Are you weary of contemporary American politics and taking refuge in dystopian fiction? In a recent New Yorker essay, historian Jill Lepore, after surveying dystopias old and new, gives no direct advice but effectively tells us, “Don’t.”
“The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised. There will be no rerun, brothers and sisters. The revolution will be live.” Those and other lines from Gil Scott-Heron’s 1970 song-poem have been taunting and teasing viewers during the title sequence of Season Six of the Showtime series Homeland, prompting us to wonder what hoped-for transformation of society in the world of the show it alludes to and whether, as happened with the 60s ideal of a new order, it’ll come to naught.
Mike Sacks has contributed humor pieces to The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, and other publications (his wedding-tweets piece is here); he has crafted two books of interviews with comedy writers, the more recent of which is called Poking a Dead Frog (both are listed on his Amazon author page); and he feeds Twitter often. Because the current political situation, in the United States and elsewhere, seems like either a very good or a very bad occasion for comedy, I decided to ask him what he thinks. (Disclosure: I worked with Sacks at Vanity Fair, where he’s on the editorial staff.)
You’ve been talking to comedians for years. How many of them do political comedy—what proportion, as an estimate?
Very few. Most don’t do anything overtly political beyond tweets about how much they’re horrified of Trump. My interest isn’t in political comedy. I grew up in the D.C. area and was raised on a horrible diet of Mark Russell and the Capitol Steps. I hate political comedy. I find it boring. It ages very poorly. I prefer character-based comedy. This style, to me, lasts much longer than anything that is tethered to current events. Continue reading
We enter Everything Belongs to the Future, Laurie Penny’s new science-fiction novella (published in October), by way of a letter from prison. From the first page, then, Penny’s book may put us in mind of other reports from confinement such as Oscar Wilde’s, or Antonio Gramsci’s, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s, and those writers’ concerns with how we treat the thing we love, what we rebel against, what we believe in—with trust, and justice, and a form of faith—will prove to be Penny’s concerns as well. This particular letter speaks in a woman’s voice, though we don’t know that at first—this one, like the others that punctuate the book, is unsigned, and we only gradually suspect which of the story’s characters is writing—and it speaks retrospectively, hinting darkly at “the awful, terrible thing we did” and other past events. Within the chronology of the story, then, this is a letter from the future, prompting the question of what came before, and the book itself also speaks from a point in time ahead of us; that letter is dated December 5, 2098. Continue reading
Many of us, if you set aside the large portion of the electorate that didn’t bother to vote, feel as if we recently went through something more like a military campaign than a political one, and whether you lost, won, or just watched, you may be ready for some R&R. At the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn, Theatre for a New Audience is now offering a tonic for the troops, in the form of a piece of giddy delight called The Servant of Two Masters.
In the ars gratia artis view, works of art are their own end and shouldn’t serve any external purpose, but most of us use art all the time. J. S. Bach composed a piece of music, now known as the Goldberg Variations, that was reportedly meant to occupy the restless mind of a patron while he tried to get to sleep. More recently, composer Max Richter (whom I wrote about here) crafted an eight-hour-long project called Sleep, which is meant to be heard while sleeping. Continue reading
“My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over,” Gerald Ford declared in 1974, after being sworn in as the 38th president of the United States. The current presidential election campaign—which has been far from a clean, issues-oriented matter—strikes me as something of a nightmare, and I’m tempted to say that it’s almost over, but the thing about nightmares is that you never really know where you are. Admittedly, the campaign itself is nearing its end. But where the vote count is concerned, anyone who expected to learn the outcome on the night of November 7, 2000, was frustrated in the extreme, and something of the kind may happen again. And when the election finally is settled and a new president takes office, who knows what will follow? Continue reading