Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Genuis and the Wannabe

I have come to the conclusion that I will never be able to duplicate Bill Bryson's success. I have to appreciate that the man's life is lamentably dull, since he has the time to stew over simple tasks and ask himself, "Now, how can I make this interesting?" Now, it's obvious that on his endeavors to the mailbox, he won't get locked out of his house wearing nothing but boxers, gardening clogs, and a Carebear tee shirt in the middle of winter. That's my obligatory getting the mail story. If you subtract his humor, you are left with a collection of mundane stories for the borderline middle-age crisis male. However, Bryson was wise to put such a comedic spin on his adventures. Although the audience can relate to the tedious chores of filling out tax forms to chomping down some cauliflower supreme that the dear old wifey whipped up to remedy the beer belly, Bryson makes them sound somewhat enjoyable. For us to read, I mean. I remember the dread I felt while I was subjected to the will of my RA and reluctantly filled out the census form. It was my own thirty seconds of hell, but hey, at least I was able to keep my first born.

The model of humor that Bryson relied upon was definitely the Total Social Situation with a slight seasoning of Incongruity. He was able to provide a reasonable explanation of why Daniel Boone was an absolute tart. Now, I grew up rewinding my Davey Crockett and Daniel Boone movies because my dad was too lazy to get up off the couch, but I have to admit that I have a thing for men styling raccoon hats and squirrel guns. But when my father dragged the family up to Maine for a day just to see where he thinks my adopted grandfather was born, my mother, sister, and I simply wanted to kill him. 6 hours later my butt, Bryson, how about 10? And I was 8 and trapped in the back seat with my 11 year old sister. So, for simply establishing a connection between that horrific trip and Daniel Boone, I cannot look at him the same anymore. Okay, so Bryon's beacon of light cast a different set of shadows for me in some instances, but I did learn to appreciate the small things in life a little bit more. Now I am on a hunt to procure all the hot-line numbers on the back of all the household items and have myself a prank-call festival.

Now, the Principles of Uncertainty was a completely different breed of comedy. Not only is it up to par with Amy Sedaris' I Like You in the means of torture for the ADD populace, but the incongruity of the stories and subsequent pictures threw me off guard. For example, Kalman starts off a particular story with her recently deceased aunt and what made her happy in life. She then ended it with sweet old Aunt Frances paying a cashier in Sweet n' Low packets. The last line is, "What is the point?" My point exactly. Although Kalman did have some opportunistic chances to show off her skills in the laughter department, some of her jokes fell flat, and frankly, made me think that she was trying too hard. I should know, I do it all the time. Although Kalman tried to utilize the incongruity and superiority models in order to elicit a chuckle from her readers, I groaned and rolled my eyes more than I did smile. Her stories were TOO incongruous and sometimes seemed out of the blue. For example, she wrote of two elderly best friends always going for an evening stroll and randomly ends it with, "Mrs. Lipiski's daughter has just started speaking to her again - after 23 years." Allow me to say this: um, WHAT? Where did THAT come from? It'd be funnier if she wrote that they always walked across someone's lawn or ended their excursions with a ritual loitering.

That said, I was somewhat uncomfortable when Kalman randomly took photos of strangers she stalked and put up unfunny and witless captions that made my high school yearbook ones appear to be written by Robin Williams. For example, a clearly impoverished man has the lovely caption, "I do not love my clothes. They are not right. I have not found myself yet." She could have commented on his purse and how much prettier it was than that other woman's plastic shopping bag. But then again, there are some things you really shouldn't satirize unless you have a talent to make it funny without seeming cruel or childish. Unfortunately, Kalman doesn't have the chops. This is one book I will be selling back on Amazon. I actually bought it off for five bucks, and it can sell for about ten. Kalman disappointed me so much, I want to make a profit off of her. That'll show her for killing my high from Bryson's book.

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