Existential Nihilism for Kids: A Skit

4 YEAR OLD hugs her MOTHER’S knees.

4 YEAR OLD

Please read it to me again! Please please please please please!

MOTHER

All right, all right. But you’re going to sleep right after this.

4 YEAR OLD

I promise!

MOTHER pulls out a storybook.

MOTHER

“Huey the Existential Nihilist”

4 YEAR OLD

(claps hands)

Yaaaaay!

MOTHER

“Huey the turtle is an existential nihilist. What is an existential nihilist? Huey is. Huey is an existential nihilist because he knows the truth about life. Huey the turtle is alone in the whole wide world. He has parents, named Mr. and Mrs. Turtle, but he is still alone. He has a sex slave he calls Minnie Mouse, but he is still alone.”

4 YEAR OLD

Why is Minnie Mouse a sex slave?

MOTHER

Because she was too weak to resist, obviously. “Huey is alone for the same reason you are alone. When you were very young, you did not know anything about the world. You did not know how to count. You did not know how to sing. You knew only what people told you. Once upon a time, Huey listened to what people told him. He asked his parents, ‘Why am I here? My teddy bear is here to make me feel better. My sister is here to make me feel worse. Why am I here?’ Huey’s parents answered, ‘Because you are great.’ Huey asked the priest, Harold the komodo dragon, ‘Why am I here?’ Harold answered, ‘Because God put you here.’ Huey asked the policeman, Ronald the serial rapist, ‘Why am I here?’ Ronald answered, ‘At this hour? You’re obviously crusin’ for a brusin’. On your knees, boy.’”

4 YEAR OLD

This is my favorite part.

MOTHER

“After Huey wiped the blood from his mouth, he began to wonder why he was here. Was it because he was great? Was it because God put him here? Was it because he was some little punk-ass looking for trouble? Huey knew it couldn’t be all three. Huey then realized the truth: there was no reason he was here. Nothing matters in life. People like Mr. Turtle, Mrs. Turtle, Harold, and Ronald each made up their own reason for living. Huey did not feel good. He knew he was alone in this world.”

4 YEAR OLD

Mommy, do you love me?

MOTHER

What?

4 YEAR OLD

Do you love me?

MOTHER

Of course not, dear. You’re just here to support me in my old age.

4 YEAR OLD

Why?

MOTHER

Because I control you. Now do you want to hear your story?

4 YEAR OLD

Ok.

MOTHER

“When Huey realized that there was no meaning behind his life, he realized he could do anything he wanted. So he bought a gun and shot Ronald the serial rapist dead. He also shot Harold the komodo dragon because religion is just a lie constructed to give false hope to the weak-willed. He did not shoot his parents, because they gave him money, and he could use that money to buy a sex slave. Without meaning in his life, Huey had total free will.”

4 YEAR OLD

But mom, if Huey doesn’t believe in anything, why does he believe in free will? Or in money, or in sex?

MOTHER

That’s a stupid question. Because money gets you nice things.

4 YEAR OLD

But what’s the point of nice things if nothing has meaning?

MOTHER

I knew you were too young for this book.

BLACKOUT

William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return

Return of the Jedi is by far the weakest of the Star Wars Trilogy, and it has nothing to do with the words ‘incest’ or ‘teddy bears.’ “But wait!” I hear you choke out as you spit out your C-3P O’s and shimmy out your plastic lightsaber. “It’s the Holy Trilogy! They’re all great!” Note how I didn’t dispute Episode VI’s greatness. All I’m saying is that we wouldn’t remember it with such fond keyboard banging if it weren’t for, you know, that other trilogy to become the yang to the chocolate-covered yin that popular culture ceases to exist without. Even the movie’s original reception wasn’t that good: if Rotten Tomatoes existed in 1986, the movie would’ve scored 33%. The Jedi Doth Return (Verily A New Hope and The Empire Striketh Back discussed here and here) knows the flaws of its material and seeks to correct them. How well does it do?

Oh, and also nothing to do with Fett's punk-ass death. Stop crying.
Oh, and also nothing to do with Fett’s punk-ass death. Stop crying.

The main problem with Return of the Jedi stems from Luke’s costume, while also about something else altogether. Why is Luke dressed in all black? To show his slippage towards the dark side, right? He’s conflicted, he’s desperate, he might be going through a bit of an emo poet phase. A logical step from the end of Empire, where he doesn’t know who to trust anymore and the Dark Side seems more like a well-worn hammer than the ultimate do-not-go-here evil. Let’s recap. What happens a year after Luke-oh-what-a-bother? He finds and rescues his friend from spending eternity as a modern arts project. He visits Yoda and learns more truths from Old Ben. He goes to Endor, alerting Vader to the Rebels by his mere presence. He engages in a speeder chase. He’s captured by Ewoks and cons his way out of it. He turns himself in, saving his friends’ mission by surrendering to Vader. We’re at the end of Act 2 now, and when has Luke ever fell into or been tempted by the Dark Side of the Force? I don’t mind the Ewoks, and even don’t think the sister revelation is the worst twist ever, but this lack of development really separates Part 6 from Parts 5 and 4. It’s a lighthearted ending (for now) of the saga. I get that. The last third of the movie finally tries to talk about to Dark Side and what it means to Luke, and that doesn’t damper the mood so much as add a tasteful touch of vinegar to it. In an already crammed finale, Lucas jams the entire temptation arc inside, and we’re left with vague notions about what the Dark Side is and how Luke will fall for it. The entire running time up to this point, Luke’s self-sacrificing and noble and just as good as he was in The Empire Strikes Back– appealing for a hero, but not what the story needs.

To be fair, Obi-Wan does talk about the Dark Side winning if Luke doesn’t give into the Dark Side by killing Vader- a fun conflict, just that it took salutatorian-speaking role to the basic Rebels Yay Empire Boo. The Jedi Doth Return doesn’t add much to this problem. In a way, it kind of makes it worst. The lightsaber duel- its sudden beginning, turbulent middle, and triumphant end- is to me the best fight in the saga, and enough to redeem the film for me. The majority of that scene’s strengths derives from what’s not said: Luke’s turmoil, Vader’s conflict, Palpatine’s- actually, the scene would be a lot better if Palpatine shut up a bit. But, since this is Shakespeare, Vader’s big silent moment is over punctuated by him monologuing about who he is and what he’s becoming and what he must do, and oh god this was so much better when done in silence (on that note: seek any special edition but the 2011 Blu-Ray version). This interpretation at least talks about the big issues, but at the exact wrong time.

I will understand if you say this movie jump-started your puberty, fanboys.
I will understand if you say this movie jump-started your puberty, fanboys.

The book addresses more fan complaints about the trilogy than the others. Luke calls out Kenobi’s “from a certain point of view” B.S. right away, and sharp or dull readers will notice how Admiral “It’s a trap!” Ackbar ends all his lines. There’s even a monologue after Luke finds out about his sister where he compares his revelation to Oedipus’s (ok, an unnamed Tusken Raider of legend, but it’s Oedipus). Now there’s an interesting comparison, connecting himself to a tragic hero he most certainly is not because, as we established, Luke’s as pure as extra virgin olive oil. Still, this installment remains the most self-aware of the books, for whatever that’s worth.

I didn’t get any particular new insights or revelations from these books. But then again, I consider myself well versed (pun intended, not sorry) in Star Wars, so I’m not sure what could provide anything like that. This book trilogy is a dance remix of Star Wars- fun to play around with, enjoyable for the parts we recognize, but not going to unseat either original. Don’t downplay the tremendous research, rewatching, and revision required to make something that moves without effort or without needing footnotes. I’d love to read a prequel trilogy by this guy- provide, of course, that he takes the same critical eye and pen he did when revising the holiest of trilogies.

The Life of the Poet Eternal

I was a starting poet back when they invented fire,

And after some choice readings they suggested I retire.

They wanted me to sing about my tribe’s genealogy.

But who cares about whose

Father’s dad invented booze,

I liked singing of geology.

*

I was a learning poet back when Homer was the man.

I actually wrote down my words, which other poets panned.

They said my poems wouldn’t fit inside a three-act drama.

What do they know?

They love the show

Of a king marrying his mama.

**

I was a wan’dring poet back when it was the Dark Ages.

The Holy Roman Empire closed down all our stands and stages.

Whenever I stopped by court, the ears of mighty kings I hurt,

For ‘love and passion’

Was that year’s fashion,

And I sung about the dirt.

***

I was a learned poet back when crowds filled the Globe Theater,

Where I still failed amidst what was a great poetry fever.

Sonnets Petrarchan, Spenserian, Shakespearean were the norm.

If you got them made,

You then got laid,

But I never figured out the form.

****

I was a starving poet when Romanticism reigned,

Finally, an age where poets could a proper wage maintain!

The poets wrote about the heart, and I wrote using mine.

But I lacked meter time,

And my poems did not rhyme.

Well, rhyming’s a bunch of bullshit anyways.

*****

I was a lonely poet back when they spoke it in jazz clubs.

I tried to hang out with the Beats, but they didn’t like my “jazz hugs.”

They all said that my poetry doesn’t follow any rhythm.

Ummmm yes they do.

They totally do.

Like, more than you know, man.

******

I am an unpublished poet, and after a life eternal,

You can find all of my poetry right here on my LiveJournal.

And now they say my work is much too stiff to be accepted.

It has too many clauses

And lacks- pauses-

Is that more what you expected?

*******

No one ever wanted my poems, after millenniums of trying.

But ‘til I figure how they work, you’ll bet I’ll be applying.

Them, that is. The poems.

To publication. Maybe I should edit this stuff.

images

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Pilkington?

Oh, Karl Pilkington, how do I describe thee? You are the most 1. hilarious, 2.humorless, and 3. good-humored man I’ve ever listened too. What do I mean? It’d be best to show you here, but I’d understand if you’re too lazy to click or you’re intimated by the three and a half hour run time. If you do watch, I think you’ll find three and a half hours is not enough.

But anyways, for those too lazy for YouTube (but not lazy enough for a blog, oddly enough). If you followed the link to The Ricky Gervais Show, you’d find that the hosts, Gervais and Stephen Merchant, are total assholes to co-host Pilkington. They insult him to his face, dismiss everything he says, and dive into arguably homophobic humor just for a cheap laugh at his expense. Pilkington doesn’t get angry. He doesn’t challenge them. He doesn’t self-deprecate. He doesn’t react at all. He continues spouting the stupidest, most inane idea and theories this side of the solar system. “Oh, that seems like it’d be funny once and a while.” No. Every single answer he gives is golden. Whether it’s his insistence that we don’t really need airplanes or that leaf-like bugs come from bug mating with leaf, or even spending game shows guessing who’s going to answer instead of what the answer really is, Pilkington shows us all how far man has come in the past 60,000 years. What goes on inside this man’s perfect spherical head? Does he want us to stop making fun of him? Does he think that humor is a name you give your dog? I may never know. And therein lies part of the problem, though it’s not the biggest aspect.

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Gaze ye not into the abyss…

If I were to write a character like Karl Pilkington (or, more to the point, when I write Karl Pilkington), I can choose whether he’s too nice or too stupid to respond to the constant mockings from his supposed friends. But there’s the meaty question: Who would believe a character like this? I believe him now like I believe a lounge version of Down With The Sickness. This is the same reason you’ll never see a movie about Theodore Roosevelt: executives see his life as too fantastic for audiences to buy. And I’m not going to pretend every idea of his is awful (he’s right about human beings utilizing more than five senses). But goddamn is he batting a .00001 on The Ricky Gervais Show. Mind you, this is a man with a successful producing career, a house, and a girlfriend, so he’s already doing better than me. He somehow shaves without mistaking his razor for hard candy, and people have (no joke) approached him for movie ideas. How do you put him in fiction, let alone make this stuff up in general? (And no, I’m not counting An Idiot Abroad, because that stars real Karl undergoing real experiences, not a fictionalized one serving a literary purpose).

There are a couple of options here. One is to downplay his constant mind drools, make him “redeemable” in a sense. Maybe he’s a genius at, I dunno, underwater chess, where you also have to concentrate on keeping your pieces from floating to the surface. The movie Gladiator had a scene in its first draft with Maximus selling out, based on how gladiators operated, cut for reality being unrealistic. But that misses the point of Karl, doesn’t it? He’s proof that there’s a loving God that protects us all from evolution, oncoming buses, and eating silica packets. I wouldn’t go that route.

Maybe the problem comes from spotlighting him. If he just has a line or two in a book, in a moment when you need a stupid guy, he wouldn’t draw that much attention. But again, you could replace that character with any anti-vaxxer and change little. No, we need our Karl as center stage as possible, taking names and forgetting them minutes later.

This may be a roundabout way of saying I want a biography on this man’s life (or autobiography! Ohh, both!) This may be a project beyond fiction’s reach. But that’s avoiding the question, isn’t it? We want to put Karl in the French Resistance, or the presidency, or as a kindergarten teacher. How will we make it so audiences buy him?

I think the answer here lies in the medium. After all, there are unfuctionable idiots in fiction, like Homer Simpson. Pilkington belongs in a cartoon- the Youtube clips reinforce this. But not a slapstick-heavy, action-oriented cartoon either. More The Looney Tunes Show, less Looney Tunes. The humor has to come from situations and dialogue. The only difficulty I can think of is Pilkington may be too mellow and low key to provide much of a boon to animation besides the clips I linked to. But even then, he provides contrast. Put him in conversation with Daffy Duck and you’ve got some diamond material there.

But let’s say you don’t have an entire animation department to work with, like me. In fact, let’s stop this extended coffee break of a blog body and settle once and until I change my mind how I’d write Karl in my fiction. To be honest, I’d cheat a little and go for the ‘dumb on purpose’ angle. Does he think it’s good for a laugh? Is he trying to lower our defenses for a scheme? Who knows. Well, I will, just not right now. The thing is, I wouldn’t outright state he’s having a go. He might crack up once (in private, since he doesn’t do it in public) or have a character suspect it herself. Now there’s an answer for those curious enough to grab a word shovel, and the rest of us can laugh at the silly man who’s ramblings bear thematic similarity and may add up to something, but who cares, he just said there’ll be no pants in the future. This does regulate him to side-character role, but that’s for the best. Protagonists, likeable or not, need to be understood, and I just can’t wrap my fingers around Karl’s head, unhinge his scalp, and study that parts inside that rotted off.

See? He's already funny as a cartoon.
See? He’s already funny as a cartoon.

Am I a bit too cruel to Karl, wethinks? He doesn’t show it when Gervais does the same. But let me balance it out. Karl, if you’re reading, I would love to interview you more than anyone else in the world (except Tommy Wiseau, maybe). And not to take the piss either. I find you interesting and complex, and want to know what oils your head engine. You don’t have any evil or malicious qualities to you. Plus, you have an attribute no one can claim to possess- you’re too big for fiction.

The Politically Correct Rebuttal

A while back, the La Grange Area Teen Theater Ensemble (LATTE) put on a show called “Politically Correct Bedtime Stories,” which was exactly what it sounds like. Pretty much the stories listed here. I submitted a skit that they could perform. The director enjoyed it, but the higher-ups deemed it inappropriate (Nick wrote something inappropriate!? I’m shocked, shocked). I re-read it, and it’s all right, and doesn’t deserve to be almost forgotten. Enjoy!

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Another reminder of a great show you missed.

The Politically Correct Rebuttal

By Nick Edinger

As the last Politically Correct Bedtime Story is being cleaned up backstage, RICA GUTERMUTH steps forth. Though delicate and thin, she brings over two books to the center of the stage to stand on, adjusting her glasses before speaking in a loud, sarcastic voice.

RICA: Are we having fun?

After an awkward silence, the front lights turn on to reveal the heroine.

RICA: (booming) You felt that, didn’t you? Therein lies in the power of words. Even individual syllables harken the most intellectually challenged under my power. For I am Rica Gutermuth, who used only her speech to conquer the forces of problematic in the land of Grimm and Goose. And you mock me here! ‘Political Correctness’ insures no injury on the common folk under my rule- need I remind you of the power of words. Why, I summoned myself to your world from mine with just one utterance: ‘Taxi!’ So let me tell my story here, and then maybe we’ll talk some more over refreshments. You seem docile overall… it’s fortunate, then, that I only referred to you as ‘intellectually challenged.’

As she steps back, all the lights flicker on to reveal the set of an abandoned school, with a janitor pushing around eggshells on the floor.

RICA: It may surprise you to hear about the Grimm and Goose School System. No one had time for it back then: to survive, either a witch hired you to build a gingerbread house, or you begged your fairy godmother for pocket change. But as the youngest of 11, my Mother reared me as the family lottery ticket, to try this new-fangled ‘learning’ offered by the dusty professors inside. It was lonely and tiring at times, save for occasional visits from Mary and her diminutive familiar. But whenever Father returned from work with bruises, the teachers would always be there for me, letting me pour over their dictionaries to summarize my emotions. When I learned more of my world as a woman, there was only one logical path ahead: to defeat the cruel queen of this land with my one skill. I began this, appropriately, at the school.

The janitor finally looks up.

JANITOR: School’s over, hon. Go home.

RICA: Custodian! If you please, I wish to know the way to the queen’s castle.

JANITOR: Bug off. (He goes back to sweeping)

RICA: Friend! Acquaintance!

Janitor keeps sweeping.

RICA: You leave me no choice but to unleash my more sinister spells… janitor!

JANITOR: (finally stopping) What?

RICA: You’re a janitor!

JANITOR: Right.

RICA: Do you not understand the connotation of the word janitor? Janitor! Janitor!

JANITOR: (going back to sweeping) Stop that.

RICA: Janitor! Janitor! Janitor! Janitor! Janitor! Janitor! Janitor!

JANITOR: What are you doing?

RICA: I’m eviscerating you emotionally…

JANITOR: Look, can you give it a rest? Some dope fell down from that wall, and the queen’s got me working like a horse as it is.

RICA: You force me to delve deep into my vocabulary! Brute! Swine! Aggressor! Royalist! Double Dipper!

JANITOR: All right! (Sighs) She lives south of here. There’s a road of hair that leads up to one of her towers. Go away.

RICA: I hope I didn’t injure you that much. (Picks up a dictionary from the front of the stage, opens it up) Let me find you some nice words, this shouldn’t take too many hours.

JANITOR bolts out of there. After looking up to see him depart, RICA shrugs before returning to face the audience.

RICA: He really missed out on such adventures in here! There’s such sweetness in words ‘canoodle,’ or ‘doozy,’ or ‘malarkey.’ But I had a greater duty to my people and to the language itself, so onward I travelled, through bucket-laden hills and past acrobatic cows, until I came upon a frightening sight.

The HUNTSMAN walks onstage with SNOW WHITE while RICA watches from a distance behind some trees. SNOW WHITE carries a picnic basket with her.

SNOW WHITE: Look at that blue sky! Was mother planning on joining us?

HUNTSMAN: I dunno, Miss White. Queen just told me to go here with you. Nothing else.

As SNOW WHITE sets down the picnic basket and begins setting up (pulling from it a blanket, a can of beans, and a microwave), the HUNTSMAN draws his knife and contemplates it. Only RICA sees the drawn knife, muffling a gasp at it.

HUNTSMAN: Miss White, how would you react if I apologized for somethin’ in advance? Would it make ya nervous?

SNOW WHITE: (not facing the HUNTSMAN) Can you see if there’s an outlet anywhere around here? Thank you!

HUNTSMAN: (approaching SNOW WHITE with the knife drawn) Well, I hope ya don’t take this too hard, but it’s what the Queen wants. I’ll just- I won’t get to see you and the folks on Christmas, that’s all.

RICA: Holidays!

She bursts out of her hiding spot, in front of a stunned HUNTSMAN and SNOW WHITE.

RICA: Not everyone can afford Christmas, you know! Why, you could have changed that poor girl’s religion without knowing it! Now put that awful thing away.

The HUNTSMAN sheaths his knife as RICA kneels down to talk with SNOW WHITE.

RICA: Nice to meet you. I’m Rica Gutermuth. Did you know that your companion almost made you celebrate Christmas? And tired to stab you a moment ago?

SNOW WHITE: A friendly stabbing?

RICA: No, it couldn’t be… or could it? You’re brilliant! If you call it a ‘friendly stabbing,’ the power of the words should protect you! And you (to the HUNTSMAN). I’m not sure what you were trying to accomplish, but I will not tolerate violence here. We’re going to try this again, only with our words. Ready?

HUNTSMAN: I-

RICA: Don’t make me use my nasty words!

HUNTSMAN: (sighs) I walk up to Snow White and stab her.

SNOW WHITE: Friendly stabbing?

HUNTSMAN: No. Stabby stabbing.

SNOW WHITE: Friendly stabbing.

HUNTSMAN: Stabby stabbing.

SNOW WHITE: Friendly stabbing.

HUNTSMAN: Stabby stabbing.

SNOW WHITE: Friendly stabbing!

HUNTSMAN: Stabby stabbing!

This continue this as they exit. RICA travels back downstage to speak with the audience.

RICA: Now isn’t this much better? Thank Goose they put aside their barbaric ways and stepped into my world for a change. They seemed like nice people, but my quest could not wait. It didn’t take long for me to traverse the road of hair up to the queen’s tower, which was only an extension of her sprawling castle. The woman with the hair cried to see me; turns out those weren’t tears of joy, but tears of ‘You climbed my hair up a thirty-story building.’ My hair-cutting spell needed some time to work, so I decided to overthrow the queen as soon as possible.

RICA steps into the room of the QUEEN, who sits atop a high throne and looks down at RICA. TWO GUARDS stand with her.

QUEEN: Who dares stand before me uninvited?

RICA readies her hands and face for a powerful battle of words.

QUEEN: Are you trying to steal my Tinderbox? Are you complaining to me about your work policies? Are you trying to get your kittens some mitten handouts? Speak up!

RICA: You’re… a tyrant!

RICA’s pointed finger extends to the QUEEN for a long time.

QUEEN: A what?

RICA: You’re a tyrant, you’re a, a despot, a dictator, an oppressor, persecutor, hardliner, tormentor, heartbreaker, dream-maker, love-taker, bully!

QUEEN: (to offstage) Seize her.

RICA: No! (As TWO GUARDS swarm around her and try to pull her away) My words are more powerful than any force of yours! You’re supposed to listen! Let me go! Let me go!

An infuriated SNOW WHITE storms into the room. Everyone freezes as she stomps over to the queen’s throne, fuming.

QUEEN: (terrified) Yes, my precious?

SNOW WHITE: (pointing offstage) Friendly stabbing times infinity.

HUNTSMAN: (offstage) Ya not allowed to do that!

HUNTSMAN runs in, also upset.

HUNTSMAN: I called no infinities!

SNOW WHITE: Well I called no calling no infinities!

RICA: See, isn’t this much more civil?

SNOW WHITE and the HUNTSMAN begin bickering nonsense at each other while the TWO GUARDS let go of RICA to approach the QUEEN.

GUARD 1: Isn’t that your huntsman?

QUEEN: …no.

GUARD 2: It is! You tried to kill the princess!

The QUEEN tries to sprint off, but the TWO GUARDS catch her and begin to drag her away. RICA begins examining the vacant throne.

QUEEN: Wait, wait! (The GUARDS stop right as they’re dragging her past the now-silenced SNOW WHITE) I’m sorry you’re more beautiful than me, dear. I’ll make it up to you. You can have the apple in the fridge I had specially prepared, all for yourself.

SNOW WHITE: Oh! I like apples!

RICA: (to the GUARDS) Take her to the dungeons and subject her to nasty names for all time!

GUARD 2: You’re not the queen. (referring to SNOW WHITE) She is now.

SNOW WHITE: I’m a princess.

GUARD 1: But now you’re-

SNOW WHITE: Queens are old. I’m a princess.

The TWO GUARDS shrug before dragging a reluctant QUEEN offstage. RICA assumes the throne.

RICA: Now! There are going to be many changes throughout this land, including no violence and mandatory schooling. But my first duty to my people is to protect them from harm in my new world. I’m going to outlaw several words. Including stabbing.

HUNTSMAN: Aw come on!

RICA: You saw what my vile words accomplished here! I did what I had to do, but I don’t want to call people ‘bullies’ or ‘janitors’ if I can avoid it. And if those words can upturn a kingdom, imagine what they can do in the hands of commoners. So, in my first year, I will institute a political system enforcing the correct use of the English language. I’ll look into a snappier name for that.

SNOW WHITE: Ok. I like apples.

SNOW WHTIE skips offstage as RICA returns to address the audience.

RICA: So these ‘Politically Correct Bedtime Stories’ you’re making fun of? That is my glorious utopia. Consider this as you lock your doors tonight and applaud your violent cinema. I hope I didn’t emotionally damage any of you this evening, but I have little time to make amends: I’ve promised to play Pictionary with these three eager mice in my castle. Until next time, remember me, and remember the power of words.

BLACKOUT

No Shame Theatre

If you interact with me outside of this blog, you’ll learn that I won’t shut the hell up about No Shame Theatre. Which is weird, because I first saw the No Shame poster (featuring a old-time woman with an octopus head) in my freshman dorm, and the idea of my friends dragging me along to see this weird and likely audience-invasive show chilled my lower back and kept me in my room Friday nights. So my friends dragged me along to see this weird and likely audience-invasive show, only No Shame Theatre didn’t force watchers to participate. At the part of the show where audience members competed in a stripping contest for a Snickers, they asked for volunteers like a normal group. Years later, I’m leading that “normal group,” starting cults, creating drama onstage, battling drama offstage, and generating enough laughs a week to power the entire world’s electricity for one, maybe two seconds. Hey, it’s a big world.

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I’ve memorized the spiel I give whenever someone asks what No Shame Theater is. Each Friday during school semesters, people come to us in the Lobby of the University of Iowa Theater Building and say “Hey, I want to put on this skit I wrote, or this poem I created, or this interpretative dance I rehearsed, or just stare and gargle at the audience for a while.” To which we say, “Great! We’ll put you in line. There are three rules. 1. Your piece must be original. 2. Your piece must be under five minutes. 3. Your piece can’t hurt anything physically (but feelings are ok).” At 11:00 pm, we transition from the lobby of the Theater Building to Room 172, and assemble a show out of what people brought us.

We also host a Best Of show at the end of each semester, taking the best submissions and asking them for an encore. Instead of the usual $1 admission (used to cover the room rental/posters), Best of requires $3 to witness. And it is absolutely worth it. It’s our biggest show, with our best stuff, in a grand celebration engineered to take your mind off of the 400-question final and 25-page paper due for Intro to Mathematics. This year’s is Friday, May 8th. If you want to come, here’s the event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1463933463898565/

After tumbling in love with No Shame, I stuck to a regular submission schedule- one skit a week. And let me tell you, I can think of little else with a better effect on my writing. It may be too good an effect, actually- whenever I try to write something else now, said work tends to be comedic, episodic, and short. As someone in charge of putting on good variety at No Shame, I started submitting something else each week to fill time, like a poem or an essay or some bizarre anti-comedy piece.

If I had a complaint about the nature of the show, it’d focus on feedback. You have to go out of your way to find out what people thought about your work. I blame our audience: those scoundrels, always too damn appreciative! Grow some class! But for real, the reason post people perform comedy skits here- and why I think I’m attracted to comedy in general- is immediate response. Your jokes work, they laugh. If not, then not. People here will applaud and listen to anything (I only remember one ‘booing,’ a stand-up with racist and sexist jokes. And, more offensively, just plain bad jokes), because they’re great people, libertine in their humor and open with their friendships. The best way to use No Shame requires committing yourself to bring something each show. The core group’ll always like it. And people will let you know if they love every second of it, even if it takes a while for you to bring something of that caliber.

Here’s something I submitted last week. It’s to the tune of “A Little Priest” from Sweeny Todd, found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I96RZh8108o

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Seriously, if you don't know this show, turn back now.
Seriously, if you don’t know this show, turn back now.

They All Taste Funny To Me

By Nick Edinger

TJ and NICK sit at a table.

NICK

I dunno, it’s just- what you guys said during your skit hit me right here. No Shame’s attendance sucks. We need to do something drastic, and quick.

TJ

Have you tried getting the word out?

NICK

Yes.

TJ

Encouraging a following?

NICK

Yes.

TJ

Putting on entertaining skits?

NICK

Look, you do that. I think I do that. But we’re nobodies. And it’s not like we can get Louie CK into No Shame or something.

“A Little Priest” plays from 0:16

TJ

Well you know me, bright ideas just pop into my head and I keep thinking…

DOESN’T SEEM TOO HARD…

NICK

When- are we singing now?

TJ

SEEMS AN EASY FIX…

A FAIR BIT OF LARD THAT CK HAS…

NICK

Well…

TJ

WELL, HE’S NO PACK OF SIX.

BUSINESS NEEDS A LIFT, WE COULD TAKE OUR PICKS

WE COULD MAKE HIM SEEM BIT MORE LEAN- YA SEE WHAT I MEAN?

No? (Sighs) DOESN’T SEEM TOO HARD.

I MEAN, WE’D BECOME LOUIE SO EASY, IF WE JUST GAIN AND EAT HIS BRAIN.

NICK

What?

TJ

HERE I’LL EXPLAIN.

TAKE FOR INSTANCE AZTECS ATE THEIR PRIS’NOIRS OF WAR.

ATE THEIR HEARTS AND TONGUES TO GAIN ALL OF THEIR ABILITIES AND MORE.

AND I THINK THEY REALLY HAD THE RIGHT IDEA AT THE CORE.

LET US DO IT WITH THEIR FUNNY BONES.

NICK

MISTER TJ, WHAT A STROKE OF GENIUS

EMINENTLY PRACTICAL

AND STILL YOU’VE JUST SAVED NO SHAME!

MISTER TJ I THINK YOU SHOULD BE THE FIRST TO DINE ON OUR COMEDIANS!

HOW INTELLIGENT!

ALSO IT’S QUITE ELEGANT!

HOW CHOICE!

HOW RARE!

TJ

I’M GLAD I’M NOT ALONE

It’s an idea.

THINK ABOUT IT! EVEN ALL THE GOOD ONES ARE A DIME A DOZEN WAY OUT THERE!

MY MOUTH

WATERS

AT THE

THOUGHT!

NICK

FOR WHAT’S THE NATURE OF COMEDY?

TJ

WHAT MISTER NICK, WHAT MISTER NICK, WHAT DO YOU SAY?

NICK

IT’S BREAKING TABOOS IN SOCIETY!

TJ

YES MISTER NICK, YES MISTER NICK, AND THAT’S OK!

NICK

CANNIBALISM IS NOT SO FINE

NICK AND TJ

SO IF WE EAT THEM, IT’S A GREAT PUNCHLINE!

NICK

Ahh, these are desperate times, Mr. TJ! And desperate measures must be taken!

TJ mimes pulling a body onto the table.

TJ

Here we are now! Hot out of the oven!

NICK

What is that?

TJ

CK. HAVE LOUIE CK.

NICK

LOOKS SOMEWHAT VULGAR

TJ

BUT NO SIGN OF DECAY.

BRINGS TO YOU A TASTE THAT YOU NEVER THOUGHT OF.

IT’S EASY TO LOVE.

NICK

APPEARS RATHER ROUGH.

TJ

SO’S ALL THE BEST STUFF.

NICK

HAVE YOU DANGERFIELD, OR OTHER HOT STUFF?

TJ

NO YOU SEE WITH ROD DANGERFIELD, IT JUST DOESN’T YIELD ENOUGH.

TOO MUCH FLUFF!

NICK tries the Louie CK.

NICK

Mmmmm, excellent! Not as spicy as Pryor, perhaps, but then not as bitter as Carlin either.

TJ

I would give you some Sandler, but our last batch went rotten on us. Seems to happen a lot with Sandler.

COSBY’S PRETTY FINE.

NICK

FAVORITE OF MINE.

TJ

A DELICACY THAT HAS SOME CLASS, BUT DON’T EAT WITH A GLASS OF WINE!

NICK

ANYTHING WITH JUICE?

TJ

IF YOU WANT A CLASSIC FROM BACK THEN

IT’S HARD NOT TO LIKE LEN-NY BRUCE.

OLD ONE BUT IT’S LOOSE.

IT WAS WHAT INSPIRED MY KINISON MOUSSE!

NICK

IS JIM CARREY GOOD WITH SHERRY?

TJ

YES, BUT IT’S TOO ELASTIC AND TASTES LIKE IT’S PLASTIC!

NICK

HERE’S A GOOD SNACK: BERNIE BIG MAC.

TJ

BUT WILLIAMS MAKES FANTASTIC PRODUCE!

NICK AND TJ laugh.

NICK

THE GREATEST SECRET OF COMEDY

TJ

IS IT DIRTY WORDS, IS IT MAKING FUN OF WHAT NERDS LIKE?

NICK

IS PUTTING PEOPLE IN MORE MISERY!

TJ

SERVE CHRIS ROCK WITH HERBS, MAKING SURE THE CHAPPELLE IS STIRRED RIGHT.

NICK

WE’LL SUBJECT ALL THESE ARTISTS TO THAT

NICK AND TJ

AND WE’LL CALL OUR ACT THE ARISTOCRATS!

Lights begin to fade out.

TJ

Now let me see. A, We’ve got, a, Daniel Tosh.

NICK

No, no. Something… posh.

TJ

Colbert.

NICK

More flair.

TJ

Bob Hope.

NICK

Less soap.

TJ

Chris Farley.

NICK

Less Barley.

TJ

Galifianakis.

NICK flips off TJ. By this point, lights should be all the way down.

Uncle Harlow is Dead: Part 2

A continuation of the short film. Part 1 here.

INT: Crammed attic. Day.

PALMIRA and AMANDA dig through boxes of old junk. They’re both sweating.

AMANDA

You said it’s in the striped box, right?

PALMIRA

I can’t believe this. This is pointless.

AMANDA

This is the last thing Uncle Harlow ever put on this earth.

PALMIRA

You know Harlow nearly ate your dad’s savings clean through, right? Just through hardcore couch surfing.

AMANDA

So?

PALMIRA

So? He was a useless hunk of meat! He never did anything! I could just as easily sleep or watch cartoons instead of helping you. Would you like that?

AMANDA

I like cartoons.

PALMIRA

Not what I meant.

AMANDA

Do you like cartoons?

PALMIRA

Keep it on the down low, all right? It’s embarrassing for my age. I’m not even sure why I like them, it’s just the same formula over and over again. Anyways, that’s the point. I may not like this, but it’s what family members should do. Uncle Harlow never got that. He probably wouldn’t even do his own scavenger hunt.

AMANDA

I think this is it!

AMANDA pulls out an intricate moon mobile out of a striped box. She also finds a note at the bottom.

AMANDA

“This was one of the many projects I made to communicate with other astronauts, like Buzz Aldrin. It was an attempted antenna. Neil told me very useful things, such as how to create this device and how to meditate and how to understand death.” Are you ok?

PALMIRA

I’m fine. Really.

AMANDA

Do you think Neil Armstrong really was talking to Uncle Harlow?

PALMIRA

How old are you again?

AMANDA

Ok. “But as I got older, I noticed that Neil wasn’t very good at telling me facts or predicting the future. He wouldn’t tell me why. So at 18, I ran away to ask him in person.”

PALMIRA

Because teenage runaways always make the best astronaut candidates.

AMANDA

I’m going to read the next riddle. I can solve it myself, ok? I don’t need your help, even if it’s hard.

PALMIRA

If you say so.

AMANDA

All right, here we go.

“My spaceship wants to land here.

What starts with ‘r’ and rhymes with ‘giver’?”

Dangit!

EXT: Calm River. Day.

AMANDA and PALMIRA dig up stones by the river.

AMANDA

So what do you do when you’re not studying?

PALMIRA

When you’re older, you really don’t get any free time. But you do fewer things to waste your time too.

AMANDA

Really?

PALMIRA

Well, I suppose I could make time. But that’d be wrong of me. If I can work, I should. “Curious that we spend more time congratulating people who have succeeded than encouraging people who have not.”

AMANDA

Who said that?

PALMIRA

Have you ever heard of Neil deGrasse Tyson?

AMANDA

No.

PALMIRA

(suddenly energized)

He’s this really cool astrophysicist. Now that I’m grown, I can study the stars, just like him.

AMANDA

You want to go into space? Like Harlow?

PALMIRA

Not exactly. But I have a better chance than he did. Did you know that Neil wanted to be an astrophysicist since he was 11? After living in the Bronx for most of his life, he was amazed to finally see the full night sky in Pennsylvania…

PALMIRA keeps talking as the sun lowers across the sky. By the time we look back, AMANDA is dead tired on the ground and PALMIRA is still talking.

PALMIRA

… and now he’s going to do a YouTube adaptation of StarTalk. Times are good for him. Pretty cool, huh?

AMANDA

I guess.

PALMIRA

You listening?

AMANDA

Yeah, yeah.

PALMIRA

So you see why I want to be him so much. He’s like another family member to me. I don’t know anyone else who has taught me more.

AMANDA

Would Tyson help us out with the scavenger hunt?

PALMIRA

Of course. Tyson’s main two goals are to know more than he did yesterday and to lessen the suffering of others. Why else would I do this?

Do you think it’s under the river?

AMANDA

One time I got angry at my dad, so I threw his iPad into the river and we found it a really really long time later.

PALMIRA

Your point?

AMANDA

It’d get washed away, silly.

PALMIRA

Question is, was Uncle Harlow that silly? It is a slow river.

PALMIRA puts her hands into the river, starts feeling around.

AMANDA

You think it might be deeper?

PALMIRA

Why should he start trying now? I got something.

PALMIRA pulls out a grimy Tupperware container filled with water. She opens it, pulls out a wet piece of folded paper and a round rock.

PALMIRA

Half of this is gone. “I found Neil at… astronomy club convention… went up to him… why don’t you recognize me… bodyguards smell sweaty close up… jail… never be an astronaut now… realization?” I think? The riddle looks ok.

“Fish answer to men whether they’re good or bad.

We put my only friend here; he was sad.”

The best he could do was rhyming ‘bad’ and ‘sad’? What the hell’s wrong with him? It’s like a swan song where the swan’s honking off-key.

AMANDA

He called everybody his ‘only friend.’

PALMIRA

And no one else in the family went to jail. It must be Finny’s old water tank. Which we sold. Can I go back to homework now?

AMANDA

You promised!

PALMIRA

To take you to the end. We can go there now.

AMANDA

No! We’ll just skip a clue!

PALMIRA

That’s not what Harlow wanted, I think.

AMANDA

When did you care? I don’t know what else to do. We can’t stop, we’re too far.

PALMIRA

We’d have to strip the house. You’re not serious.

You are serious.

AMANDA

WWTD.

PALMIRA

Huh?

AMANDA

What would Tyson do.

PALMIRA

Screw you. Wait, that’s probably not what he’d do.

INT: Various rooms of the converted farmhouse. Day.

Montage of house-searching set to “The Truth,” by Foster the People. Four hours later, AMANDA finds an old diary and begins reading through it. PALMIRA sees her.

PALMIRA

I though I had lost that forever.

AMANDA

Wow.

PALMIRA

Put that down.

AMANDA

Hey, what’s with this ‘mantra’ your book keeps-

PALMIRA

Give me that!

AMANDA

Wouldn’t Mr. Tyson tell me?

PALMIRA

Tyson wouldn’t’ve been stupid enough to come up with a mantra.

AMANDA

I’m sorry.

PALMIRA

Fine, it’s past.

AMANDA

So what is the mantra? What is a mantra?

PALMIRA

You promise not to laugh? Ok. You know how your mom and dad tell you when you’re young that you can do anything and be anything? I took that literally. I tried to make a mantra, a repeated phrase, that would let me walk through walls. At home, in class, at recess, I’d keep repeating nonsense words and walking my way into hospitals. My head smelled a lot like plaster those days. I didn’t see how stupid I was acting until about your age. I tried to change my name, I was so embarrassed. And then I started bullying to cover up for what a target I was, and that’s something we’re not getting into. I guess the point is that our family must be a little crazy. Or in my case, was.

AMANDA

When I was real little, my mom tells me I kept shaking my piggy bank even when all the money was out of it.

PALMIRA

Thanks.

AMANDA

You’re really smart. My dad keeps saying you’re so smart.

PALMIRA

Not naturally. That’s the thing.

AMANDA

Uncle Harlow was naturally-

PALMIRA

He was naturally awful. Because he got what he wanted in the end. They teach at the Buddhist group I’m attending that desire leads to suffering. But he didn’t suffer for his desire. We did.

AMANDA

What is wrong with you?

PALMIRA

What?

AMANDA

You’re no better! You want to get out of this, and it’s hurting me! What did Harlow ever do to you?

PALMIRA

I told you. I know the end of this.

AMANDA

But the search isn’t over yet.

PALMIRA

“It ends in death. Death is best.”

AMANDA

What?

PALMIRA

That’s it. That’s his last nugget of wisdom. Ow!

AMANDA

You’re lying!

PALMIRA

Would I?

PALMIRA descends the nearby stairs.

INT: Drab basement. Day.

PALMIRA pulls out a slip of paper from behind the TV.

PALMIRA

“The Last Words of Uncle Harlow: It ends in death. Death is best.” Feeling queasy, huh? I never looked up to Harlow, but I didn’t think he was this shit. That’s what he wanted us to find out. That life can be ruined so easily that you should just wait for death on a couch. The stars are up there and you’re born down here, and there’s nothing you can do since death takes us all. That’s his final gift to you, kid. What a swell guy.

AMANDA, crying, runs back up the stairs. PALMIRA sighs, sits down, and returns to studying. Fade to black.

When the lights fade back up, we see PALMIRA holding her head in hand. The words of her book seem to run together.

PALMIRA

What would Neil do?

She sees the book that AMANDA brought in at the start of all this. She picks it up. It’s called How We Made It To The Moon.

UNCLE HARLOW

(V.O.)

“Congratulations, my ‘only friends’! This is the beginning of my posthumous scavenger hunt. As Bilbo would say, ‘If you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.’ They say beginnings are important because that’s where things begin.”

PALMIRA smiles, then realizes something.

INT: Disorganized study. Sunset.

AMANDA surfs through the bulky desktop computer, chin in hand, not really looking at anything. PALMIRA runs in.

PALMIRA

There’s more to the message.

AMANDA

Go away.

PALMIRA

I’m sorry about what I did to you.

AMANDA

That’s just what Tyson would say.

PALMIRA

There’s more to his final words. He put so much emphasis on beginnings in the intro letter. The beginning word of each riddle provides a clue. “This” “Is” “My” “Answer.” We don’t have the rest of the riddles, but we won’t need them.

AMANDA

So what?

PALMIRA

So his last words aren’t advice, they’re an admission. It was his realization in jail: that there aren’t any right or wrong answers in life. Not entirely true according to my Buddhist class, but he’s on to something. An easygoing message for an easygoing man. He didn’t need to become an astronaut or please his parents to become happy. For him, losing himself in sloth worked. He wants us to choose our own expectations for happiness.

AMANDA

It doesn’t add up.

PALMIRA

No, I mean-

AMANDA

Look at these. The fourth one doesn’t begin with “Answer,” it begins with “Fish.” “This” “Is” “My” “Fish.”

Silence. Then, PALMIRA and AMANDA share a long laugh.

AMANDA

Did you think of that all by yourself?

PALMIRA

Yeah.

AMANDA

You’re pretty smart.

PALMIRA

I guess so.

AMANDA

I like your answer better. Uncle Harlow was a dummy.

PALMIRA

Or maybe we just didn’t understand him.

AMANDA

Understand what?

PALMIRA

That’s the question. So now what?

AMANDA

What?

PALMIRA

Should we finish this? I mean, Harlow was a deadbeat, but he must’ve been severely depressed. Either way, I want him to stop sucking my energy. If we finish the hunt, we can bury him.

AMANDA

Because he wanted us to?

PALMIRA

This is my fish, remember? No, it’s because I want to. I’ve finally learned something from him.

AMANDA

This may be a bad thing to say, but I don’t think this is so important anymore.

PALMIRA

Of course it isn’t, he’s dead. The hunt’s for us. Let’s make it about us.

AMANDA

What’d you have in mind?

PALMIRA

Let’s take it slow, like he would. If we find another clue, so be it. But now, seems like taking a break to watch cartoons together would most befit his memory.

AMANDA

Yay!

PALMIRA

Only for a little bit, though. I’ve still got things to do.

As PALMIRA and AMANDA exit, we see that another note is half-underneath the computer.

UNCLE HARLOW

(V.O.)

“After leaving my cult, I knew my final lesson had to be lived and shared. So why put it in riddles and maps rather than telling you? My life was ruined too long ago to be an adventure. You still have a full life ahead. This hunt was a platform for your own adventure, your own unique way of discovering my wisdom. I hope you understand it. My last words are where I enjoyed my last few years.

If the beats of this journey come from you and your friends,

Where does your life begin and my story end?”

CREDITS