Serge realized he was barefoot. It was not going to be possible for him to go back for his shoes. He hurried to the building ledge and in a single move jumped to the sloped roof, sprawling across the brick surface as he landed. When he sensed that he was all right and not in danger of falling, he started to carefully crawl along the edge of the sloped brick roof until he reached the iron ladder that led to the courtyard of the house below. He descended the ladder toward the courtyard and jumped over the fence to the neighboring courtyard.
He looked like a white butterfly in the night flitting above a river of blood. While standing there, he could make out the sound of the heavy gunfire, which penetrated deep inside his ears with every shot. At that moment, the rainfall became heavier. His overcoat became wet and the moisture seeped through, soaking his body and chilling him to the bone.
Serge spotted a door on the balcony of one of the higher floors. He climbed over the edge, then stepped closer and grabbed the doorknob.
He pushed the door open and went inside. Dripping wet, he continued until he found himself inside a bedroom. In front of him stood a young woman staring at him in the darkness. There was complete silence as they stood facing each other in that cold room high above the street. The woman drew closer and gently caressed his face. He stood there as she locked the door.
He said he could not see her well. Then, as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he was able to discern her a little better. He repeated that he was still scared. Only when she switched on the dim lamp near her bed could he properly see her face and body. She was remarkably attractive. She drew near again and ran her fingers through his hair as she gazed into his eyes. Her bed seemed comfortable. She helped him remove his clothing, and when he was undressed, she brought a large towel from her wooden closet and wrapped it around his torso.
The weak lightbulb gave off a strange purple light in the dimly lit room, which reflected eerily off her bedsheets. When she was finished, she took Serge by the arm and led him, still wrapped up in the towel, to her bed. There, she removed the towel and covered him with a warm blanket. The sweet scent of the bedsheets penetrated deeply into his nostrils. His eyes followed her as she walked to the other side of the bed and slipped beneath the sheets until their bodies were touching.
She began to run her hands all over his body, which was still cold. When he could feel her warm breath right on his chest, Serge closed his eyes. By arrangement with the author. In this charged work of autofiction, Bey explores her ties with the Algerian War for Independence, during which her father was killed. Yes, it was a real war. His father, too, had had his war. The book serves as a porte-parole for a multiplicity of voices whose traumas have been silenced, in an excavation of untold pasts that bears the mark of a personal project.
The translator, Erin Lamm, provides notes that help the reader understand the terms that are left untranslated: Through his revelation, the protagonist learns just how interconnected their histories are and she is left with both clarity and horror. In every country, there are men. It is they who make it into a homeland. Who make it into hell. The short stories included in the volume examine the intersection of femininity and Franco-Algerian identity from a host of perspectives. It has been nearly two centuries since the French invaded Algiers in and began the process of establishing a year imperial rule over their North African neighbors.
They take up the lived realities of immigrants who live in France, of Algerians who aim to negotiate the lessons of colonial history and subsequent independence, and of individuals who inhabit a space somewhere in between. From start to finish, the stories delve into the complexities of everything from love and domestic violence, to marriages affected by threats of repudiation and the corporeality of motherhood.
Bey asks universal questions about the construct of race in discourses of immigration and about the cyclical nature of war. Her characters highlight our human need to connect with the past and to dream about the future. The narrator reduces her relationship with her parents to this exchange of phrases and describes the slow realization that her brother did not face the same nowhybecause in his day-to-day.
She also describes for the reader the process through which she learned to tell half-truths or to manipulate information to avoid the nowhybecauses. The contents of the novella and the subsequent short stories may be sobering, but they provide a host of essential queries for the individual who enjoys a philosophically charged read. When representatives from Georgian publishing houses first visited the Frankfurt Book Fair at the end of the s, they could only dream that in , some twenty years later, Georgia would enjoy the status of guest of honor.
This light will guide Georgian culture to the heart of Europe, showing it the way as it takes those all-important first steps toward calmer waters after centuries of stormy seas. The sense of expectation that surrounds the presentation to be made by the country chosen as guest of honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair resembles the buildup to a great sporting event, and this year, our German colleagues have informed us, fairgoers are particularly excited.
Everyone is keen to know the reasons behind the some might say risky decision by the organizers of the fair to give Georgia a platform alongside such heavy hitters as the Netherlands, France, Norway, and Canada. How will a country that remains almost completely undiscovered by the outside world cope with such a huge international project? Even more important, what does Georgian literature look like today?
What did it look like in the past? And who are the Georgian writers worth reading, listening to, and maybe even meeting? Georgian is written and spoken by only around three and a half million people in Georgia itself and fewer than one million emigrants. For the rest of the world, the language is almost completely inaccessible. From time immemorial, Georgians have regarded their language as a vital asset worth preserving at all cost, as was proven in , during the Soviet period, when people came out onto the streets in huge numbers to protest the decision by the Soviet government to make Russian the official language of Georgia.
For Georgian writers, the Iron Curtain and the seventy-year Soviet regime proved to be almost insuperable obstacles in their quest for freedom from literary boundaries. During that period, it was essentially impossible to have translations and original writing published outside the Soviet sphere, and even within that sphere, publishing was always tightly controlled by the regime.
Considered not only the most important work in Georgian literary history but also a masterpiece of world literature, it has been translated into around sixty languages. Over the last twenty-five years, the publishing and literary worlds of Georgia have come a long way, maneuvering past many roadblocks on the path to development. Now the baton has been passed to a new generation of caretakers, young people with modern outlooks who are working hard to integrate fifteen centuries of Georgian literature to promote it to foreign publishers.
They are present whenever civil society battles injustice, and they continue to support efforts to consolidate democratic values in Georgia. Writers also played an important role in the period immediately following independence: And yet young writers—and here it is particularly important to underline the role played by women writers—went on talking and writing loudly and stubbornly as they strove to break down taboos. That is why you will often see Georgian writers alongside NGOs and ordinary citizens at demonstrations and on TV screens and social media.
In public debates, politicians have found writers to be some of their toughest and most feared adversaries. With all this in mind, it is only to be expected that the most difficult and challenging topics arising out of the process of transformation from Soviet Georgia back to independent Georgia should still be fully present in contemporary Georgian literature. Indeed, what we find in Georgian literature today are works that represent an original and unique synthesis of largely European values and national traditions.
Meanwhile, in a country where even today you can find a Georgian Orthodox church, a synagogue, a mosque, and an Armenian Apostolic church standing side by side in the capital, Tbilisi a city noted for its historical tolerance of difference , and which has been invaded over the centuries by nearly all the major powers—the Arabs, the Mongols, the Seljuk Turks, the Ottomans, the Byzantines, and the Russians—it is equally unsurprising to find fiction about tolerance, war, and the importance of peace. At the same time, our writers have not forgotten to write about everyday life in Georgia, and you will of course also find in modern Georgian literature love stories, made all the sweeter by the times of hardship.
For me personally, it was especially important to offer our overseas readers some interesting works of poetry alongside prose fiction, which tends to be the most popular genre independent of geography. After all, Georgia is often referred to as the Land of Poets! We have also taken this opportunity to present an excerpt from a work of Georgian nonfiction.
Thus, you will have the fascinating I hope! Finally, the fascinating Gela Charkviani has been chosen to represent the field of nonfiction. Naira Gelashvili , born in , is one of the most brilliant writers in contemporary Georgian literature. She is also an expert on German culture, a well-known literary critic, and a social activist. In , Gelashvili founded the nongovernmental organization Caucasian House, which to this day strives for peaceful coexistence among the multicultural, multifaith peoples of the Caucasus.
In recent years, several of her works have been translated into German, bringing her a significant readership in Germany. Teona Dolenjashvili, born in , is one of the best Georgian writers to break onto the scene in recent years. The story deals with a topic that has been widely discussed in Georgia in recent years: In , a draft law imposing legally binding age limits of forty-one and forty-six for women and men respectively on IVF treatment was introduced into the Georgian parliament.
The proposed legislation was met with an uproar in society, and thankfully its progress through parliament is currently stalled. In addition to her literary achievements, Teona Dolenjashvili is actively involved in public life. At present, she is working on a project to build a modern seaport that meets international standards in the town of Anaklia, which lies on the border with the ancient Georgian region of Abkhazia, now of course occupied by Russia. Beka Kurkhuli, born in , is from the same generation as Teona Dolenjashvili but made his first appearance on the literary scene much earlier, in He worked as a reporter for several years during the wars that engulfed the Caucasus following the collapse of the Soviet Union, filing reports not only from the conflict zones—Abkhazia, Samachablo, and the Pankisi Gorge—created in Georgia by the wars against Russian forces but also from other regions of the Caucasus, such as Ingushetia and Azerbaijan, in addition to Afghanistan.
The story depicts the lives of Georgian soldiers and partisans in Abkhazia during and after the Russo-Georgian war and describes the terrible effects of the war on ordinary Georgians and Abkhazians, who until then had been connected for generations by family ties, friendships, and shared territory. Samniashvili is one of the most well-known and distinguished poets in Georgia. Her poetry is characterized by rigor and precision, while her poetic voice possesses a highly original sonority.
She is the author of several prizewinning collections of poetry, and her work has been translated into English, Dutch, Italian, Azerbaijani, and Russian. Samniashvili is also active in the field of translation, and many Georgians know her as the translator of Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf. The poet Irakli Kakabadze was born in and is the author of four collections of poetry and one book of short stories. For several years he worked in the public sector, specifically at the National Center for Teacher Development in Tbilisi, a legal entity under the Ministry of Education and Science in Georgia.
Following his first appearance on the creative scene, while still a civil servant, he rapidly made a name for himself as a passionate social activist and an indefatigable defender of human rights and freedom of speech, and these are precisely the topics he deals with in his work, which is noteworthy for its originality.
Even while still employed by the civil service, he never shied away from harsh criticism of the state and the Georgian Orthodox Church, but eventually, due to the impossibility of reconciling his work for the government with his activism, he was forced to make what was, for him, an unbearably difficult decision and leave his homeland for Turkey.
Kakbadze now lives in Istanbul. Kakabadze uploaded a number of these short poems to various social media sites over the course of several years under the pseudonym Iaki Kabe, fooling many into believing they were the work of an unknown Japanese poet translated into Georgian.
Last, but definitely not least, we present Gela Charkviani —diplomat, pedagogue, writer, television personality, and showman. Charkviani was born in into the family of Candide Charkviani, first secretary of the Communist Party of Georgia under Stalin, and thanks to his famous father was known as the Communist Crown Prince.
More precisely, it is the autobiography of a multifaceted individual in a multitude of roles. He begins life as Communist Crown Prince and grows into a rebellious Soviet youth drawn to banned music and the urban underground. Later he becomes an enthusiastic proselytizer for the free world on the other side of the Iron Curtain he was one of the few individuals who were allowed out of the Soviet Union, traveling to America in and taking courses at the University of Michigan , as well as the author of numerous policies reflecting social initiatives.
From the s onward, he worked as chief foreign policy advisor to President Eduard Shevardnadze, spokesperson for President Mikheil Saakashvili, and ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to the United Kingdom. Over the last few years, he has published a series of books, including his autobiography, excerpts from his notebooks, and other works of documentary prose, all of which have taken their rightful place on the year-end bestseller lists. Understanding the historical, political, and cultural backdrop against which these authors, with their diverse worldviews and life experiences, are writing is important to making an unfamiliar literary culture a little less unfamiliar.
Their appearance here constitutes a big step forward on the great journey of bringing Georgian literature to the world. Poet Hiroaki Sato, whom Gary Snyder has called "perhaps the finest translator of contemporary Japanese poetry into American English," reminisces about his collaborations with Ashbery. Toward the end of , I was about to move from my apartment on the Upper East Side to one in Chelsea when I received a card.
Poems of Kenji Miyazawa. During the s, Japanese college courses in English poetry stayed with safe greats: Ashbery had included his address, and it was, to my further surprise, on the street I was moving to. I wrote him at once to thank him. Ashbery fetched me a drink. I got drunk fast. And what did I prattle on about? The art of translation! I was full of myself, to be sure. Was he negotiating those hazards as he walked? I had read a story about Wallace Stevens: To my surprise again, Ashbery accepted the whole set, without comment, and published it in the January issue of his magazine.
For a magazine to accept so many haiku at once may have been unheard of, before or ever since, in Japan, let alone the United States. In the summer of , Hisao Kanaseki, a scholar of modern American literature whom I knew arrived in New York under the aegis of the U.
Information Agency, to visit a dozen artists, Ashbery among them. But I evidently failed to say anything that would have tickled the suave readers of the weekly.
One day in , Ashbery telephoned me to say he was in trouble: So I called Kanaseki, and Kanaseki called the professor, and the matter was settled. Kanaseki had much greater academic weight in Japan. There also was my cultural and literary deficiency. But I did not bother him with my translation. It looked more impressive, I dare say, than the original, from Viking. With pages, it was three times heftier than the ninety-page original. When I received copies from Tokyo, I took a couple to Ashbery.
During some chitchat, he asked how it came about that I translated a book of his. My photographer friend Seiji Kakizaki, who had taken some memorable shots at the party for my first books eighteen years earlier, was on hand to take some good photos. It is still available from the publisher, if not from Amazon or any other bookseller.
I might have expected something like that. And, knowing that it would cost a bundle if the publishers got involved, I talked to Ashbery. He agreed to skip his publisher, giving his personal permission for the translation and its publication free of charge. As I write this, I remember my vague puzzlement two decades ago. That is hard to guess. Our clumped desire stirs and how. Hope in the right place, you said, is hope misplaced. Where were you when was I?
Counting down the decades for the prize as victim of our previous war. In my dreams the universe anneals for tents. The poem is the voice of no one, the voice of things, not even a voice. While it may explore the impact of events and actions, it does not brandish biographical anecdotes either in a veiled or explicit manner. Instead, ironic and serene, it skirts a mystery—the loss of any prior happiness.
The new moment has no memory, no sympathy for memory; it forces the witness to begin anew. His responsibility is to face the present moment, and he explains, in addition, why he can do nothing else. From the point of view of reading and writing, the verses do not represent a recovery in the face of forgetting; on the contrary, they expose forgetting and loss.
The length of some of the poems challenges the possibility of self-representation, of being present to oneself, of knowing oneself. It is impossible to reconstruct the advances and setbacks of a thought process, a dream, or a romance. These different versions and evocations of selfhood mingle; they contradict each other; they distort and erase. Both poet and reader find that they do not control each and every intertextual allusion brought into play by the preceding lines, nor can they follow each twist and turn in the ensuing ones.
The attention afforded a poem—particularly a longer one—will be dazzling but intermittent. They dwell in an interrupted fragment made of words and books. Each reading recontextualizes, equivocates, and burns poetic material in the daily sacrifice of other lives that respond to diverse circumstances and particularities. One does not read a poet, or even a poem. Aesthetic judgment, then, is subjective. The strength of our conviction makes it seem universal, but in fact it is singular.
It is, then, an illogical universal. Outbursts of irony mock the absurdity, blindness, and partiality of the pretensions of a purported lyric self, which splits in an instant, laughing at its own folly.
Despite this, it does not dismiss the validity of its attempts but acknowledges the limits of self-control, in a poetic confirmation that things do not go as planned. An unavoidable disturbance undermines the reasons that would seem to lead to this or that conclusion. The provisional lyric self laughs at its own inability to calculate, and at its forgetfulness. But this lack of memory is what makes writing possible, forces mistakes and conjectures to be made, hurried along by urgency and expectation.
The poem comes to substitute that which does not become present, invokes an empty moment outside time, a rebellious moment outside speech. The poem is the symbolic sequence that implicates and betrays that moment, translates it while allowing it to escape, passes through it to leave it intact. The humor directed at the self, the irony, the splitting of the lyric subject reveal the poem to be an ambiguous blessing, an opportunity for both sadness and happiness for receiving both bad and good news.
Somehow, things work out, and fall into place. Each signifier represents and at the same time obliterates him. The poem, and the poet along with it, slips away, taking refuge in darkness. The Ashbery poem is a succession of states, of atmospheres. The muted background of sounds and repetitions, the insistences and pauses, the acceleration or elongation, speculate about a region of darkness. On the contrary, it consists of a set of verbal performances and panoramas for the spectator to behold. Each phrase leads, through resemblance or conjecture, to a referent, to a state of things that in itself remains misunderstood.
Each picture is inaccurate but not in the sense of any lack of artistry. Somebody notes, scribbles down, and concludes each occurrence without achieving a distinct result, passing through it, carrying it out, as if crossing the street. The intentions are equivocal, availability is all that matters. It makes us neither transparent nor immortal. The poem is an occasional lookout tower, from which the imminent surrender of the self can be glimpsed. It is a different experience, responding to different circumstances unique to the reader.
The poem seduces precisely because of its lack of transparency. Someone moves incessantly to remain in the same place, in life, in the backyard, at the back of the mind. The mind has two spaces and two doors, a house and a backyard, a front door and a back door. The furnishings in the house are conventional, the front door opens to guests, but the garden is rough, formless, a specter of fragrances and semi-deserted stillness. Otherness, the Other, a message, a self-sufficient messenger who is the message, a courier, an Indian runner, an angel is near, growing because no one takes possession of him, nor should they do so.
It momentarily occupies a cave, a crypt—or the backyard—profaned by its conjectures. It seduces because it is beyond reach. Some things, gestures, reveal themselves, but against an undefined aura or horizon; from the curve of a lens, a visible half, a hyperbola, is projected onto the still unseen other half, a complete vision of which is never attained. The backyard is an atmosphere, an available experience, a yet imprecise idea. The poem is not ahistorical; it becomes a history as it is written, in that very moment.
It therefore lacks the exemplary nature of a completed cycle, nor does it merely repeat the repertoire of formulas catalogued by an antiquarian, nor is it only critical of that history. It demonstrates a historical enthusiasm. It is a flow chart, a measure of the tide. It is necessary to focus on every minor detail because each one is eloquent, not for what it is but for what it implies.
It betrays the circumstances of a feeling, neither foreign nor intimate, that can be glimpsed. The poem culminates neither in positive knowledge nor in any kind of moral. It is playful and rejects hierarches; anything can be worthy of consideration. It trains its attention on each detail through which feeling passes. Of course, all three of these aspects may be present in the same poem. The role and relevance of each is a question of emphasis, of stylistic inflection. His is a syntactic poetry, anti-logocentric in the sense that it regards its verbal materials—the figures and tropes that make up the poem as a whole—with irony.
It seems to me that this is the tradition in which the poetry of John Ashbery is inscribed. The poem does not symbolize things that exist previously, that are not the poem itself. The poem is a thing, an allegorical artifact, the tunnel through which an occurrence passes. The poet and the reader no longer seek in reality the illusion of love with which desire deceives them. The poem is the place where the real acquires the full range of its possible dimensions, even though their meeting is neither a known totality nor a final result nor a lasting object but rather a precarious alliance.
The poem makes use of its syntax while also questioning it. Not even principles such as the logic of non-contradiction reign supreme. The poem recognizes no obstacle in itself; it is an excess, but it should, in its irony, recognize a pre-existing if unknown limit. View this article in Georgian bilingual. The human embryo has a special status because of its potential for development to a stage at which everyone would accord it the status of a human person.
Children born by artificial insemination will also be problematic, for their lives have developed as a result of the destruction of numerous embryos. Listen to Teona Dolenjashvili read "Meskhi vs. Meskhi" in the original Georgian. Marika dreamed the dream only a few times, but it always seemed to coincide with the most important periods of her life, and eventually it became for her a special sign, an intermezzo punctuating her existence.
The first time Marika has the dream, she is married and full of renewed hope. She is sitting beside Irakli in the car, and they are making their way hurriedly toward Mtskheta. It is a few days before Christmas, and Saint Gabriel has appeared in a dream to an elderly nun called Mother Paraskeva, promising that anyone who visits his grave before Christmas will be granted three wishes. And so, one more story begins with a dream.
In this case, though, not exactly a dream, but a vision; a vision that has sent almost the entire country on a frenzied dash to Mtskheta, with the result that the narrow road from Tbilisi to the ancient royal capital is now clogged with a long line of cars filled with worshippers and dreamers.
Irakli and Marika, in their black Land Cruiser Prado, are part of the caravan. It is said that when the angel comes down and disturbs the waters in the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem, those who bathe in it will be blessed with fertility. They crawl along the road at tortoise speed, buying food from roadside restaurants, wiping down their bodies with dampened handkerchiefs, and changing their clothes in the back seats of the car.
An unending line of jeeps and sedans stretches out before and behind them. When night falls, the curious dream comes to her. In the dream, she exists in another space and time. She sees a long, desolate road, illuminated by moonlight yet unfamiliar to her. She realizes she is one of them: The dream is eerily silent, as if the sound blasting out from an ultrasensitive Dolby speaker system in a movie theater had suddenly been cut off.
The wretched battalion plods slowly onward, heads bowed. All Marika can see are the soles of the feet of those walking directly in front of her. At the end of the road stands a cattle shed. She hears a disembodied voice shouting an order to enter, and she steps inside with the others. In the cattle barn there is a manger, and in the manger lies Christ the healer. He has the soft, gentle face of a child, and with a smile, he lays his hands on the head of each of them in turn, curing them of their ills.
When she opens her eyes, the highway really is illuminated by the light of the moon, although the silence is broken by the whistling of the cold December wind and the sirens of police cars on patrol. Images from the dream linger, preventing her from making a complete return to reality. Then she shakes Irakli awake and tells him about her dream. She tells him she has seen Jesus. Irakli, exhausted from lack of sleep, nods his head, turns over, and mutters something unintelligible.
He has never looked less like a potential father. The very same day, Irakli spots an old classmate of his, Father Vasili or Vaska, as he was known before his ordination. Vaska has a set of keys to the locked cemetery, and he opens it up and lets them sneak inside in the middle of the night. Unlike everyone else, Marika has the grave to herself for the entire night.
She is completely alone. Their long-awaited child had yet to make its appearance on Earth, and now no one knew if it ever would. After their divorce, Marika and Irakli were left with an embryo they had had fertilized in vitro and preserved in a test tube. The decision was to be made by the court. Marika opens the curtains to reveal a panorama of the city, long since wide awake. The uneven mass of apartment blocks, all with different numbers of floors, the original lie of the land underneath, and the old quarter, spread out like an amphitheater around the Tbilisi Basin, give the city a muddled appearance, as if it had lost its way at some point in the flow of time.
It is a bright, warm September afternoon. Unskilled hands crashing down on piano keys and classical pieces full of mistakes have become her alarm clock, and they work every time. She opens her eyes, sits up, pulls up her knees until her feet are flat on the divan, and stares at the walls of the room absentmindedly, reluctant to leave the other world. The walls are white and completely bare except for a single photograph of Marika standing on a veranda, her elbows resting on a wooden railing.
High mountains form the landscape behind her. The shot has been set up so that her full body is visible against the backdrop. She pours some coffee into a cup, takes some cheese out of the refrigerator, and chews indifferently on a croissant she has warmed up in the oven. Her cat jumps onto the table out of nowhere and peers into the fridge.
After she separated from Irakli, Marika went out and bought herself an American Keuda kitten, and because the kitten immediately reminded her of Bastet, the Egyptian goddess of fertility, Bastet is what she called her. The musical theme coming from the floor above has changed, and the melancholy Chopin melody being played now is like a river of viscous bile that quenches fiery passions and washes them downstream, soothing troubled hearts as it flows along by coating them in sticky resin.
And yet the thought that occurs to Marika as she stands under the shower, namely that sooner or later all this will pass and become meaningless, brings her sadness rather than relief.
KING Gonna be a rabbi man? There is so much crammed into this territory, which has found a way for its many layers to co-exist in something like harmony, even with the shadow of authoritarianism hanging over it. Don't fix what ain't broke. Ernestine was insistent, with a mildly sinister snorting laugh, and she pretended to be your friend, which is what made her dangerous. His responsibility is to face the present moment, and he explains, in addition, why he can do nothing else. Take something for what it actually is, not a literal or exaggerated meaning. Tell 'em to get their asses up here!
How depressing it is that in the final game of love even hatred dies, leaving the players numbed, with nothing left to do but doze away the days in a soft, indistinct fog of unhappiness. How could she ever be with someone else, someone strange and unfamiliar, when for as long as she can remember she has been with Irakli? When she has sacrificed so many years to her love for him. When their child already exists, fertilized in a test tube and frozen indefinitely at the preembryonic stage, a zygotic string of genetic code, in which sex, eye color, skin tone, hair color, facial structure, body shape, susceptibility to disease and even temperament are already set in stone.
A tiny microchip storing a wealth of information. As Marika dries herself, she looks at the brightly colored decoration on the bathroom wall, carefully arranged to imitate the aesthetic of a Klimt painting. She and Irakli chose the decor together in a pretentious interior design shop where everything was supposedly laid out on the principle of coexistence between everyday life and art.
The shop owner was dressed up like the curator of a gallery, and the salesgirl chatted as if she were a lecturer in the faculty of art history at some famous academy. After all, what could be more human than art that prettifies the banal process of defecation? The only thing he wanted was Klimt: It was without doubt the most sensible choice.
A tune with a quick tempo is being played on the piano now. It might even be an etude. The performer loses the rhythm, stops the melody somewhere in the middle, and goes back to the start. Bastet has licked her plate clean and is sitting on the windowsill. The sound of the clock ticking in the living room reminds Marika that she is due to meet her lawyer in an hour. She pulls out a pair of jeans and a white T-shirt—practically the first things she lays her hands on—from her wardrobe, laces up her white canvas shoes, combs her tangled hair, and stares in the mirror at her face, with its baleful eyes and sunken cheeks, as if it belonged to someone else.
Her clothes make her look like a little girl, but appearances can be deceiving, for her body has already started to decay and die. Menopause may still be relatively far off, but her reproductive years are nearly over. Falling in love again if such a thing is even possible takes much longer than that. He filled in one of those forms a while ago, but now he wants the clinic to disregard his previous request and put a stop to the whole process.
In front of him are a sheet of paper and a cardboard cup full of coffee. Human lives, some destined for birth, some not. Some destined for heaven, some not. Humans are primates lost in an anthropological maze, who have been given an impenetrable genetic jungle to find their way through in place of the right to determine their own desires.
A couple of hours in this large-scale industrial womb is more than enough to convince Irakli of that. Take this lesbian couple here, for instance, who have just walked in together with their surrogate: If that zygote turns into a baby, it will have been created with assistance from the next world, no less.
He wants to get out of this place as fast as he can and forget it even exists. Come to think of it, how the hell did he end up here in the first place? It would lack an eternal soul, like a creature created by a different god. Instead, it would have a plastic heart, and the ice-cold stare of a glass-eyed doll. I hereby request that the embryo created through in vitro fertilization by myself, Irakli Meskhi, and my former spouse, Marika Meskhi, on June 30 of last year be removed from cryopreservation and. He signs his petition and waits for the doctor.
He still has a few questions. If he wins the court case, how long will it take for the verdict to be put into effect? Will all the embryos be destroyed without exception, leaving no chance for the plaintiff to come up with some ruse and use his sperm to produce a child somehow or other somewhere down the line? Irakli already has a real child. It is his legacy—confirmation that he will live forever. If not that, then what else? He remembers every detail of that day: He was on his own, without Marika. Tatia arrived with her girlfriends. She sat on the other side of the table, directly opposite him.
She smiled at him, running her fingers through her hair. She was perfect for him: A pair of wide, rounded hips curved out below her waist, and her golden hair dyed, but so what? Their relationship progressed easily. Irakli messaged Tatia whenever he felt like it. They spoke on the phone, went to the cinema, and spent evenings together. Every time Irakli laid eyes on her, his whole body tensed as the age-old alchemy set to work and large doses of endorphin and cortisol flooded his brain, rendering him momentarily speechless and thoughtless.
Which was all as it should have been, of course, for what was growing between them was precisely that yearning for each other—that magnetic attraction—that was required by the future individual they were destined to create. Had it been like that with Marika too? When they got married, they were practically kids.
It all happened according to ritual: No new life, nothing to disturb the quiet and not much else to enliven their stagnant routine. He was comfortable with Marika, but he found her boring—she would never throw even a single pebble into the tranquil waters of their everyday life to break the surface, speed up the flow, and just occasionally generate a little turbulence in the mundane course of their existence.
Tatia, on the other hand, was playful, restless, lively, emotional—cheerful half the time and sullen the other half. Her mood rose and fell like her chest when she was agitated and changed as quickly as the weather in March. Cloudy, stormy conditions would make him scared he was going to lose her, but that would only drive her into an even greater rage. Sunny days would inflame new passions in him, making him feel dizzy and drunk.
When he was with Tatia, it was impossible to forecast what was going to happen. He told Marika he was going drinking with the guys that night, and he was telling the truth, but Tatia and her girlfriends were there in the club too. They drank and danced, danced and drank, and Irakli felt like his entire body was about to explode, so intense was his desire for this woman. As he watched Tatia dance, he started to suspect all the other guys of wanting her as much as he did, so they left the club early.
He walked her to her apartment block and then walked her upstairs to her door, and then she just happened to mention that there was no one else home. Tatia poured glasses of wine. Then he took off her bra, revealing her spectacular naked body. With Tatia, everything was different: Marika had still been intact, but not Tatia. Irakli looked over the written confirmation before they were married.
It had been issued by a clinic in the provincial town where Tatia was born and grew up. And so he was her first. He was the sculptor, the creator of her femininity and her sexuality, and under his direction, her body blossomed, opened up, and prepared itself for motherhood. It was only a few months later when she uttered those two magic words to him: Tatia said the words as if they were nothing out of the ordinary.
More precisely, she called them out from the toilet as she looked down at the strip included in the test kit and saw the two red lines confirming her pregnancy. When Irakli had still been with Marika, she had always been going on about how she thought she might be pregnant, and they would often go out to buy a pregnancy test and then sit together, waiting with their hearts in their mouths for the result, but the appearance of those two red lines was a miracle was never bestowed on them.
He was the happiest man in the world. He finally understood what it meant to be in seventh heaven. He wanted to let the entire world know that he was going to be a father, that soon his child would be born, his own child, with his genes and his surname and his facial features.
He left Marika as soon as he found out. It was tough for him to get through those days, but he would have endured anything to have his pregnant Tatia by his side. He and Marika divided up their assets fifty-fifty. He left the big apartment to Marika, and because the idea of a holiday home was especially attractive to a couple expecting a child, he kept the dacha for himself, along with a smaller apartment they also owned. On this issue, though, Marika was cold and insistent: Nothing worked, neither entreaties nor threats. His attempt to pay her off also ended in failure.
By nature, Marika had always been gentle and submissive, but now she turned into a real demon, replete with tail and horns. Irakli came to hate Marika and their shared past. And now here he is, writing a second petition, this time to prohibit implantation of the embryo in the womb of a surrogate mother. He is in the camp that does not regard an embryo as a life.
There is no breeze to rustle the leaves on the poplars and spruces in the garden of the clinic. Irakli raises his head and looks out through the window. Beams of light from the lamps in the garden shine on the panes of glass, flickering on and off like fireflies, like unknown souls of the future on tracks of DNA.
Soon the doctor will come back and take his petition from him. Irakli hopes they will accept this petition as quickly as they did the first one, so that he can be forever free of this place and the nightmares created here. She needs her friends now more than ever. All she wants is to secure her future, and for that, the support she needs from her friends right now is of the intellectual kind. The only thing they know how to do is talk.
They talk constantly, endlessly, and yet they never say the words Marika needs to hear. That way, my mom can help with the baby, too. You know it would drive you nuts. And how would it help? He must have been furious when he heard about the whole thing. Looking after them and feeding them. You are one and the same body. You better make sure you find out who she is and where she comes from. I know women who kept on going even after five or ten rounds, and eventually one of the embryos stuck.
The girls fall silent. And in the silence, they switch allegiance from Marika to Irakli. Compassion for Marika can still be heard through the silence, but only compassion, nothing more. She orders a coffee and observes a group of elderly ladies sitting at the table in front of her.
It looks like the usual type of get-together. They clear their plates wordlessly, gobbling down their cream cakes bite by bite and swallowing their soft, white ice creams with silver spoons. They jealously guard their desserts like children, prolonging these rare moments of pleasure with hedonistic zeal. Even if nothing is yet seriously wrong with them, they are old enough to be troubled by insomnia, colitis, weakness of the joints, and high blood pressure, at the very least.
As compensation, they receive a tiny pension, comprehensive health insurance, and the false compassion of their younger fellow citizens. But what does it matter, anyway? In this country, being young and getting old are as miserable as each other—the only difference between them is the order they come in. A child whom you will raise and who will be obliged in turn to repay the debt it owes you. Marika recalls her most recent conversation with her mother. After that conversation, Marika realized her mother was ashamed of her.
They were sitting in the kitchen. Marika was drinking tea while her mother prepared dinner. A pie her mother had just baked was resting on a large, oval plate, still warm, filling the air with the scent of apples and cinnamon. As a child, Marika would sit for hours under the tree, flitting through the shadows of the past. She reads that Nikoloz had two children: Mikheil and Natalia; and Mikheil three: Margalita, Markoz, and Davit. Markoz became a monk, so his branch is short, but Davit produced five descendants, two girls and three boys.
Of the patrimonial lines belonging to the three boys, Mikheil, Konstantine that must be the Kostya she has heard so much about! Plague, typhoid, famine, child mortality. Many of the branches on this part of the tree are leafless and bare. Marika tries hard not to overcomplicate things and lose track of her own direct line, and before long she finds her great-grandmother Agrapina, who bore her great-grandfather seven children. This must have been around the time of the Great Terror in , for here the tree becomes noticeably thinner and the names of those who were exiled or shot have been written in faint pencil marks, although some unknown surviving family member has come along later and filled in the names thickly with a pen.
Lower down, some of the names are people Marika remembers. Now she gives the names faces, clothes, voices and mannerisms. She imagines their lives, loves, and deaths, creating individual stories for each of them. It feels like resurrecting the souls of the dead, calling them up from their long-since-sealed coffins. And here they come! Some are skeletons, some have turned to dust, and some have no form at all, but still they come, each of them whispering the names of their children. In this country, only men continue the family line. Only they have the right to bring forth new people and new eras.
The primary creative force, whose spermatozoa, shooting out by the billion, dropping like the leaves of the tree and scattering over the ground, have sired an entire family, an entire clan, the whole of mankind. Marika understands why her mother is so sad.
A defective, faulty child reflects equally as badly on the mother, after all. Even so, she wishes she would shut up. Most of them have smooth skins, but some have a dominant gene that has made them wrinkly and ugly. They really want to make it in time so they can have a child baptized by the Patriarch too.
Pregnant women and newborn babies are tantalizing topics for her, and she loves talking about them more than anything else. An endless stream of words pours out of her mouth, but all the while there are only two words written on her face. Three years ago, during the war, our house was burgled. When I returned everything was upside down, Our possessions had probably borne those alien fingers with hatred.
They stole my gold ring and several bottles of wine. They were probably in a hurry—only the drawers had been emptied. They took nothing from the shelves. And yet I was grateful—they had not burned my family album, nor ripped up my books, even that they had left the house at all. This will always be my shameful gratitude. And today, just around the corner, almost in town the military drills sound again as my child sleeps in the room, while each passing tick of the clock feels like a slap in the face.
One-man empires threaten everything. Our skeletons for them are sticks and stones, as if they would fight each other using our bones as weapons. My child, I am ashamed of these tales. If it could, you mustn't wish for it. Bringing out of our hidden kingdoms this inherited tumor, this love not for homeland but for soil. The lullaby of the machine gun.
Who can escape his own charisma, when time so firmly, so loyally hardens the fontanels of all our children. Georgian poet Lela Samniashvili on the "fatal defect" of time, and the past in the present. If I leave, you will always be tortured with the feeling of guilt that you could not leave me. The future— What do we know about it? What is in store for us if everything continues anyway? A child—in an apron. A child—with a pacifier in its mouth. A child—with a book, a child revising its verses, and the mother whose lips silently follow the words of these verses, words that move with her. Her face beaming with happiness.
Then the child grows. She moves from one year to another. She swallows facts and events like pills as the years go by. Then she stands at a crossroad. The distance to the horizon lengthens. Soon a baby will grow inside her the fruit of love or passion. Then you can speed everything up: Now there are two old people, arm in arm, walking in a garden. It is a short scene as they say good-bye.
The flowers are fading. Time actually resembles a run in your stocking. Try, imagine the first creation of God— the beginning of the universe—a singularity. Containing within itself numerous shapes of fragmentation without cross-section. And then a big explosion. Countless eruptions, the fragments floating endlessly, going everywhere and nowhere at once, departing with endless inertia, the impossibility of free fall, attraction, repulsion, dissembling, the fragments forming into new shapes, stars, creatures, ideas, directions.
Entity—completely ripped to pieces. Time is a fateful defect.
Like finding a run in your stocking. Nothing can help it. So now, plant two feet firmly on the ground and look at how kindly this trash heap of a universe smiles at you with all its rich resources its secondary surpluses and its fast food —brought to you by its charitable arm—floating down into the guts of mankind. Rich people throw scraps and the poor pick them up trembling alternatively, clever people will pick up scraps thrown by fools or would rather retrieve their own pieces and let them rot.
How can I say that I love you in this garbage pile? This place allocated to us? They want only the best for us. And their care, their prayers are grasping at this nonexistent eternity through us. Life tries to make us get used to being tamed, it teaches us to breathe deeply amid the garbage. How can I explain to you this love? I could not refine them anymore than I could if I was given the right to. I know there is the curse of god and the curse of being human: In the name of love at least. He is god and is free of this fear.
But to be saved I found a child, Our child, who comes and looks into my eyes and repeats these questions with more persistence and curiosity. She says that this is normal. I tell her this is love. Georgian writer Gela Charkviani describes his early days as an aide to then-President Eduard Shevardnadze.
My relationship with Eduard Shevardnadze developed slowly and painfully, and our first business meeting ended in complete failure. An overseas delegation was due to arrive in Georgia, and I had brought for his approval a plan for the visit, which had been prepared at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Or was it that the project had been poorly conceived? His reaction was so unexpected and so confusing that I was unable to defend myself. The shock of that first meeting stayed with me for a long time. From then on, even when I was certain I had dealt with a problem thoroughly, I found myself incapable of explaining my reasoning to him without becoming flustered.
One more thing that shocked me is that he never mentioned my father. They had both been First Secretary of the Communist Party of Georgia, and one would have thought Shevardnadze might naturally wish to demonstrate solidarity with a fellow member of the club. Another reason this hurt me is that my father had fallen on hard times, and not long before, I had helped him to sell one of his three Orders of Lenin. Later, when his application for a military pension as a former member of the Transcaucasian Military Council was turned down, he was obliged to sell the other two.
Two of them made a particularly strong impression on me: Temur Stepanov and Sergei Tarasenko. I already knew Temur from afar, but over time we grew closer in spite of his short temper, and today I recall with great fondness the hours we spent in debate. Sergei, meanwhile, had worked under Shevardnadze for many years as a diplomatic counsel. He was born into an average family in the Donbass, if I recall correctly, and at a young age had been recognized as a child genius. He was accepted into the elite Moscow State Institute of International Relations despite a lack of personal connections and quickly mastered both English and the art of diplomacy.
He worked in the Soviet Embassy in America and in the s allied himself with the reformists in the new Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In Tbilisi, prior to my appearance and for quite some time afterward, Tarasenko was responsible for setting up meetings between Shevardnadze and various accredited diplomats and foreign delegations visiting Georgia.
He also acted as interpreter. And fourth, the list doesn't include comedy that we ultimately felt was bad, harmful, or retrograde. They are listed below in chronological order, complete with video or audio. Use the timeline slider to jump to different eras or specific comedians.
Bert Williams was the most popular black comedic performer in America at the turn of the 20th century. Released at a time when cylinder recordings were at their apex, Williams became widely known for the song, and he was forced to sing it at essentially every appearance he made, for the rest of his life. Though it began as a stage routine, "Cohen on the Telephone" is noteworthy for embracing two emerging technologies: Developed in England by Joe Hayman, the definitive Jewish vaudeville monologue became bigger than any one comedian as it grew into a sensation stateside when American comedians like Barney Bernard, George L.
Thompson, and most notably Monroe Silver took on the character of Cohen and recorded covers of the routine. Built on a classic misunderstanding-an-accent premise, it popularized the comedic device of hearing one half of a phone conversation. It was an undeniable influence on comedy legends Shelley Berman and Bob Newhart.
This bit was something different for comedy at the time. Because this scene was so joyful, it makes reality all the more depressing when the Tramp gets stood up for his dinner date. By being among the first on the silver screen to add a little tragedy to his comedy, Chaplin raised the bar for the art of jokes. He was highly agile, performing all his physical stunts — many of them genuinely dangerous — without cuts, often in one take. Whereas Chaplin made intimate poetic miniatures that are admirable but can sometimes cloy, Keaton made broad, bright murals that do not require much adjustment of your mind-set.
Many earlyth-century vaudeville stars left the stage to help power the burgeoning media of radio and TV, but few were bigger or brighter than George Burns and Gracie Allen. Wit, wordplay, bits of physical business, and a diverting ditty about love, complete with soft shoe. That was what Will Rogers pioneered in the s. With a down-home, backwoods charm, Rogers became a national figure by discussing the government and his humorous, logical approach to what was wrong with it. In the midst of the Great Depression, Hoover introduced a plan designed to encourage local groups to help with unemployment, and he asked Rogers to appear on the radio to help promote this plan.
What he got were these jokes. Every generation needs a Colbert to present the truth in an entertaining way, and Will Rogers was one of the first we had. Laurel and Hardy are hired to deliver a piano to a house in Los Angeles, and discover on their arrival that the door is at the top of a very steep, very narrow flight of steps. The bare-bones premise allows it to become a pure physical-comedy experiment: The Marx Brothers used insanity.
The Marx Brothers may not have been able to do anything about the coming war, but they certainly gave us something to laugh about. At once a renegade, a box-office sensation, and an unlikely sex symbol, she reshaped the very rules of comedy. When she was good she was very good, but when she was bad, she was an absolute badass. Creating a fake rivalry to get attention was nothing new when the wry, clever Allen started taking shots at his longtime friend Benny on the air, but their commitment to the gag was.
The pair kept the sideshow going for a decade. The format is one that is still mimicked to this day: And though the joke is seen as shticky and hacky at this point, structurally it is deceptively elegant, as the setup is hiding inside what seems like a transition. The sketch itself endures for a number of reasons: Its simple premise delivering myriad laugh lines, the clear schlemiel-schlimazel dynamic between performers, the room it provides for embellishment, and the rat-a-tat delivery make it feel like a ramshackle Ford Model T gathering speed as it barrels toward the edge of a cliff.
The portly, hard-drinking comic spoke that line in his last starring role in a career marred by alcoholism. Off-screen problems aside, Fields found a way to make audiences laugh at and root for a character who hated children as much as he loved liquor and thumbing his red nose at societal norms. Generations later, we'd get Archie Bunker, Larry David, and dozens of other semi-lovable misanthropes, all indebted to Fields. This joke is reputed to have had the longest sustained laughs in radio history. Jack Benny had a lot of recurring jokes associated with his character: A joke that is perfect for the character, but is still surprising to an audience — nobody nailed it like Benny.
It was , a year into commercial-television broadcasting, and literally nobody had figured out what TV comedy would or could be. Berle had worked a million stages, starting in vaudeville, and had a clue: The ten-inch, black-and-white screen meant that almost nothing could overwhelm, and the broader the performance the better. Unsubtle shtick, ridiculous costumes, patter, a frantic, frenetic pace — it all turned out to be right for the smudgy image on a ten-inch, black-and-white screen.
While there were other female comedy performers — in TV and movies, or as a part of double acts — Jean Carroll was the first to break through by standing alone onstage. Her rapid-fire delivery that sneaks in punch lines as she blitzes her way through a monologue, like in the joke above, feels arrestingly contemporary, and might remind you of Amy Schumer or the way Jim Gaffigan delivers his punch lines in falsetto under his breath.
She moved so quickly and was so ahead of her time, she literally tells the audience to catch up. Ed Sullivan got it, though, asking her to appear on the show over 20 times. His second show was so popular that it was cancelled so the network could break it into two different shows. A guest host would perform sketches with Sid, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, and the rest of the players, and a song or two would be performed. In s San Francisco, when audiences expected performers to grace the stage in jacket and tie, Mort Sahl shuffled into the spotlight in a disarming bright-red sweater and freshly pressed khakis, ever-present newspaper in hand.
He was often mistaken for a student at the trendy hungry i club, and that unassuming appearance came in handy, as his biting topical humor was known to split the room. No topic was off-limits, no target was taboo, not even the communist witch hunts of McCarthy-era America. But Sahl made it palatable by speaking to his audiences in their own language, with unprecedented conversationalism and intellectualism.
The pickpocket joke is certainly just one of thousands Foxx had in his pocket, but it represents two things he loved most in a joke: There's a reason that, in , 1, animation professionals named Chuck Jones's masterpiece "What's Opera, Doc? It's astounding how much story and comedy they cover in such a short time. Its density influenced, and will continue to influence, all cartoons that came after it. Two jazz musicians accidentally witness a gang murder and go on the run, disguised as women. There is just so much in this joke. There is the natural banter and subtle heightening of improvised dialogue; the duo met earlier in the decade as members of the Compass Players, the seminal improv group that also included Alan Alda, Ed Asner, Shelley Berman, and Del Close, whose members, in the same year as this record came out, founded the Second City.
Beyond that, the joke is remarkable for how well it captured how mid-century, high-brow people talked. Nichols and May affectionately parodied beat trends and intellectual pretensions, in which pillow talk becomes a game of who-can-drop-the-impressively-most-obscure-literary-reference. After Nichols and May, and some of their peers, comedy would no longer be primarily defined by a man in a tuxedo telling jokes in a nightclub.
They were their own audience and above all they made each other laugh. It's an influence you still see today, as comedy has become more insular, reliant on increasingly obscure references. The idea of making comedy for yourself, your friends, and people who think and experience the world the way you do was uncommon before Nichols and May, and fundamental to comedy after.
In the age of Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl, of social satire and the "subversive" comic, it was a wonder that a former accountant who looked like your dad's best friend could put out best-selling comedy albums and become his own unique comedy institution. Bob Newhart always sounded like he was making up his act as he went along, which not only made him relatable, but exciting. In "The Driving Instructor," his signature style is on display: Most of his bits followed this sort of "straight person, crazy person" structure, and this one is no exception. You also get a good sense of his expert timing; not many people could live inside a befuddled pause like Bob Newhart, and he went on to become one of the most-beloved comics of all time, influencing every understated comic who came after.
Early in his career, it was much more clear which side of the fence he was on. After getting out of the military, Gregory told jokes in black and white rooms, got a leg up from admirer Hugh Hefner, and worked on TV appearances to provoke thought and motivate action through comedy. Though his early shows had punchy one-liners about everything from space travel to drinking booze, his clear-eyed look at black life in the segregated South will be his legacy. This restaurant joke was one of the first to undercut segregation and discrimination in a public setting with bold intelligence and humility.
This contemporary of Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce, who still performs occasionally at the age of 84, has touched thinkers irascible, e. Paul Mooney, and genial, e.
The idea of white guilt as a punch line feels like nothing new today, when publicly calling out people and organizations for racial microaggressions using the most up-to-date social-justice buzzwords is a viable path to online celebrity. The speaker in this bit clearly has the best intentions, yet still manages to speak almost exclusively in stereotypes or compliments steeped in unconfirmed generalizations. Though his comedy is of-a-time, this is ultimately why he continues to be held in such high regard. It's now a given that any sketch or late-night show worth its salt will have someone who can impersonate the president, but there was a time when the practice was unthinkable.
People nationwide were quoting the above joke. Comedy has a history of helping to shape public perception of a president — and it all started here. Letterman paid homage to Allen and credited him often and openly: His Alka-Seltzer suit explicitly mimics the teabag stunt, and he, too, drew on the endless comedy fountain that comes from watching street weirdos. The wheelchair-bound titular character gets the most laughs with his uncontrollable right arm and occasional outbursts that reveal his loyalty to Adolf Hitler.
But the best line of the film belongs to President Merkin Muffley, another of the three characters Sellers portrayed. The delivery is so forceful, so serious, that it takes a few seconds to realize how absurd the line is, as the world faces assured destruction. Civilization doesn't fear nukes like it used to, but the sentiment of "Well, everything is fucked so we might as well laugh" makes this a timeless treasure and a peak of political satire.
In the early days of TV, networks had room to experiment, play, and occasionally fail — and without this freedom, the country may never have learned about the warm and antic improvisational comic Jonathan Winters. Occasionally, the audience would get a taste of his established characters, such as saucy old lady Maude Frickert; other times, Winters would be handed a prop or two and then be encouraged to let loose. As the comedian goes fishing, fights bulls, and reports to superior officers about seeing giant beetles, he often finds rich characters as well as crisp punch lines.
A Harvard mathematics professor starts writing funny Cole Porter—inspired songs, self-releases an album, and before long is performing those songs every week on national television. The fact that Johnny was a natural performer who was quick on his feet is frequently forgotten.
Johnny waited for his moment, even going as far as to prevent Ames from retrieving the tomahawk before dropping an ad-lib that would live on in a million blooper specials for years to come. While Don Rickles, a. Rickles is a model jester when mocking the powerful — even presidents — so the fact that Boone happened to be drinking milk during his act was basically like a layup. Hosting the show in , he opened with one of his most famous jokes: Sure, we all love to laugh, but is it art? We take you for granted these days, as you are seemingly everywhere, but let's not forget the pioneers.
To have the climax of your film be an ironic song-and-dance number about the glory of Hitler and the Nazi Party was risky at the time, to say the least, and many studios and distributors wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole. Nobody self-deprecated like Phyllis Diller, a true pioneer in the art of making fun of oneself. For Diller, this manifested itself in wearing outlandish bag dresses and exaggerated hair and makeup, wanting the crowd to only focus on her jokes.
For that, every comedian, male and female, owes something to Diller. Most immediately Joan Rivers, who honed her act by taking herself down a peg with one-liners about being an unmarried Jewish woman. Rivers wore cuter dresses, however. Ron Swanson dynamic that would propel the show through seven critically acclaimed seasons. Incredibly poignant at the time, it also set a template for a charming yet awkward female protagonist trying to have it all see: Ernestine was insistent, with a mildly sinister snorting laugh, and she pretended to be your friend, which is what made her dangerous.
The whole enterprise was subversive at the time, commenting on major telephone companies' tendency to extort money and information from customers. Her influence reached every sketch and character performer who came after her, from Gilda Radner to Mike Myers to Kristen Wiig. A Mexican-American from L.
They form a comedy duo. The source of their material? One sketch about a deal gone wrong due to a brain-dead smoker becomes a hit, leading to more hilarious albums about weed and music and race, then eventually a film franchise. Stoner comedy is still going strong today — if not more so today, as weed becomes more socially acceptable — and it can be traced back to this three-word punch line. Did you ever notice: Four words that would go on to define a generation of comedians, and Brenner was one of the first stand-ups associated with it.
This is the joke that started it all. I was so poor, I was so dumb, so this, so that. It sounds like a funny image — a guy who gets no respect. With a new image and catchphrase, he became a comedy star, building on the work of Henny Youngman and Don Rickles to create one-liners that were darker, grittier, more specific. Comedians have an ideal age for their comedy, and it seems Dangerfield needed to be a little older and a lot more grizzled before America wanted to hear from him. Old, but not too old to push stand-up forward.
Suddenly, a family in Queens with a racist dad and a lefty son-in-law was arguing — really vigorously! The series almost never slid over into treacly Very Special Episode territory, either; the issue-oriented stuff was baked into its premise, and it usually stayed funny. The Sammy Davis Jr. Early in his career, the L. The title track, a routine about a trip to the garage, leaves empty spaces for lines read aloud at home from a script, which was included on the inside of the album cover.
Over the course of the scene, you — yes, you — essentially grift Brooks and guest comic Georgie Jessel while picking up all the laugh lines. Though, if you are just listening, which presumably most are, you'll only hear Brooks and Jessel talking to no one. Mooney is one of the all-time greatest comic minds on the subject of race, and this sketch showed just that. As a piece of comedy, it demanded attention. It's a role that comedy unfortunately has continued to play ever since: And, of course, I'm talking about Mr. You know, I was home the other day and I happened to catch Mike's show, and a funny thought occurred to me.
What if someone took very large steel needles, say 15, 18 inches long, large steel needles with real sharp points, and plunged them into Mike's eyes. What would his reaction be, huh? I think it might go something like this. He turns back around, puts his hands to his eyes, and screams maniacally. While Burnett and her supporting cast of inveterate gigglers were known for their recurring characters, big performances, and breaking one another onstage, they also committed to opulent, crowd-pleasing movie parodies.
When Elayne Boosler arrived on the comedy scene in the s, she broke ground for female comics with her brash, pro-sex material. It was another decade before she became the first woman to have her own hour-long TV special she had to self-finance it, however , and while she never became quite the mainstream-success story of her peers, like Jay Leno and Andy Kaufman, she paved the way for every subsequent female comedian who wasn't afraid to go up against the boys.
In it, the writer-director-star literally builds on the work of his comedic predecessors, taking jokey-jokes and making them more introspective, neurotic, existential, and cerebral. Even as Carlin punctuates his speech with a rhythmic, recurring loop of the seven words, his erudition and incisiveness make the bit the most intelligent dissection of swear words to date. Carlin revisited the routine for the better part of the decade. Of course, comics can say almost anything they want on TV these days.
He starts off playing the banjo, tells the audience he's going to make a bit of a departure from his normal routine, asks for mood lighting, and then goes into a seemingly off-script diatribe about how the backstage crew isn't meeting his standards, leaving the crowd wondering if this is part of the show or just a comedian being a bit of a diva. Then he finally gets to the punch line, two simple, drawn-out, overly exaggerated words: It's the purest articulation of anti-comedy you'll find: Yes, explaining the humor dries it up a little.
This joke exists as a sort of patient zero for which so much comedy can be traced that it's almost silly to make a list. The fact that the joke created a national catchphrase and made Martin an unprecedented stand-up megastar is a testament to how revolutionary it was. The man an overwhelming number of comedians and comedy fans will espouse as the best of all time, Pryor was at his loopy, confessional, raucous, and blue best in the live setting. The latter sees Pryor sweating through his shirt and twitching behind his mustache, sticking and weaving as he moves from topic to topic, not unlike the fighters in his bit about boxing.
As usual, Pryor makes stray observations about race as readily as he delves into drug addiction, and reveals his vulnerabilities as quickly as he gets political. He also depicts a lot of strange things, the most memorable of which is a heart attack. The classic abounds with quotable one-liners and layered jokes that improve with time, but no one steals the show more than the straight-faced Leslie Nielsen imploring Robert Hays to land their out-of-control plane. It's funny, I can say from experience, to both a small child and a professional comedy critic. The Dalai Lama scene is a hilarious testament to improv training and the ingenuity of the human brain, influencing essentially all comic performers that came after it.
Now, every actor in a comedy is asked if they got to improvise lines on set — this joke is why. Vince Vaughn's entire career is basically that line. Coming, like all Williams's jokes, in a tornado of riffs, this is the defining joke of the s Comedy Boom, a time in which too many comedians made too much money and spent it on too much cocaine.
Williams, with his struggles with abuse and his manic stage persona, embodied this better than anyone though he said he never performed high. Seven months before he taped the HBO special in which the joke appears, Williams was out with his friend John Belushi; the next morning Belushi would be found dead of a drug overdose. Williams was never known for being the most confessional comedian, if only because he never stayed on a topic long enough, but there is a powerful truth to his most famous joke.
Okay, we need to compartmentalize here and consider Cosby, difficult as it has become, exclusively on the merits of his stand-up career — because those merits are staggering. Time was, his material about life and family bridged racial gaps and explored the role of modern fatherhood in a way that gave rise to such comics as Ray Romano, Louis C. It was such a simple, evergreen bit that Carlos Mencia would be accused of nabbing it decades years later. Kaufman and Letterman are, of course, two comedy legends, each with many bits that could have a place on this list.
But there is something nice about putting them together, as they were kindred spirits in expanding the meaning of comedy and entertainment. The joke here, which plays out over 12 hilarious, awkward minutes, is that Kaufman has adopted three children; however, instead of babies, they're three grown black men, Herb, George and Tony a. What could have been a one-off sight gag turns into an even longer bit as Letterman interviews them, with Andy disappearing for a stretch and returning to do his dead-on Elvis impersonation.
This appearance isn't as famous as when he was fake-assaulted by wrestler Jerry Lawler in , but it is most indicative of what these two brought to comedy. Kaufman, at his best, pushed the buttons of comedy with a childlike innocence; Letterman did so with a bemused irony. Kaufman would pass away less than nine months after this appearance; it's trite to say, but it's very true: Comedy was never the same. Of all his jokes, this one about exact replicas stands out for its imagery and many layers — it tells a little story with extreme brevity.
Before she was an EGOT winner, Whoopi Goldberg, more than any comedian of her generation, made stand-up more theatrical. Getting her start as an actress, she was given opportunities at stand-up clubs like the Belly Room at L. There, without a late-night set in her sights, she was free to do a show that would run well over an hour. Eventually, with the help of director Mike Nichols, she brought her show to Broadway. The comedy comes from how specific and well-drawn the character is.
She had moxy, smarts, and stamina, and she never apologized for her jokes. She made a strong connection with Johnny Carson and, from there, she took off — writing, hosting shows, touring, and exhibiting the work ethic of a carpenter ant until the end of her life. There are some gossipy comics, e. They yell at each other and over each other, and don't seem to care that anyone can hear them. The show was revolutionary in its honesty and in its portrayal of a lower-middle-class leading woman as a working mother, something previously unseen on network TV.