Sunday, December 20, 2009


From a correspondence with a college friend:

Your last question (Why are UU's so humorless? ;) )is the one that caught me. I had not thought so before, but as soon as I read it I recognised it as true. Not that there are no funny or congenial people among them, or that they never laugh, but that this quality of humorlessness is more common among them, and a little more present than average in most of them individually.

I might not have noticed because everyone seems humorless compared to us. The wit and male banter of Wymans getting together is dizzying to those who encounter it for the first time. It is semi-intentional. If you recall those male dorm moments of just guys talking together, winding down, as fondly as I do, you will understand why I wanted to perpetuate it, and raised my sons to participate. The practical joke aspect of male dorm life never did much for me - it was the banter.

It descends from my father, a route salesman who always had a joke ready and was always in community theater. As his own father was not an especial wit or raconteur, I don't know where he got it from. (Though Grampa did like to go off drinking and hunting with his brothers back to Nova Scotia every year, and a picture of Charlie, my great-grandfather, suggests he may have been fun to be around. I'll have to discuss this with my brother.) At any rate my brother and I were banterers from quite early ages, and a younger brother (from my father's second family) has said we should have done a radio show like the guys on Car Talk. We could have, if we could have thought of something of general interest as a foundation as they did.

Even our Romanians, a humorless ethnic group these days, learned to engage in it once they became part of this family. There can only be brief times now when many sons plus a brother or two can all be together, but nothing beats it in all my existence.

So to us, everyone is nice enough, but a bit humorless. They need to be brought out by a Wyman to show their best side.

Anyway, the UU's. There is an earnestness to people who have causes which can make them unable to laugh at themselves. I consider ability to laugh at oneself one of the quickest measures of emotional health. Liberals often seem to lack this. Exceptions would be Bill Clinton (more an anti-conservative than a liberal); Joe Lieberman (now on the outs with the party); James Carville (also not very liberal even though he is rabidly anti-conservative. Hmm.) I hear Bill Richardson is. But Hillary? Obama? Chris Dodd, Robert Byrd, Al Gore, Barbara Boxer? Gad, think how many drinks you'd have to get into those people to make them fun. Liberal humor runs to cleverness and wryness, both of which quickly deteriorate into bitterness. See for example, the genial humor of Gary Trudeau and Garrison Keillor when they are making fun of people they genuinely like, compared to the plain meanness when they don't. The guy that writes the Tom Tomorrow comic strip - he's turned the venom he feels for conservatives onto Obama now. You'd think I'd be prime for finally thinking he's funny. But he's not. I feel sorry for the poor bastard, who is clearly a devoted liberal instead of a partisan, but he's just sneering, not funny.

Contrast this with both Bushes, Cheney, Reagan, McCain, Dole - well able to make fun of themselves. Palin, now that I think of it, isn't quite so comfortable with that. She can do it, and maybe it will get better, but it still has a forced quality. Rush Limbaugh can make fun of himself - Al Franken can't, even though he's a comedian. I don't think I've heard enough of Hannity to know, but I think he takes himself pretty seriously.

Where is the liberal humorist who makes fun of liberals the way O'Rourke does of conservatives? Maybe they can do it, but are tired of getting vilified, as Chris Rock did.

And UU's are great for causes. The Save-The-Whales Church. Well, I guess that one's passe now - they must still be into the usual diversity, gay marriage, green living, and economic justice causes, though. Up here they often post the sermon topic for the week on their signboard. I still recall shaking my head at the Easter Sunday sermon "Guns in America." Give me a frigging break. If the resurrection thing is too weird for you then go with "New Life," or do something with the bunny. Or, if you want to stay away from the whole topic as too Christian, then don't bill yourself as having respect for all the Great Teachers. Robert Fulghum is a notable UU - All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten, or whatever that was. Cute, but it's just a sermon - a hundred-page harangue about how everyone else should live. Even though the title says "I," he doesn't spend much time on how he needs to know this - his point is that he's learned it, and now should you. Just a fundamentalist with better social skills.


Gringo said...

Unitarian Universalists and others of the liberal genre are unable to be humorous because they are seriously self-rightous, fighting the good fight against the evil stupid ignorant bigoted bible thumping troglodyte rethuglicans who refuse to make the world safe for diversity and little kittens. They KNOW this is so. No time for joking around, we gotta get serious and get to business. While they may no longer be believers, they have retained the outlook of the Puritans in many ways. But I suspect the Puritans had more fun, even when they were doing by hand the tedious chores we now do by machine.

Gad, think how many drinks you'd have to get into those people to make them fun.
In the case of Chris Dudd, it might take a lot of drinks, but it wouldn’t take much time at all. Here is Ted Kennedy singing in Spanish. Even if you dislike his politics, you have to like someone who isn’t afraid to make a fool of himself like this. Maybe if he took that Spanish exam by himself, he wouldn’t have had to go into the Army and suffer hard duty in Paris, climging the Matterhorn and such. And I don’t mean Paris ,TX.
Ted looks like fun in this video. While Ted did more than his fair share of drinking in his life time I wonder if he had to get drunk to do this song. Dunno. But definitely he would have been an entertaining sort to drink with and swap stories. Perhaps even sober, though I imagine if sober he would have been more into the self-righteous liberal spiel. Drunk, the Irish-American storyteller/politico came out.

I still recall shaking my head at the Easter Sunday sermon "Guns in America."
Classic UU stuff. You nailed it. When I was in elementary school my parents went to a UU “service” - in an elementary school. No complaining about mixing of church and state back then. The Sunday School lesson was led by an English teacher, who proceeded to parse a poem with us. Though in LRY in high school, we did a lot of comparative religion, visiting various churches.

Anonymous said...

See for example, the genial humor of Gary Trudeau and Garrison Keillor when they are making fun of people they genuinely like, compared to the plain meanness when they don't.

Garrison Keillor recently directed his “humor” to the phenomena of many popular Christmas songs, such as White Christmas or Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer having been penned by Jewish songwriters.

“If you don't believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own damn "Silent Night" and leave ours alone. This is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism, and we Christians have stood for it long enough. And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write "Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we'll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah"? No, we didn't.

Christmas is a Christian holiday - if you're not in the club, then buzz off. Celebrate Yule instead or dance around in druid robes for the solstice. Go light a big log, go wassailing and falalaing until you fall down, eat figgy pudding until you puke, but don't mess with the Messiah.”

Perhaps Garrison Keillor was still suffering from the effects of the stroke he had this September. Perhaps Garrison will later state that he wasn’t expressing his own opinion, but that of Pastor Inqvist from Lake Woebegon. Coincidentally, on his December 12, 2009 show of Prairie Home Companion, what did he sing? None other than Tom Lehrer's Hanukkah in Santa Monica.(comes in about a minute after Powdermilk Biscuits)

While Tom Lehrer would never say this, imagine if Tom Lehrer had said the following in response to Garrison Keillor singing this song? “Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday. If you’re not in the club, buzz off. Celebrate instead with some Klezmer music or some gefilte fish, but don’t mess with the menorah, and don’t mess with my Hanukkah song.”

Here is A Christmas Carol, Tom Lehrer’s contribution to the Christmas song genre. Will Garrison ever sing it?

Gringo said...

Anonymous was Gringo.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I'm going to suspect Keillor was being facetious there. But that's just me following my previous narrative of him.

Sam E. said...

Reading Gringo's comment about Garrison Keillor speaking on Jews writing Christmas music made me think of Orrin Hatch's new Hanukkah song.

james said...

I remember when we used to schedule (as much as you can with kids) time around PHC on Saturday nights.
Then Keillor went off the air for a year--I gather he found his childhood sweetheart, ditched his then-current lady and moved to Europe. We adjusted to no PHC.

When the show came back, we tuned it in again for a while--but something was different. Not just the venue--there was something bitter about his monologues now. Before we'd sensed that he liked the kind of people he was telling such amusing stories about. Now he was angry. Maybe it had something to do with the way people reacted to his personal life--I don't know.

A few years ago I tuned him in again to help keep awake on the road. He didn't seem quite as bitter as before, so maybe he mellowed a little. His columns suggest otherwise, though.

The humorlessness of UU folk seems kin to what was once said of HG Wells: that he "sold his birthright for a pot of message."

Ben Wyman said...

The liberals' answer to O'Rourke is, of course, Jon Stewart. But you knew that. He's their answer to everything.

It should be noted that other people don't necessarily find the congregation of multiple Wymans to be quite as amusing as we do. On the other hand, we're still having a marvelous time.

I wholly approve of the extra non-Christian music dreck - it gives shopping malls something Christmasy to play without having to create a charmless, synth-pop version of "O Come All Ye Faithful." I can suffer through "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" once or twice.

That said, whenever someone plays "Santa Baby" anywhere near me, I tend to cover my ears and make a run for it.

Sam L.. said...

Ol' Garry used to be funny, and still can be, but some years ago was infected with RDS, which morphed into BDS, and is apparently incurable. Anything possibly political is no longer funny, and pretty much anything is possibly political.

Carol said...

My best friend used to play piano for the local UU's. She said during every service, each person was encouraged to stand and talk about his personal journey or problems or something...which would rate a big MEH from me...

ELC said...

The first curse of the Almighty on those who deny Him is to deprive them of their sense of humor.

lelia said...

An in-law's parents were at a University of F Christmas Party when all the guests were supposed to mention some great gift they got during the year, and a UU mentioned how grateful she was that her inner child has found more freedom or something that year. Afterward, a professor congratulated the UU on her pregnancy and she yelled at him in indignation.

Gringo said...

AVI, a fisking of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s speech would be right up your alley.

History cautions us of the excesses to which these malignant, vindictive passions can ultimately lead: tumbrels have rolled through taunting crowds; broken glass has sparkled in darkened streets; ``strange fruit'' has hung from southern trees; …

They are desperate to break this President. They have ardent supporters who are nearly hysterical at the very election of President Barack Obama: the ``birthers,'' the fanatics, the people running around in rightwing militias and Aryan support groups. It is unbearable to them that President Barack Obama should exist.

Sheldon has a very educated way of calling opponents of health care racists, as not every one is aware what Strange Fruit refers to,a song made famous by Billie Holiday’s rendition. (The author of Strange Fruit adopted the orphans of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, BTW.)

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Broken glass refers to Kristalnacht. Etcetera. Arrogant Brahmin sin nombre, that Sheldon.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

lelia, if you are in the U of F circle, the director of the autism center, Dr. Valcante, is a college friend of mine.

Gringo, the speech is so over-the-top that it speaks for itself better than I could. But because of that, it deserves to be circulated and remembered. I will post it with short commentary.

Gringo said...

AVI, I admit to the possibility that Garrison Keillor was being facetious, as I showed in my reference to his possibly speaking in the voice of Pastor Inqvist, the Lake Wobegon pastor. Here is some evidence that many think Garrison was playing it straight.Powerline quotes the opinion editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s editorial page.

We discussed the column and whether it crossed the line, aware that it had already stirred controversy. We decided it was not anti-Semitic, not least because Keillor spread his nastiness so widely, the way many Christians (and others) try to spread good will at this time of year. He is a regular presence on our Sunday page, with a substantial following, and our bar is very high for spiking a regular column.

In no case, however, does our publishing a column on the Opinion Exchange [the Star Tribune's opinion section] imply any endorsement of its message. We publish pieces that we think are provocative and/or illuminating. Sometimes what is illuminated is not exactly what the writer intended, and the reaction to Keillor's piece suggests this may be one of those times. Wouldn't you agree that readers with eyes to see may have learned something from this piece?

For my part, Keillor is welcome to his narrow, misanthropic Christmas. I hope the real spirit of the season reaches him someday.

At this stage, I doubt that Garrison would admit to having played it straight, even if he had.

I am a curmudgeon about Christmas. While not a believer, I much prefer the religious aspects of the holiday to the material dreck of it. I rather agree with Tom Lehrer's view of the holiday. Where I part ways with Garrison Keillor is that I do not believe that Jewish songwriters are responsible for the dreck part of the holiday. We,the goyim, have the holiday they want.

bathmate said...

nice posting. very good work. thank you. :)


GraniteDad said...

Ben, how could someone not love the Wymans en masse? OK, I know a few, but they didn't last. Can't wait until the day after Christmas, when we'll all be together.

lelia said...

I didn't know the U of Fairbanks had an autism center. But then it has been over 15 years since I lived close to Fairbanks. I do know through WrongPlanet one of the lab assistants who calls herself labpet who is largely non-verbal autistic.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Oops, I just assumed Florida. I don't know anyone in Fairbanks. Nome, but not Fairbanks.

Donna B. said...

I think I would very much enjoy a gathering of Wymans. It sounds much like the gathering of my clan... which now includes daughters and sons who did not grow up in my household... but might as well have done so.

Isn't there a Yiddish name for the mother-in-law of one's child?

Anyway, two people I count as friends are the mothers-in-law of my daughters... and I think that's really wonderful. Surely there must be a Yiddish word for father-in-law of one's child... because I really like them a lot too.

One of my fantasies is to win a lottery and spend it all on a family get-together... my children, their in-laws, my grandchildren's aunts and uncles and cousins... I'd hire a professional videographer and photographer to document... and... wouldn't that be fun?

J. L. said...

"I still recall shaking my head at the Easter Sunday sermon "Guns in America." Give me a frigging break."

In my college years, during the mid 90s, I briefly attended a liberal congegation of an even more liberal denomination known as the United Church of Christ. (The same denomination which includes Obama's old church, the one with Rev. Wright.) I am thankfully no longer affiliated with this denomination, but I do remember vividly the following things:

1.) The way members of the church behaved as if they were somehow a better class of people than everyone else.

2.) A rambling sermon by one pastor which included, inexplicably, both a defense of the then-controversial "midnight basketball," and a statement supporting Clinton's surgeon general nominee David Satcher. (How exactly do you fit those two into one sermon?? Why would you have these items in a sermon to begin with???)

3.) The fact that they rarely, if ever, sang "Amazing Grace" or anything of that nature, but did sing with almost monotonous frequency, a Hawaiian-originated ode to diverity called "One Ohana." (I mean, they sang this song ALL THE TIME.)

4.) The likewise monotonous citation of anti-Nazi German theologian Deitrich Bonhoffer. (I mean, I respect Bonhoffer... but, his name came up ALL THE TIME.)

5.)One of the church members refused to refer to Israel, instead always, but always using the name Palestine .

Well... you get the idea.

(In all fairness, I also briefly attended a UU congregation... I guess I was a glutton for punishment... and they actually had a featured speaker once who gave one of the best pro-Israel speeches I ever heard. Go figure.)