Such a joy, that Garrison Keillor. So sharp, so astute, and so very, very funny. Here, some discerning wisdom on the subject of “Humour in Politics”, delivered with Keillor’s own characteristic humour, which manages to be both genial and at the same time, takes no prisoners. It’s an address given in 2010 at the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston … and if anything, MORE relevant today than it was then.
Humour has to include all of these things (death, bad behaviour, etc.) and comprehend them; we can’t close it off. Humour is not silliness. Humour embraces our life, and there’s a connection between humour and politics, more than just politicians telling jokes. When we talk about humour, first of all we mean good humour – a sort of amiability, a kind of a general good humour among people, a bias toward trusting each other, a communal spirit… and if we lose this in our society, we’ve also lost something in politics.
When we’re talking about humour, we’re also talking about jokes, which are a crucial part of American culture and American literature…. This is an age of celebrities, and celebrity doesn’t go with jokes. Celebrities are precarious, fragile people who are properties, and who are brands, and they must defend their brands against humour, against satire. They must be very careful not to be caught off-guard. It’s a very precarious thing, especially in this day and age, when there are so many celebrities. There used to be 45. And now there are about 47,300 famous people in America, which means that most famous people in America are people most Americans have never heard of.
What has really put the damper on humour is not so much political correctness as a tendency that we have to make any sort of human oddity into a syndrome, and into a dysfunction, into a disorder. We’ve made life clinical somehow, and we’ve taken human conditions that we used to just live with and be curious about, and we’ve made them into problems to be solved, possibly with pharmaceuticals, so that everybody has some sort of disorder and we each have a long list of problems which have some sort of clinical or therapeutic solution. This gets in the way of humour. Humour requires a certain sort of fatalism, and this denies us that, so that if you wake up in the morning and you have empty ice cream cartons in bed with you, there’s a reason for this, and you discover it: it comes from taking Ambien sleep tablets, and one possible side-effect written in small print in the little pamphlet inside the Ambien box, is … a Nocturnal Excess Eating Disorder, N E E D, so you go to work solving this instead of making a joke out of it. You google Nocturnal Eating, and in one half second you come up with 36,749,000 websites, most of which have to do with owls, but here’s one that identifies your problem, and shows you the way to a group that is meeting every week, always in the basement of the Unitarian Church and always on Tuesday nights, and you sit there in a room, in a circle of folding chairs, with people with styrofoam cups of not very good coffee, and you talk in this circle….
And it goes on, interspersed with laugh-out-loud digressions…