Tag Archives: Comedy

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

Hyper Education & The Twitter Exile

In Hyper Education – Why Good Schools, Good Grades, and Good Behavior Are Not Enough, Pawan Dhingra uncovers the growing world of high-achievement education and the after-school learning centers, spelling bees, and math competitions that it has spawned. It is a world where immigrant families vie with other Americans to be at the head of the class, putting in hours of studying and testing in order to gain a foothold in the supposed meritocracy of American public education. A world where enrichment centers, like Kumon, have seen 194 percent growth since 2002 and target children as young as three. Even families and teachers who avoid after-school academics are getting swept up. Drawing on over 100 in-depth interviews with teachers, tutors, principals, children, and parents, Dhingra delves into why people participate in this phenomenon and examines how schools, families, and communities play their part. Moving past “Tiger Mom” stereotypes, he addresses why Asian American and white families practice what he calls “hyper education” and whether or not it makes sense. By taking a behind-the-scenes look at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, other national competitions, and learning centers, Dhingra shows why good schools, good grades, and good behavior are seen as not enough for high-achieving students and their parents and why the education arms race is likely to continue to expand. We are delighted to welcome Pawan to Life Elsewhere and look forward to more conversations with him.

Dave Hill is a comedian, musician, actor, author, raconteur, dilettante, fashion icon, and…wait-for-it…a Twitter exile! The droll,  mild-mannered Hill voiced his opinion on Twitter about a draft-dodger who also happens to unfathomably hold a high office. The rabid supporters of the draft-dodger took exception to Hill’s accurate albeit caustic one-liners. To counter the onslaught of Twitter vitriol against him, Dave Hill took to what he refers to as “mom jokes” as if spewed out by an adolescent boy. This further outraged the draft-dodgers increasingly unhinged followers and prompted one bitchy Tweeter to question Dave’s sexuality, apparently based on the comedian’s penchant for velvet and silk and flowing scarves. The diatribe had now sunk to a new low, says Dave. So he countered by going even lower and more absurdist. “It was ridiculous!” Says Dave, “I could make hateful racial jokes and that was OK, but inferring I had sex with your mother or father, now that was too much for Twitter.” Dave received a message from Twitter…you are banned for life! 

Dave Hill has a new comedy album, Let Me Turn You On

Norman B’s conversations with Pawan Dhingra and Dave Hill were recorded using Zoom and will be available on our new YouTube channel soon.

Show #371

Funny Guys, Seriously. Redux*

With an insult Tweeting President, our world appears so preposterous it’s almost possible to believe we are all living out the fantasy of a comedian’s mind. That maybe going to far, even comedians are not amused by the antics from the White House. For instance, comedian, writer, musician, actor, and radio host, Dave Hill along with his good friend and fellow comedian, Greg Barris, who is a staple of New York’s downtown stand-up scene, were in the neighborhood performing recently. They graciously took time out from their hectic schedule to chat with Norman B. Understandably, the ensuing conversation explored what is funny in the age of TrumpDave and Greg also shared their opinions on a wide range of topics, including the fraternity of comics; the evolution of comedy; Robin Williams and Johnny Carson; comedy specials; hecklers and the use of profanity. Comedians seldom reveal what’s behind their on-stage persona, in this hour of conversation, Norman B guides Dave Hill and Greg Barris to comfortably offer insights into the minds of two very funny guys, seriously.

*This is a redux edition of Life Elsewhere. Perhaps now, more than ever, we think you need to hear what Dave and Greg have to say. 

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