Thursday, November 8, 2007

Islands in the Stream of Consciousness

"Sail away with me, to another world..."

In March, some friends turned us on to the late comedian Mitch Hedberg. Following an outdoor afternoon of food and beverage, we piled into the car and listened to some tracks from Hedberg's record MITCH ALL TOGETHER. We loved it- he sounded like a more energized Steven Wright. The high of enjoying new comedy in tight quarters quickly crashed when we were informed that Hedberg was dead (3/29/05, acute toxicity from heroin and cocaine) and left few recordings behind despite a relatively long and successful touring career.


Despite the rock star look, Hedberg suffered from crippling stage fright.

When we got home, I added Hedberg's lone DVD to our Netflix queue and didn't think about him again until a few days ago when it finally made its way to the top and into our mailbox. His comedy didn't have the same impact watching and listening as it did in purely audio state, and part of that was due to how he looked (eerily like a strung-out River Phoenix) combined with knowledge of how he died. Still, the performance really came alive toward the end after he finished his new material and launched into a crowd-pleasing review of more time-tested jokes.

Afterwards, I was surfing around curious to know more about when I came across this doozie of a description at Wikipedia:

His routines featured elocutive but often short, sometimes one-line, observational jokes on everyday life, mixed with absurd and at times hylozoistic and paraprosdokian elements as well as non sequiturs.

I wonder if Hedberg himself would even have been able to easily digest that one! For my and your edification, here's a breakdown of the five dollar words.

elocutive: this word is actually NOT in the dictionary (yet another reminder not to believe everything you read!), but it seems pretty clear that its taken from the word elocution, which means:
1 : a style of speaking especially in public 2 : the art of effective public speaking

absurd: "absurd" is a commonly-used word that most of us use with ease, but I'm a believer in occasionally looking up words you think you know just to make sure, so:
1: ridiculously unreasonable, unsound, or incongruous 2: having no rational or orderly relationship to human life : meaningless ; also : lacking order or value 3: dealing with the absurd or with absurdism

I thought it was interesting that absurd means "no rational or orderly relationship to human life" considering the above description that his humor was largely "observational jokes on everyday life" (and that I personally find at least 51% of human life intensely absurd).

Heraclitus was down with hylozoism.

hylozoistic: taken from hylozoism, which is "a doctrine held especially by early Greek philosophers that all matter has life." Furthermore:

Although there is a distinction between possessing soul (panpsychism) and possessing life (hylozoism), in practice this division is difficult to maintain, because the ancient hylozoists not only regarded the spirits of the material universe and plant world as alive, but also as more or less conscious.

paraprosdokian: a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect, sometimes producing an anticlimax. For this reason, it is extremely popular among comedians and satirists.

Does it get any better than Rufus T. Firefly?

Here are some good examples of paraprosdokians (say that five times fast)- Hedberg's discovered connection to one of my all time favorite comedians (Groucho Marx) further explains my newfound affinity for him...

Where there's a will, I want to be in it.
"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it." — Groucho Marx
"Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana." — Groucho Marx
"I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my father, not screaming and terrified like his passengers." — Bob Monkhouse
"I haven't slept for ten days, because that would be too long." — Mitch Hedberg

non sequitur: a conversational and literary device, often used for comical purposes (as opposed to its use in formal logic). It is a comment which, due to its lack of meaning relative to the comment it follows, is absurd to the point of being humorous or confusing. Its use can be deliberate or unintentional. Literally, it is Latin for "it does not follow." In other literature, a non sequitur can denote an abrupt, illogical, unexpected or absurd turn of plot or dialogue not normally associated with or appropriate to that preceding it.

Non sequiturs often appear to be disconnected or random comments, or random changes in subject, especially socially inappropriate ones. When non sequiturs are used frequently for comic effect this can be called "absurd humor".

(ah HAH!)

The non sequitur can be understood as the converse of cliché. Traditional comedy and drama can depend on the ritualization and predictability of human emotional experiences, where the theatre of the absurd uses disjunction and unpredictability.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love lamp.