Tag Archives: Athens

A Comic Writer’s Funny Obsession

Mark Haskell Smith Rude Talk In Athens: Ancient Rivals, the Birth of Comedy, and a Writer’s Journey through Greece

In ancient Athens, thousands would attend theatre festivals that turned writing into a fierce battle for fame, money, and laughably large trophies. While the tragedies earned artistic respect, it was the comedies—the raunchy jokes, vulgar innuendo, outrageous invention, and barbed political commentary—that captured the imagination of the city. The writers of these comedic plays feuded openly, insulting one another from the stage, each production more inventive and outlandish than the last, as they tried to win first prize. Of these writers, only the work of Aristophanes has survived and it’s only through his plays that we know about his peers: Cratinus, the great lush; Eupolis, the copycat; and Ariphrades, the sexual deviant. It might have been the golden age of Democracy, but for comic playwrights, it was the age of Rude Talk. Watching a production of an Aristophanes play in 2019 CE and seeing the audience laugh uproariously at every joke, Mark Haskell Smith began to wonder: what does it tell us about society and humanity that these ancient punchlines still land? When insults and jokes made thousands of years ago continue to be both offensive and still make us laugh? Through conversations with historians, politicians, and other writers, the always witty and effusive Smith embarks on a personal mission (bordering on obsession) exploring the life of one of these unknown writers, and how comedy challenged the patriarchy, the military, and the powers that be, both then and now. A comic writer himself and author of many books and screenplays, Smith also looks back at his own career, his love for the uniquely dynamic city of Athens, and what it means for a writer to leave a legacy.

Mark Haskell Smith

Mark Haskell Smith is the author of six novels with one-word titles including Moist, Salty, and Blown; as well as the non-fiction books Heart of Dankness: Underground Botanists, Outlaw Farmers, and the Race for the Cannabis Cup and Naked at Lunch: A Reluctant Nudist’s Adventures in the Clothing-Optional World. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Salon, Vulture, Alta, and Literary Hub. He is an associate professor in the MFA program for Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts at the University of California Riverside, Palm Desert Graduate Center, and a frequent contributor to Life Elsewhere.

Following the conversation with Mark Haskell Smith – improvisation on a replica of an Ancient Greek Aulou played by Benjamin Simao. Two tracks, Stone and Can’t Live Like This Anymore from the LP, Stone by Athens-based musician Lola Demo, AKA, Erica Bach, and Dirty Magazine by Four Eyes AKA Erin Lovett from her album titled, I Hope This Finds You Well (Songs From Quarantine). Erin is based out of Athens, Georgia. The final piece of music is Stefan Hagel playing a reconstruction of an Ancient Greek Aulou.

Show 436

A Conversation With Vanessa Briscoe Hay

Pylon Reenactment Society is fronted by former Pylon frontwoman Vanessa Briscoe Hay, whose inimitable vocal textures and phrasing define Pylon’s sound for most listeners. A sonic powerhouse, Hay also numbered among Paste Magazine’s list of “The 25 Greatest Front Women of All Time”. Pylon Reenactment Society formed from the ashes of Pylon, one of the most influential bands at the outset of what became known as the ‘Athens, GA music scene’, along with other frontrunners The B-52’s and R.E.M. Over 30 years ago, these three bands were heavily featured in the original feature documentary ‘Athens, GA: Inside/Out’, propelling them into the international spotlight. Pylon Reenactment Society (a.k.a. PRS) was founded in 2014, five years after Pylon’s celebrated history came to a sudden end in 2009 with the death of guitarist Randy Bewley. Since then, PRS has turned into a tight touring unit having performed at festivals and venues on both coasts, the Midwest and the Southeast. In addition to Hay, PRS is rounded out by Jason NeSmith (Casper & The Cookies) on guitar, Kay Stanton (Casper & The Cookies) on bass guitar and backing vocals, Damon Denton (Big Atomic) on keyboards, and Joe Rowe (The Glands) on drums. At the end of 2018, they released a 7” vinyl single of two original songs – ‘Messenger‘ and ‘Cliff Notes’.

Photo by Sloan Carroll Rainwater

The Podcast is available at NPR One, Apple Podcasts & Mixcloud

Sundays 12 noon ET at The Source WMNF HD3
Sundays 10.00am ET at WNRM The Root
Mondays 5.00pm PT & Wednesdays 2.00pm PT at 
NWCZ Radio
Thursdays 6.00pm ET at Internet Radio Network
Fridays at 9.00pm GMT on Cornucopia Radio

If you miss any editions of Life Elsewhere, go here then go to the Listen On-Demand panel, choose the date of a show and click play.

Life Elsewhere Music airs:
Sundays 11.00am ET at 
WNRM The Root
Wednesdays at 3.00pm Pacific Time on 
NWCZ Radio
Fridays at 10.00am Eastern Time on IRN
Cornucopia Radio airs Life Elsewhere Music throughout each week
You can hear all the volumes over at Mixcloud

Show #329