Literary Chicago


A Time for Laughter

August 03, 2011 By: Alba Machado Category: Reading Series

Funny Ha-Ha Presents: “Hot Stuff” at the Hideout

Photos courtesy of Danette Chavez, staff photographer.

Someone once said, “Comedy is tragedy plus time.” Depending on who you ask, it might have been Charlie Chaplin, Woody Allen, Carol Burnett, or someone else altogether. “Tragedy” might be a strong word to describe the subjects of tonight’s readings at this installment of Funny Ha-Ha, but they were all certainly preoccupied with time—the test of time, time gone by, time wasted, and time spent peeing on an African man’s face. You know, stuff we could all relate to. The event is hosted, as always, by WBEZ blogger and TV critic for the LA Times and the A.V. Club Claire Zulkey, who is quick to turn the spotlight over to each of the funny people in tonight’s lineup.

Comedy Central’s Indecision blogger Dennis DiClaudio shares two pieces, one a relatively serious exhortation that you “Do Not Bring a Tree Into the House” and the other a series of brief open letters from the DiClaudio of today, or “Nowadays Me,” to his former selves. The advice he repeats three times, to three of his younger selves, seems personally relevant to many in the audience: “Look, I know this girl broke your heart. I know you thought she was the one . . .” The advice he gives to the DiClaudio of the year 2000 seems even more so: “Do NOT vote for Ralph Nader.”

“Ask Amy” columnist Amy Dickinson talks about how she “became an icon.” After the death of Ann Landers, she knew the Chicago Tribune would be on the lookout for a new advice columnist. Knowing that her New England background would be a liability in applying for this job, she decided to emulate one of our local celebrities, Bonnie Hunt. “I was going to have to be Judge Judy on the page and Bonnie Hunt in real life.” Her plan worked. She hit one major snag along the way, though: during the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” which was supposed to be her grand coming out, her “Sally Field moment,” she neglected to replace “root, root, root for the home team” with “root, root, root for the Cubbies,” and consequently suffered the venomous scorn of loyal Cubs fans throughout the city. Having long since overcome that major stumbling block, though, she can now laugh at it and wear the Cubs jersey that she earned from the debacle with pride.

Write Club “Overlord” Ian Belknap pretends that being one of the most adored personalities in the Chicago literary scene detracts from, rather than adds to, his sex appeal. In characteristically histrionic tones, he bemoans his fate, saying, “I am a formerly attractive man.” We’re supposed to believe that when he worked minimum-wage-paying jobs, when he couldn’t bring himself to approach a cougar who’s into him, and when he cheated girlfriends out of money so that he could buy pot and liquor—that was the peak of his hotness. But now that he’s a master of both page and stage, a responsible breadwinner, and a husband and father—he’s unattractive. “Look at me,” he says. “I’m horrible. I should work in a dungeon or under a bridge. I should only hang out with moles and cave salamanders – the kind that have evolved to be eyeless and translucent.” Right. The only real evidence Belknap has to prove that he was once more attractive than he is now is that Uma Thurman once had a crush on him and, for obvious reasons, that evidence is suspect. He means well, I’m sure, telling us all to “carpe the fucking diem.” But he needs to stop obsessing about how, in his view, his gut has become a “marsupial repository for [his] self-loathing,” the bags under his eyes are “satchels stuffed with [his] thwarted ambitions,” and his double chin is a “pelican pouch of [his] poor choices.” He needs to get it together and prepare to be the “Minister of Veracity” for tomorrow’s Encyclopedia Show. I’ll be there with two more of his groupies—because, apparently, formerly attractive men have groupies nowadays.

Unlike Belknap, Bearded comedian (as he’s billed) James Fritz doesn’t claim to be unattractive, only angry, sad, and short. Because of his beard, build, and the sadness, some call him “Zach Galifian-sadness.” He traces back his emotional problems to his parents, saying, “A lot of people stay together for their kids. My parents are staying together for Jesus. And he’s never going away to college.” In describing their marriage, he tells us about how, once, when his mother was taking longer in the bathroom than a good Christian woman should, his father punched a hole through the bathroom door. Instead of replacing the door, his mom covered it with a pretty piece of fabric. That “hate doily,” he says, is “the perfect metaphor for a Christian marriage.”

Jezebel blogger Erin Gloria Ryan is the only one of tonight’s readers who doesn’t dig too far into the past. Her piece is about the last four years of her life, years spent working a job she hates for a company she hates. She started out with a number of various positions before she settled on being a receptionist. “I’m a corporate geisha,” she says, “a captive lady audience.” She copes with the trials and tribulations of what she calls the “stress-terarium” by taking numerous bathroom and vending machine breaks, fantasizing about quitting with a sheet cake that reads “Fuck all y’all motherfuckers,” and gathering observations to share at readings like this one. Among the characters she encounters in her “conversational cage” are Republicans who “say that Obama wants to raise the debt ceiling to pay for ‘illegals’ to have abortions,” and Mitzy, a corporate queen who “loves to see her stocks go up because that means they’re getting closer to Jesus.”

Filmmaker extraordinaire Joe Avella shares his campy movie, Chinese Star Cop, which is about a police officer who fails to bring his gun to the scene of a crime because he’s a Chinese star cop, not a gun cop. And he’s not even Chinese. Other, even shorter films are interspersed throughout this short film, including a commercial for the Chicago Park District that contains the line “ideal for soccer, jogging, and blood rituals,” and the saga of a guy who travels to Africa and drinks a bottle of AIDS in order to meet Bono.

Finally, we have Samantha Irby. It’s probably a good idea to save her for last. She’s a contributor to the Sunday Night Sex Show and the tag line for her blog, Bitches Gotta Eat, is: “I write about tacos, hot dudes, garbage-ass dudes, sexy lesbians, good music, and diarrhea. And sometimes other stuff.” This is a woman who gets jaws to drop. Anyone who reads after her is pretty much guaranteed to sound like a prude, ridiculously tame. She opens with a warning: “White people, it’s okay to laugh at this piece.” Then she proceeds to explain the very complicated relationship she’s had with African men over the years—not African American men, but African men. They seem to love her. She represents the “endless bounty” to them. But it never works out. One of them will say to her, “In my country, I have much land and woman like you would bow to me.” And she’ll respond, “Well, in my country, you park cars and wash windows, and dude, you missed a spot.” Despite her vow, she once succumbed to the charms of a freakishly smart African who was educated in a Swiss boarding school. She calls him “Amistad.” This is where it gets, well, jaw-dropping. Turns out, the man was a piss fetishist. That, in and of itself, of course, is no real cause for gasps and shudders. (We’ve all read Savage Love, right?) It’s Irby’s absolute candidness in describing the details of her sexual experimentation that takes you by surprise. Her first real foray into “golden showers” was a violent, albeit consensual affair that took place in a bathtub. She ripped the shower curtains, shattered a bottle of shampoo, and cut her face on the faucet. “I didn’t even know black people did that shit. We’re always like, ‘That’s the kind of weird shit that white people do.’” This all leads up to a horrifying incident of “piss-snowballing” that you’ll have to seek out on Irby’s website, if you dare. I’m not one for spoilers.

A riot in her own right, Zulkey has done a fine job of bringing together an incredibly funny group of people. If only we were all so adept at mining our past for nuggets of comedy gold.


5 Comments to “A Time for Laughter”

  1. Can I be distaff photographer? Because, you know, I’m a woman. Ostensibly.

  2. I can vouch for the Ian Belknap/Uma Thurman story – I’m his Mom (instant credibility, right?) She actually moped around after him (we’re talking middle school or early high school here) and he found her a little annoying. And he was really attractive . But then I think he still is – again, I am the Mom.

    • Thanks for clearing that up, Andrea. You could see how one might raise an eyebrow at such a claim, though, right? I love that little Belknap found little Thurman annoying. How perfect.

  3. I’ve been in a few Funny Ha Ha shows in my time, but Tuesday night was the funniest I’ve ever seen. Samantha Irby needs be famous, fast.