Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Poets and Comedians: Twin Souls?

Poets and Comedians: Twin Souls? (Part One of A Series)

I’ve been a chronic podcast-a-holic ever since I broke down and got an I-pod two years ago. And, like a typical addict, I’ve needed more and more over time to stay satisfied. Slowly, my podcast subscriptions have gone from two or three a month to fifteen, sixteen a week, plus a few booster ‘casts from Stitcher just to maintain between hits.

Since almost all of these happen to be comedy podcasts, I’ve been treated to hundreds of hours of interviews and monologues detailing the inner workings of the comedic mind. (Comedy, it seems, is a small and incestuous world-- to my endless, grungy delight, comics from my “fave fifteen” often show up on each others podcasts and in turn, gossip viciously and funnily with and about other comedians.)

I think I’ve gotten hooked on podcasts dedicated to comedy because, as a poet, I’m fascinated with listening to comics talk in-depth about their writing and performance processes. From my very first hit listening to Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast, I’ve noticed a lot of parallels between poets and comics. I’ve never actually had designs to be a comedian myself, but I’ve always felt a strong spiritual affinity towards them. Without humor, and without poetry, I absolutely could not have survived certain times in my life. And in my opinion, the best of humor and the best of poetry contain at least some elements of both.

Here are a few of the similarities I’ve noticed between poets and comedians:

  • Comedy and poetry both require a weird combination of discipline, and a reckless sense of risk and playfulness.
  • Poets and comedians both tend to be highly sensitive and thin-skinned, with a driving need to be liked.
  • Both are, to varying degrees, on the social or cultural fringe, if not outright social outcasts
  • There is extreme vulnerability in performing comedy, and in performing poetry.
  • Comedians and poets both play with mirroring and subverting cultural norms.
  • Poetry and comedy (good poetry and comedy, at least), require a wild and fearless flexibility with language, and a strong affinity for the absurd.
  • Poets and comedians both tend have an intimate and somewhat addictive relationship with the darker side of human nature, which is what I suspect compels both of them to do what they do.
  • Both are ultimately completely impatient with all the above points, and, at their core, only care about one thing: Is it funny? Or, is it a good poem?
This is just a working theory I’ve been pondering for a while. I haven’t thought all of it through yet, and I didn’t even want to write about it for fear of seeming to be pretentious and gas-baggy and wanting to put myself in the category of “good poet”, which I in no way consider myself to be. I’m just a beginner, aspiring to be competent, hoping to one day maybe be “good”. And I think of my army of (invisible, podcastian) comedian friends as my spiritual allies in this quest.

In Part Two of this post, I’m going to highlight some of my favorite comedy podcasts. Maybe you could get addicted, too, and I’ll have someone to party with!

--Kristen McHenry


Jo-Ann said...

Oh, f*%$! Kristen, just admit what the rest of the world knows, you are a good poet. But then, I wonder if it would then belie your theory to say that? So, if I may add to one of your points, (and this may be strictly one of mine as a non-comedian/non-poet but writer of prose), the inability or superstitious relunctance to say, "geez, I am good".

Kristen McHenry said...

Thank you, Jo-Ann...I really didn't mean that as false modesty; but I think that I'm just so appalled by those few but unfortunately very vocal poets whose vanity, pretentiousness, and over-blown sense of their own importance is so off-putting that I'm reluctant to be viewed as "one of them." I felt the need to make it clear that I don't feel that arrogant about myself, lol! And I do always want to strive for excellence...which means I am setting my bar for comparison of my work with some pretty heavy-hitters in the poetry world, which maybe isn't the best way to go about it. Hmmm...this is shaping up to be a whole other blog post. :)