Comfort in Comedy

Comedy is the blues for people who can’t sing.-Chris Rock

            Am I an outsider looking in, or an insider looking out?  I couldn’t help but reflect on that as I watched comedian Chris Rock yesterday.  I was lucky enough to see Chris Rock in a sold out venue of only 360 people at the Apollo Theater in Paris.  He entered the stage wearing all white, the lights were dimmed.  When he tried to speak into his microphone, the power on the stage went out.  As the staff worked quickly to fix this, he offered to the audience, “I’m a little off, but you’ll have a good show.  We know how good I am in crisis.”  Laughter eased the discomfort with that one line.  He promptly alluded to something we were all thinking.  Would the infamous Will Smith slap heard internationally two months prior be addressed?  And it was with an insinuative remark.  

We were in the 12th row, and it was surreal.  The title of his show was called Ego Death, and I couldn’t help but be curious as to the meaning of this title.  As I watched his show, I viewed it through the lens of my old psychology profession.  This is how he chose to deal with this experience.   His craft of storytelling and boldly sharing his opinions in a palpable funny way, was his cathartic journey.  This is how he is intentionally dealing with that media driven experience.  Instead of being a victim, he is using it as fuel for his work.  In his set, he shared that people get attention through either being infamous, excellent, or a victim.  He reminded the audience we have a choice.  And there was power to that statement.  Although he didn’t state it, we knew Chris was opting to not be a victim in this narrative.

 To be an American, listening to an American telling jokes in France was like an out of body experience.  I haven’t lived in America for almost nine years, most of that time having spent lived in the United Kingdom.  But those years were spent working with Americans as a therapist.  The USAF to be exact.  Therefore, I have yet to pick up any type of accent or new language.  I still sounded ‘murican.  I could relate to the jokes because I still identify as an American, my family and friends reside there, and I visit annually.  But how American was I?  Was I American in my ideals, values, or daily living?

            As the show continued, I listened to Chris Rock rant about political hot topics, celebrity gossip, the state of homelessness, racism, the pandemic and the overused political correctness that have taken over the country.  I laughed at the jokes, as so many were based on reality.  But as I laughed, I couldn’t help but think how sad the state of the country was, and wondered if I want to return as a citizen in the future? Did Chris Rock even want to return?  He asked the audience if abortion was legal in France, and joked that maybe he could get one while he was here. 

            And Chris also talked of things that are universal, not just not the crisis of all things American.  But the creative process.  Chris shared at the beginning of the show how art sucks these days.  This includes all types of art: movies, television, music, books, tangible art.  He stated all art sucks because there are layers of people who oversee the creative process of what actually gets distributed to the public.  Art is out of the artists’ control today and is censored.  He exclaimed that all mainstream art seems to be out of one’s control, except that of the art of a standup comedian.  A standup comedian is in charge of their own acts and the words that come out of their mouths, not the publishing world, or the television executives, or the publicists.  As I heard that comment, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of awe and jealousy with that statement made.  I’m in the process of my book proposal being pitched, and I am keenly aware that much is out of my control.  Yet comedians take their art straight to their audience.  And they can get away with it. 

            Just as the olden days of a royal court, the only ones who could get away with telling the truth and not be punished were the court jesters.  Buttons are pushed, and often things slightly teeter on the edge of controversial.  But then laughter breaks up the discomfort.   Viewpoints are shared with audiences in a way they can swallow it. Shock, laughter and wit can go a long way.   Their intelligence is hidden with smiles.  

            As I watched Chris Rock, I reflected on the show’s title: Ego Death.  Ego Death disarms the audience, it humbles him, and allows us as a group to take in what he says with more ease.  Although he speaks of his lavish lifestyle and the privileges that fame and money bring, he is grounded by being a human being, with the woes of parenting, dating during midlife, and the joys of co-parenting with an ex.  It’s a reframe.  We are curious as an audience to see this man as a victim of another celebrity’s slap, but we see how he’s fueled to redirect the narrative.  

            Perhaps we also re-write the current narrative of America.  It does not only have to be the bold, outrageous, wild, divided, selfish nation that the media has painted.  I feel I’m only watching it from afar, like a reality television show that I cringe to admit I’m a fan of.  As a nation, we seem to be getting attention through either being infamous, excellent, or a victim.  All aspects are there.  We have a choice in how to frame the nation.  And what if our ego death as a country is approaching?  This may be the key for our story to be reframed in a way that is palpable to the world and ourselves.  Laughter may be key to get through and beyond this moment.

Stumbling onto the past

Recently, I found myself lost after getting off at a metro stop.  I had plans to visit the local hammam, which was a six minute walk, according to my GPS.  Yet, when I followed the GPS, I found myself getting further and further from the destination.  Minutes went up, but the arrow was off.  I found myself walking in circles, and found myself by the Pantheon. I had just visited there the week prior.  As I walked in the direction I came, the minutes went down.  I got closer to the hammam.  But I stumbled on something else.  A Roman Arena.  Arenes de Lutece.

I had heard about this place the week prior.  It is located in the 5th Arrondisment, and according to history, it was hidden for centuries.    It was constructed in the 1st Century AD, could hold 15000 people, and existed to demonstrate the valiance of gladiators.  Romans once ruled the land, and throughout time were overtaken.  Eventually the arena became a cemetery.  More and more was placed upon this site.  Over time people knew the arena once existed, but the exact location was unknown until the 1860s when it was discovered by individuals wanting to build a tramway on the site.  Allegedly, there were protests to stop the demolition of this historic site.  One person who fought to preserve this was Victor Hugo himself.  

I felt guided to visit this place, perhaps this is why I was lost with my GPS.  My eyes were alert to go to this arena. I have lived in Paris for several months, and visited many times before, but never heard of this place.  Locals informed me this is hidden from Paris, and I can see why.   Arenes de Lutece has turned into a special park, that has a sense of tranquility from the busy-ness of the city.  I went on a weekday, and the stands had people sharing lunch with their friends, or reading, or journaling.  It’s located in the Latin Quarter, and it’s a quiet spot to simply be.  

I appreciate the little ways this town continues to surprise me with it’s history, allure, and magic.

“You can’t escape the past in Paris, and yet what’s so wonderful about it is that the past and present intermingle so intangibly that it doesn’t seem to burden.” — Allen Ginsberg

An Old Pastime

When I ask a lot of French people what they like to do here for fun, there is a response that arises again and again.  Walk. Marcher. Flaneur.  People like to walk, not as a means of transportation to get to point A from B, as a way to hit 10,000 steps, or to engage in exercise.  They walk simply for the pleasure of walking.

         This reminds me of the Jane Austen days, when people would take turns about the grand estates or gardens.  Outside of going to the fancy ball, the local market, or working on skills to impress others (instruments, singing, reading) there was nothing to do.   And so they walked.  

         We live in a world of distractions.  Non-stop entertainment on endless devices.  The French engage in these activities too, along with the rest of the world.  But the Parisians also like to walk.   This brings joy to me.  As over the years, I have found I take pleasure in walking.

         In my Midwestern hometown, the only people seen walking are children or those who have gotten a DUI (driving under the influence).   Nobody would be caught dead walking.  Most of the time one will drive from one shopping plaza to another for the sheer convenience of it.  But here that wouldn’t be an option.

         I was speaking with my friend the other day, and noted the French do not count their calories.  It is not listed on menus, or boards where one orders food.  Nobody seems to be calculating how many carbs were eaten or fat consumed.  But perhaps they do not have to.  They walk it off.  This is part of life.  

         Walking does not cost any money.  All it requires is good walking shoes.  One may wear out their shoes more easily, but view it as an investment.  There’s no need for a gym membership or gas money.  Let your feet take you there. 

“After a day’s walk, everything has twice its usual value.”

-G.M. Trevelyan.

Out of Routine

It’s easy to stay disciplined when one lives alone and has carved out time for their routines.  Yet, when one adds others to the picture and travel is involved, things can easily shift.   It’s important to remain compassionate towards oneself about what you can do.  So has been the case for me the past month, with travelling to multiple states in America, visiting friends and family, having friends visit me in Paris, and celebrating for days my 43rd birthday. I love seeing those I adore, but it’s at time like these that my morning routine shifts.

         My usual morning discipline includes journaling (morning pages), gratitude, meditation, breathwork, reading a spiritual text, yoga, and more recently sound healing.  But this definitely is not always possible.  I know it’s grounding for me, and parts are necessary, at the same time I can forgive myself for not engaging in the entire process. 

         As one who is on the cusp of introversion and extroversion, it’s important to look at tiny moments I can ground and center myself.  This morning that includes whisking away to a local coffee shop to write this blog post.  Take my time with my latte, listen to music that is soothing to my soul, and slowing down my breath. Tiny moments of peace can extend you throughout the day.  

         What do you need to sooth your soul at this moment?  What actions can you take?  Take a step towards a moment of peace. 

“Nobody can bring you peace but yourself.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson