but I think of it as a charming audiobook, kind of. A few thoughts:

  • Moneywise, I think each section would be a bit of a ripoff.  Each series is less than 2 hours and costs roughly $22 on Amazon.  Fortunately, I listened to the whole run via my public library.  I think it would be a fine value if they put the whole series, all four series which comes out to 7.2 hours, in one box.  The series is chalk full of little anecdotes about how language evolves and how words work.  I’m not sure yet whether I want to use any of it for class or not, mostly because I can’t tell whether I like it because it’s awesome, or because I’m nerdy.  Probably both.
  • My favorite episodes are those about jokes, puns, and so on.  Fry brings on a master one-liner comedian, Tim Vine, who talks about the utility of puns and simplicity in jokes.  Mostly, he quips, he works in short jokes because it doesn’t take long to get past one that doesn’t work.
  • Episode 3 of series 2 is about the word hello and its use in history.  The first half of the episode documents the use of the word before the telephone — and in contradiction to my previous understanding, it was in use quite a bit — as a derivation of a hunting call hallooo.  But, confirming what I understood already, it came into broad and common use in the fight over what to say as a greeting on the telephone.  Edison, that master propagandist, preferred Hello to Bell’s Hoy Ahoy.
  • Episode 4 of Series 1 explores the use of cliches, especially phrases like the bees knees.  My favorite factoid from this discussion is the dog’s bollocks.  To say something is great, in 1920s Britain, one might well say “That’s the dog’s bollocks!”  Of course, that phrase doesn’t trip smoothly off the tongue, so it was shortened to “That’s the bollocks” which is confusingly similar to “That’s bollocks,” which means “that’s bad.”  The etymologist they have on the show suggests people stopped using that’s the bollocks for this very reason.  What I was most interested in, though, is that the term originating in printing houses, where it used to be common to use the now-defunct punctuation of a comma followed by a hyphen  :-   which the printers referred to as a dog’s bollocks, for obvious reasons.
  • I also really liked the last episode of series 4, in which Fry explores the role that accents and word use still play in creating/ maintaining prejudice in Britain.  The big issue now, I guess, is with politicians trying to avoid using “received pronunciation” in favor of more colloquial accents.  There was a particularly interesting part where one of the subjects of the segment, an announcer for one of the BBC channels, mentioned how because of his working class background, he always felt a little like he was putting on airs when he said lunch for the noon meal instead of dinner (this distinction being one of class), but at the same time, because his accent marks him as having working class roots and his job on the BBC is presumably upper class, people think he’s playing at being working class when they hear him on the air.

Fry’s English Delight is an enjoyable explanation of the British language and well worth your time, but I’d recommend going through your local library.

2012-05-27 Tweets

  • Roasty toasty Sunday in #ForestPark Goin to the church fair up the street. Bouncy castles FTW. #
  • Sometimes just can't explain it to kids, like why I said No when Finn wanted to add cartoonish giant red lips to his dark-skinned Wii Mii. #
  • Sundays will be fiction day. I may do fiction on other days, but only as auxillary to my research writing. 929 words. #750words #
  • 929 Words this morning. Have finished outlining and am now drafting the next chapter. #ProgressContinues #750words #
  • @columbophile Just learned UK has a #Columbo box set (in cool cigar box) while we US chumps have to buy one season at a time. That sucks. #
  • @columbophile If you find someone selling region 1 version, plz let me know! in reply to columbophile #
  • Lots of academic work to do this week, but taking time to build a two sided bookshelf on wheels for the office. #TooManyBooksOnTheFloor #
  • Another patented RBBergstrom exposition on dice stats in RPGs. Love it. http://t.co/arqJT520 #
  • Finn: I want two robot toys, one with open eyes and one with dark so they can kiss and be friends. I want all my toys to be friends. #
  • 770 words today. Was a tough slog, but moving from easy intro writing to meaty argument writing. Will be harder for a while. #750words #
  • Finished the bookshelf. Blog post soon for you bookshelf lovers. #
  • Me to Finn: Go do each slide one more time, then we have to go. Finn: Zoinks! #TooMuchScoobyDoo #
  • @MasonJohnson14 "Norwegian Wood" sounds like a Scandinavian stag film. #MakingTheObviousJoke in reply to MasonJohnson14 #
  • When I searched 'Turing' in my current book project, I found his name embedded in featuring, structuring, manufacturing. #StrangeButCool #
  • Got caught up in other things during my 5-7am work time, but back on track. 820 today. #750words #
  • Weird? Did you know it's against Biblical teachings for one Christian to sue another? http://t.co/saAxb9Ob #
  • @dancpharmd @heidicullinan Welcome to Chi-town! in reply to dancpharmd #
  • 810 words, finished just as I need to adjourn for the day to hang out with the kids. Whew. #750words #
  • Roasty hot day in Chicago – opening weekend at the pool is gonna be a madhouse. #CantWait #
  • For those of you unaware of it, JUST DANCE KIDS crosses the line from amusing/cute to downright creepy somewhere around B-I-N-G-O. #
  • Cleaning out the "coupons" folder in email, I see a bunch of old Borders Rewards messages, usually with the ol' 20% off coupon. Nostalgia. #
  • It always feels badass to refer to less-common verb tenses like 'present perfect' correctly without looking them up. http://t.co/K8qrERzD #
  • Pompousness check: Just changed "reduces its utility dramatically" to "makes it far less useful." Less bureaucratic AND less pompous. #win #
  • Discovery: two player "go fish" sucks because every time you claim a fish from the other person's hand, you help them win. #
  • After 3hrs trying to get them to nap, we give up and take a late afternoon trip to the zoo. 10 minutes in the car. http://t.co/GziUE9wU #
  • Had a great lunch and hangout with @dancpharmd yesterday. One more friend confirmed not to be a Turing machine. in reply to dancpharmd #
  • @ruswbb @columbophile True enough — but if you buy that on ebay, it will work on your tabletop. Your DVDs will not work in my player. 🙁 in reply to ruswbb #
  • @columbophile I'll look into that… in reply to columbophile #
  • Best kitchen smell for my money? Fresh minced ginger. #Heavenly #
  • Also, using my knife and bench scraper skills acquired at flavour cooking school. Diced strawberries? Check. #

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the sum total of that

from Augusta Chapman

We shall survive in the memories of our friends
for as long as the remembrance
will serve any good purpose
And then our work, and thought, and influence,
will mingle with the great ocean of human achievement,
and the sum total of that
will be something more, something different,
from what it would have been without us.

As printed in the Unity Temple service insert, 13 May

Zero Klout update

Zero Klout
Zero Klout

In the past few weeks of doing the Zero Klout project, I’ve noticed that it seems like your Klout score cannot go below 10.  I’ve never seen a score below 10, anyhow.  Thus, I’m trying to figure out how to make a score that DOES, or to keep it as low as possible.

To that end, I’ve created an account to author the tumblr with that belongs to twitter user @zeroklout.  I also made a facebook account for him, leaving all the privacy settings public.  I’m planning to use the most naive of social media ‘rules’ to navigate these figures.

I will tweet once a week or so with @zeroklout.  I will ‘follow’ anyone who pms the account or uses the #zeroklout hashtag.  (Gentle readers, please don’t go out of your way to do this — I’m not sure what will happen if the account starts getting a bunch of mentions from others, but surely it will go up in Klout.)

I’m also trying to figure out how to see a klout score for that user itself.  So far, I haven’t been able see one, and I don’t want to register for Klout with it, because that’s a sure way to make the score skyrocket.

If you have ideas, particularly for ways to make the score go down, please post them here.

Villains who aren’t villains

Pirates! Band of Misfits Dark Shadows

The Pirates! and Dark Shadows

Both films under discussion today are part of the modern habit of telling tales about villains (pirates and vampires are both nominally villains, no?) whom we enjoy and empathize with.  The Pirates! follows the adventure of the lovable Pirate Captain and his crew as they seek treasure and the fame of the Pirate of the Year award.  Along the way, they meet Charles Darwin, played like Niles Crane, and travel with him to London.  Dark Shadows tells the turbulent love story of Barnabas Collins, a wealthy man who finds himself cursed by a spurned lover and trapped as a deadly vampire for 200 years, only to be found and unearthed in the 1970s.  Hilarity and melodrama ensues. A few thoughts:

  • Both films excited me before we saw them, and neither was quite as good as I was hoping.  With the Aardman production–Pirates was produced using the classic Nick Park animation style–that’s pretty much inevitable.  No feature length movie from Aardman has ever captured the glory of the early Wallace and Gromit shorts. That said, these movies always grow on me.  Dark Shadows was okay, but it wasn’t what I expected (mostly a funnier movie than we got).  Part of that is the fault of the trailer, which includes pretty much every one of the laugh lines.
  • Both the Pirate Captain and Barnabas Collins are eminently likeable characters.  Collins is driven by love and honor for his family to do what he does, and under the silly Johnny Depp affectations (which amuse me to no end, don’t mistake me) rests real mourning, something the clowning of the movie keeps the audience from feeling the same turmoil.  Pirate Captain is charming, funny, a bit inept.  Hugh Grant’s voice comes through to make him a character you want to win.  But both of these men are villains too, and the texts just underplay their villainy.  Pirate Captain’s thievery doesn’t hurt anyone because he’s too inept to actually rob anyone, and Barnabas Collins apologizes to people before he kills them, so it’s funny.
  • There was a point about two-thirds of the way through Dark Shadows where Jenny decided “ah-ha! It is a Tim Burton film.”  By this, she didn’t mean that she couldn’t remember who the director was, instead she meant that his style didn’t come through as loudly as it had in previous films.  I did not have that experience of delay.  For me, the mise-en-scene and camera style in Dark Shadows scream “Tim Burton” as loudly as Johnny Depp’s prominent role in a dark comedy does.  Pirates! was similar in its overt use of the Aardman house style.  The bulbous eyes and big mouths make for particularly amusing animated figures, as usual.
  • The advertising campaign for each film irritates me in its own way.  For Dark Shadows, it’s really the trailer that undercut the film.  This experience reinforced, for me, the need to avoid as much of the marketing for a movie as I can.  Most of the good laugh lines are in one or another of the trailers, and since they have a clear setup, usually, you can see them coming a mile away and they lose most of their punch.  (Oddly, at this screening, there were a pair of men whom I uncharitably mentally dubbed buffoons who guffawed particularly loudly at each of the well-publicized laugh lines.  I couldn’t help but wonder if they’d been primed to laugh by the commercials, or if perhaps they hadn’t seen the commercials and were laughing the way I would have if not for the spoilers.)   My annoyance with the marketing for Pirates! springs from the opposite pole — the marketing people for the movie hid key aspects of its plot and changed its name.  PZ Myers explains that the film is based on a book called Pirates! In Adventures with Scientists, but

    it’s gotten a name change, to The Pirates! Band of Misfits, and they’re not mentioning Charles Darwin in the trailers. If you’ve read the book, though, you know that Darwin is rather central to the whole story. Apparently, “science” and “Darwin” are box office penalties in the US. I’m going anyway, as soon as I can, because the content is presumably unchanged and I like science, beards, Darwin, pirates, and the funny, even if the marketing idiots are frightened.

    Like Myers, I’m annoyed that a film centered around scientists, using Charles Darwin as a figure, must hide these facts in order to succeed in this country. It’s just depressing.

  • Last, both films feature female villains, women who have immense amounts of power but squander it over petty things.  In Pirates! it’s Queen Elizabeth herself, who hates buccaneers and likes to eat endangered animals (it’s like The Freshman if Marlon Brando had warn a hoop skirt), whereas in Dark Shadows it’s a lovelorn witch who can’t take no for an answer (it’s like Fatal Attraction if Glenn Close boiled that rabbit using magic).

Both films are okay, but not as good as I’d hoped.  I think both might become pretty good if you don’t go in expecting them to be amazing. (Oddly, I find Mark Bousquet’s viciously negative review of Dark Shadows pretty accurate. Warning, he spoils with gusto.)

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists
The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists

Shorter and simpler?

From Lowering the Bar:

Writing (or speaking) at a higher grade level is not a good thing, or at least not necessarily. What these particular numbers really measure (at least the Flesch-Kincaid test) is the complexity and length of sentences. It says nothing about how accurate or intelligent the sentences are, and all else being equal, the shorter and simpler something is then the more thought was probably put into it. (This is why people who use legalese because they think it makes them sound smarter are actually proving the opposite.)

Shorter and simpler almost always means better communication, if nothing else. As the foundation points out, the Constitution (a great document, but not the most readable) measures 17.8 on this scale, the Gettysburg Address measures 11.2, and the “I Have a Dream” speech is down at 9.4. President Obama’s recent State of the Union was delivered at an eighth-grade level (8.4), well below the average SOTU score of 10.7. FOX News illustrated this news with a picture of a kid in a dunce cap, possibly not knowing that simpler often means smarter or that 8.4 is almost exactly the same as the average American’s reading level. (link)

While I can see Kevin’s point here — especially the point about how bureaucratic or jargon-laden writing often indicates a lack of clear thinking, I want to ponder this claim: “Shorter and simpler almost always means better communication.”

On one hand, he’s absolutely correct.  Richard Lanham’s argument at the center of Revising Prose suggests exactly this: that you will communicate better if you’re writing shorter and simpler.  If you don’t ask your reader to maintain complicated sentence structures or use obtuse jargon, you have a better chance at communicating effectively.

On the other hand, he ignores the major tradeoff, which is complexity of ideas.  To write about a complex idea, one must either write in shared shorthand (jargon) or explain oneself at more length.  To simplify inevitably means to cut nuance, and thus to communicate less effectively.  I think the quip-heavy Twitter-friendly modern media suffer most severely from this problem.

To whit, consider this unsourced anecdote (I heard in a keynote at a conference from someone I believe was from the Center for Media and Democracy):

In a survey of Americans about the news, the Center for Media and Democracy (?) found that individuals who got most of their news from newspapers were the most accurate and knowledgeable about current events.  By contrast, television news imported the least accuracy and knowledge.  Strangely, individuals who got their news primarily from television felt the most confidence about their knowledge, while newspaper readers were less confident about how informed they were.

This goes to the old adage that the more you know, the more you know there is to learn.  I consider this relevant because television news simplifies its coverage in order to be clear and quick.

Thus, while I think Kevin’s assertion stems from a truth about writing, it needs to be amended to say that “Between equally informative pieces of writing, the shorter and simpler almost always communicates its message better.”  See, I made it longer and more complex in order to add necessary nuance.

I support House Bill 4193 to fund IDNR

An open letter to Illinois Lawmakers.

I am one of your constituents who lives in Forest Park, IL.  I’m emailing to indicate that I believe one of the state’s most significant duties is to fund the shepherding of public lands and enable us all to use this vital (and economical) resource.  To that end, I support House Bill 4193 to fund IDNR.  I hope you will support it as well.  If you do not, I would appreciate learning why you do not.

Thank you for your time.

Brendan Riley
Forest Park, IL

This bin was filled with water OR a supernatural vortex of sparks

Reason #12 not to trip on your front step: to avoid being laughed at by traveling strangers wearing lederhosen
Reason #12 not to trip on your front step: to avoid being laughed at by traveling strangers wearing lederhosen

Insert Slang indicating that I play the drums here

Bwa ha ha ha!

influential-about-drumming

I’m working on an update about Zero Klout, which you should hear about soon.

Peep Show, series 1

A while ago, I watched series 1 of That Mitchell and Webb Look, which features perhaps my favorite bit of comedy about Nazis:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEle_DLDg9Y]
Peep Show, series 1
Peep Show, series 1

But this review isn’t about that hilarious sketch comedy show.  Instead, it’s about the first season of Mitchell and Webb’s long-running sitcom Peep Show.  The series’ main conceit is that it takes place mostly through POV shots, meaning that the person thinking/narrating is usually off-screen.  It’s funny, but trades in the humor of embarrassment that the British are so skilled at.  A few thoughts:

  • Olivia Coleman is one of a couple other regular characters in the show, an unrequited love interest for Mark (Mitchell’s character) , and perhaps the best of the straight-figures in the show.  She has the best reaction shots, as it’s usually she who finds Mark doing whatever awful thing he’s driven to do by the end of the episode.
  • At the same time, the sexual humor in this series is far more explicit than you’d get on American television, at least mainstream broadcast television.  This demonstrates how skewed American priorities are–certain kinds of sex imagery would be absolutely off-limits on television, but the disgusting corpses on Bones are fair game (not to mention the squishy noises that go with them).
  • It took me a little while to get into the show — I expected a higher quotient of direct laughs, as is the case in sketch comedy shows like That Mitchell and Webb Look.  Instead, the show goes on a slow burn, gradually revealing Mark’s thundering insecurities and Jeremy’s utter callousness.  My favorite part of this last aspect came late in the show, when Jeremy betrays Mark in a very specific way that mirrored exactly the way he himself had been betrayed by his pothead music partner just the episode before.

From episode 4: “Jesus, man! What happened? You’ve got a Blair Witch Ear over there.”

A Blair Witch Ear
A Blair Witch Ear

I think this is a funny show, but really more for those who appreciate the sense of humor in something like the BBC The Office.

 

Chocolate, Please

Chocolate, PleaseChocolate, Please: My adventures in food, fat, and freaks
written and narrated by Lisa Lampanelli

Lisa Lampanelli, “Comedy’s Lovable Queen of Mean,” spouts epithets and slurs with mind-numbing rapidity.  Her comedy, standing squarely in the middle of the “insult comic” genre, could be easily offensive if one took things personally (or took things personally on behalf of someone else).  But where lesser comics use epithets as they’re intended, Lampanelli’s use of the language sends up everyone, especially the up-tight squares who can’t take a joke. Of course, Lampanelli makes this kind of comedy work by making herself the target as often as she puts the target on someone else’s back.

A few thoughts:

  • I’ve really come to like stand-up comedian books, particularly the ones that bridge the gap between comedy essays and memoir.  Because comedians spend so much time thinking about the nature of the world, they’re remarkably introspective and thus able to articulate their views of the world with both humor and humility.  That said, this book had more essays about Lampanelli’s treatment for various personality disorders (eating and co-dependency) than I expected it would.
  • In particular, Lampanelli’s writing about her two stints in rehab stands out.  The time she spends in an extreme rehab facility for people with eating disorders is both moving and interesting, and helps highlight how women of all shapes and sizes faces body image challenges in American society.
  • I’m divided the way she writes about her experiences with black men.  In part, Lampanelli is famous for her stage stories about dating black men, but her discussion of them is grounded in the language she uses as an insult comic, and makes it very hard to separate her discussions of particular men of color from all men of color.  This becomes more complicated as she writes about the stereotypes that she’s decided are more often true than false.  It might be easy for an unsophisticated listener to find racist views reinforced, rather than satirized, by Lampanelli’s book. (Much of her book reminds me, for example, of Chelsea Handler’s writing about dwarfs.)
  • Alas, the book feels a bit padded out with jokes from her act and various specials she’s been in.  I would actually have preferred to read another essay about her life than a series of jokes about different subjects.

A good book for someone who knows Lampanelli’s work, but not recommended for people unfamiliar with her comedy style.  Be sure you like her work before you read this book.

See also: Zombie Vampire Wasteland, I Drink for a Reason, My Custom Van, God, No!, Me of Little Faith