The Three-Person Job of Comedy

There are certain things that are going on which a lot of us know are going on, but we are incentivized not to talk about them. You probably can think of a few — one guide is that if there is a topic that for Darwinian reasons we can’t help but find interesting — having sex, eating, not getting killed — but all the talk about it is INCREDIBLY BORING it is probably one of those taboo areas. Sex for example, only people who are in such a bad place with the current system that they have nothing to lose talk openly about it. And it’s naive to decry this situation – for the very same Darwinian reasons we find these topics interesting, we also have to be careful about the consequences of our words. Because they matter to us. If we got a reputation as being particularly shabby on the topic of staying alive or sex (food not so much here and now because we live in a situation, many of us, of abundance) others will treat us warily, as well they should.

So if there is a topic where the group could be helped by some straight thinking, but each member has an incentive to lie, how do we do it?

One way is comedy.

So for a safe example (I hope!) — imagine we are all professors in a humanities department in a small, economically struggling university. We, or most of us, have started to admit grad students who are not qualified, because it will help us get funding. To avoid extraneous factors just imagine that we admitted Todd, who is not that good at philosophy, but is the nephew of a prominent donor.

We all know on some level that Todd is not so good. Some of us turn conceptual backflips — what is good anyway? Maybe Todd is a late bloomer? Maybe Todd has hidden strengths?

Now imagine we are at a faculty meeting. People are talking about a particularly idiotic instruction booklet that came with the new copy machine. Its confusing. It’s poorly written. It looks like it was translated out of a foreign language using google translate.

One professor mutters “It’s a sight better than the last paper I got from Todd.” Everybody laughs.

Things have changed.

Now that somebody makes a joke predicated on Todd being a dingus and everybody laughs we have finally come out and said it. We may move forward in a different way. We may not. But nobody can say after that joke that everybody laughs at, that they didn’t know.

In real life though, everybody will not laugh. Some will not laugh because they are what we euphemistically called in the USA after the 2016 election “low information”. They haven’t cottoned on to how bad Todd is and why he was admitted.

Others know exactly what’s going on and don’t laugh because they don’t want it to get back to Todd’s uncle.

But that too is informative!


Oral Exam

Emre, young free and handsome, all but dissertation, Nest Cohort 99-t-alpha, family Blattidae, species sapiens, hastened across the writhing mass of his brothers and sisters to the chamber where he would be examined on his chosen subject, the history of human philosophy.

He was going to let the examiners ask him why humans had been so obsessed with destruction of the world: Old Kant who had said that it would be better that the world never existed than that an act of injustice occur, genial Hume who argued that it was not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the world to the scratching of one of his digital manipulative organs, and of course after thinking about it they had done it.

And the examiners Emre knew as he entered the Knowedge Hall illuminated by their commensalistic fire-fly larva would ask him: was there a connection?

Would he agree with old Davaa that once having thought about the destruction of the world the humans could not stop thinking about it and thus they were drawn, inevitably to do it? Or would he instead endorse the view of venerable Drayfu that the human thinkers had known of the tendency to world-destruction in their race of killer mega-monkeys and had engaged with it, doing the best they could to forestall it? Or would he thread the needle and say they thought what they had and did what they did, and there were many ways to connect or disconnect the two?

But as he continued towards the chamber it troubled him that perhaps there were cockroach parallels to the suicidal and mundicidal monkey monsters. Because was there not the Blastozore that all Blattidae knew you should not think of but thought of any way? Once Alu had theorized the Blastozore could any of them stop?

And beyond the Blastozore was a topic that he had never even dared to speak of. He had never heard anyone mention it. Perhaps — perhaps! — like the planet Neptune deduced by perturbrations in the orbit of Uranus he could detect this Thought by certain cirmulocutions and evasions in the thoughts of his most daring colleagues. Or perhaps that was his imagination and what he was detecting was his own fear, his own sacred trepidation and ambivalence, projected outwards.

That thought Emre could barely dare name but now as he cleared the last struggling feeding sub-sister he dared to.

The Amblomorph!

The Amblomorph in all its necessity! In all its urgency and unthinkability and glamour and guile!

The Danger of Thinking the Amblomorph made his spiracles gasp and his antennae shiver as if he were laying egg after egg though as a male he had no ovipositor and never could. Danger and Joy! Joy and Danger. The sweetest because of or inspite of Being the Most Forbidden Thought!

When the exam was over Emre was told to leave the chamber for a moment and then invited back in by the three sage insects. “You passed.” said Drayfu and they all four shared a piece of rotten banana.

He was a teacher now. But what would he teach? It didn’t matter. He felt as light, bubbly and iridescent as a mayfly. Outside the nest a rainbow stretched across the sky from infra-red to ultra-violet and the palette of spring smells was off the hook.


Tremendous, Exciting News!


When I was in college I took a class in Tantric Buddhism with my friend Andy. Andy was seriously committed to becoming a Buddha. And I said Andy, I don’t know if I believe in that, but if you ever do become a Buddha I want you to appear to me, and he said he would.


My friend Gawain Smitts’s grandfather, Tolder Smitts, was religious and belonged to a small cult where they wore a special kind of hat and counted their beans before eating them, and Gawain used to write essays about how we’ve lost touch with the comforting world-view of religion which allowed his grandpa to die with a sense of a life well-lived, because he had done the needful, wearing his hat, counting his beans.


Andy never appeared to me.


When Gawain got his diagnosis he tried to obtain the necessary courage by counting his beans and wearing his hat. However a well-meaning cousin gave him a copy of his ancestor, Tolder’s diary in which he confessed that he did not believe in his cult and had not for some years, but simply wore his hat and counted his beans so as to give courage to his wife.


Andy never appeared to me because he wanted me to know I shouldn’t depend upon other people appearing as Buddhas to believe in Buddhas, just as if when somebody wakes you up you don’t need them to tell you “by the way you are awake now.” You either know it or you don’t and I know it.


Gawain got better. Andy I lost touch with years ago. And this morning after sleeping for eight hours I got an excellent piece of news. Truly tremendous, exciting, wonderful, amazing news!


May you have good news too!


Lesson 2: To Ask a Question in English

Now that we have learned the grammar of the statement in English we can proceed to the asking of a question.

This is easy.

To ask a question simply take the statement and add to it “Yes,No?”

“It is a good idea, yes no?”

“The weather is hot, yes no?”

“I alarm you, yes no?”

If one’s English conversation partner agrees she or he will respond: yes. If it is a desire on the part of the partner to contradict the answer forthcoming as expected will enunciate as follows: no. These are easy to learn. The “y” in yes is pronounced by jamming the glottis against top of the mouth as if dislodging a mashed-up piece of biscuit. Biscuits are available in the language lab for students who wish to practice their ‘y” sound.

This will be on the test! So I encourage you to grab a package and practice.

There is an old system of variable words that is very difficult to learn. For example for a noun variable the speaker of the “correct” variety of English will say

“What did he eat?”

And so for specific other variables — a personal variable question word being “who”, a temporal variable question word being “when”, a directional variable “whither”, a causative variable “Why?”, a spatial variable “Where”.

Rather than vex his memory learning these locutions, which are troublesome even for the native speaker, the student of English is recommended to use the dummy forms Richard, Thursday, skyward, to improve his bridge, Tibet. For what,”the cosmos”.

Thus old English “Who is the janitor?” more easily is expressed as “The jantor is Richard, yes no?”

For “What did he eat?” say “He ate the cosmos yes no.”

“Whither the five o’clock train on this platform.” “The five o’clock train on this platform hoves skyward, yes no.”

“Why did Germany enter World War 1” – “Germany entered World War 1 to improve its bridge, yes no?

“Where am I now?” “I am in Tibet, yes no.”

In all cases in response to no, it is appropriate for the interlocutor to yell “COMMENT!” using loudness 8 and a falling tone. This will elicit the requested information from the English conversation partner, forthwith.

And if the answer is yes?

As irony would have it, I am writing this handbook of English grammar in Tibet and it is Thursday and my name is Richard. So to so many questions my answer is a resounding affirmative. And this may be why I like the English language so much and have devoted myself to teaching her, both through and with, betides and betimes, in the meantime, in betweentime, for elves to know and kobolds to savor.


The Secret Desert

Not a desert whose existence is a secret!

Not at all.


The secret desert is an analogy with the “food desert” — a part of America where nutritious food is not available, just ho-hos and cokes.

In the secret desert no secrets are available! Dad goes to work. Mom is frustrated. Sometimes she is so frustrated she just goes to the store instead of cooking us dinner and comes back with deli slices, ho-hos and cokes.

You could die in that desert and no one would care or notice.

You could live in that desert and no one would care or notice.

Because nobody would feel — Kaplan died! And we never took advantage of his brief life to learn his secret. Because here in the secret desert, there are no secrets.

And that is why, although nobody knows it, in those houses and supermarkets people are dying, starving to death, famished, emaciated, all because they have no secrets.

Starving for a lack of secrets? What nonsense is this? No nonsense. Plain honest fact.


I think we need secrets for two reasons.

What are the two reasons?

The two reasons we need secrets are: to share them and not to share them.

To those of us who grow up in the secret desert, we make up secrets to share them.

And oh, what a day, what a night it is, when the stranger becomes a friend and we share our self-made secrets!

And oh what a night, what a day it is, when we make the stranger our friend, because we share with him our self-made secrets.

But uncannily enough, we also make up secrets not to share them. You might say that that is the only way we are able to be strangers to ourselves. You might say, also, that if we are unable to be strangers to ourselves, we can never be friends to ourselves, and thus, never make it out of of the desert.

But if you did say that you would be forced to ask yourself certain questions.

For example:

How do we know what those made-up secrets are, the ones we do not tell to anybody, not even ourselves? How do we know when we have started to make them, how do we know when we have finished making them, how do we know they are cooked and ready to be not-shared?

And how can we smell that freshly-baked bread of the untold secret when we meet a stranger under the fluorescent lights of the super-market when we go, in the middle of the night, years after Mom and Dad are dead, and we are hungry for yodels, and ring-dings, and ho-hos?

That, my friend, (stranger no more!) is the secret!


Don’t tell anybody!


America, the Land of the Dead

I did my thesis on how America is perceived in other countries, and I understood that although it seemed that America was understood as being the “Land of Children” it was in actuality understood by Italians, French, Thais, Japanese as the “Land of the Dead”. For the people of other countries their own land was the land of the living, while America was a country where people passed directly from being children to the dead, or perhaps, never lived, or perhaps, were only how childhood would be remembered by those at the point of death, but that Americans — to them, to me — were unborn or unliving — but in any case always dying.

I did research in other countries to see how America was seen in other countries — Thailand, Germany, Peru, Italy, Japan. But what I learned upon returning to America was that their ideas of us were not wrong. We were the country of salesmen, wandering through the emptiness of malls and chain stores. We were the land of the plastered-on, meaningless smile. We were the children who let children shoot children with automatic rifles. We were the people of the White Stone Phallus Obelisk — the Washington Monument — the great dead father, the New Egypt — on the money, a new order of ages, new as death is always new, a surprise that is no surprise. Not a single moment enjoyed for Americans because, for us time is money. Time is Money is Death, and we never live our lives even for a moment.

How is it to be born in the country that is the imagination of death for other countries, the Land of Busy Ghosts, the Paradise to the West? How is it to not be? Who would know and who could tell you?

Certainly — Not an American!




Dragons come from the mist. They teach people wisdom. But that is not why they come from the mist. Nobody knows why they do. Perhaps not even dragons.


The smell of dragons is said by some writers to be impossible to describe, but I’m good at describing. They smell like a mixture of sweet hazelnut and pepper with the proviso that you had never smelled them ever in your life, and all your plans had been shipwrecked, but you knew that if you smelled that particular mixture of sweet hazelnut and pepper, all would go well — all the babies would be safe, and the ship would arrive safe in harbor, laden with saffron.


I once asked the dragon how I could ever know if I were wise or a fool, since the scripture tells us the fool is wise in his own sight. He said, the fact that you are asking that question shows you are not fool because a fool would never ask such a question. So I hiked up from the cave, took my boat back from Dragon Island and told everybody. And in a few years all the fools were saying that — I know I’m not a fool because a fool would never ask the question”How do I know if I’m a fool.”


“See what you did!” said the Dragon.


Infuriating People: Sinful or Ignorant?

There is a paradox that used to upset and confuse me. Here it is. On the one hand it seems like evil is a disorder of the will. We know that hurting a person or ourselves is wrong and we do it anyway. It is just so tempting to be bad. This is the explanation of sin, and is popular among the religious.

On the other hand, it seems like evil is a mistake of the mind. The person who lashes out is laboring under the mistaken belief that his victim is a threat. The self-indulgent person believes, wrongly, that his indulgence will make him happy, or as happy as he is ever going to be. This view is popular among the academic.

The puzzle bugged me because I could never keep from slipping back and forth between the two positions. Even very wicked people were taught by their parents that might makes right — so they had a false belief. And people from a long, long time ago it seems weird and silly to call them evil. Is the ape-man in 2001 who kills another ape-man with a tapir femur, or his real life Olduvai counterpart, evil? That’s a nutty thing to say.

And yet when I tried to settle into the view that nobody ever does something bad just because he’s bad it always seemed a little fake. For one example there is me. I know I sometimes do what is wrong even though I know it. And how can I have one rule for me and one rule for everybody else, since, obviously, we are the same kind of item. And it’s not only me. If I try to get into the headspace of somebody who brutally and continually bullies some one weaker from a position of privilege, I get mad and I can’t help but saying — that’s wrong! You are not just making a mistake! You are being a horrendous person.

This morning I thought maybe I had blundered on to a sort of solution to the paradox. When I blame the other person’s will it almost always seems to be when I get angry. And when I praise the other person’s will, when I admire what a fabulous thing it is that such a good person is walking around on their feet and legs, I am responding emotionally too.

I think the difference between blaming sin and blaming ignorance has to do with the degree of emotional involvement I have, or allow myself to feel, about the other person. When I am emotional I feel it is sin, when I am cooler I think it is a mistake.

And this makes sense. Because when we are angry we try to make a change in the other person, and by railing against their sin we are using the most powerful language at our disposal to bring about a change — right here, right now. While when we are less angry and take a more dispassionate view of things, we invoke mistakes. We can still bring about change — by teaching and thinking — but it is a slower less urgent motion towards change.

It also explains why I thought there were different rules for myself and for others. I was willing to allow myself to be angry at myself, or a part of myself, in a way I wasn’t willing to allow when it came to other people.

I think that’s the answer to the paradox. Mistakes are willful when we’re angry about them, mistaken when we are feeling cool. Like all answers it generates more questions.

How can the world be something that is correctly responded to both intellectually and emotionally? How can it be a world that is by turns a infuriating problem, a joyful gift, and a fascinating puzzle?

I’m tempted to give Jnanagarbha’s answer to the question “how is it that anything appears to be the case given that all is emptiness”.

His answer was: It is just that things appear to be the case. What more is there to say.

But I find that answer, TBH, a bit annoying!


Is the Ego an Illusion?

A friend of mine’s mother had rules for when she would take her daughter down town to a store. No fussing, no crying, no saying “I want”. The last one has stuck in my mind.

I think people attracted to “spiritual paths” (whatever those are — sort of a deep attempt to become a better happier person) sometimes find themselves in a battle with “the ego”. That battle often seems to take the form of us telling ourselves “no saying “I want”.

This is a bad idea for a number of reasons, but we can organize them under two sub-headings.

First Reason Why Telling Yourself Not to Want Things is Bad: It is Impossible

If you want not to want things, that is a want. If you want to disappear into a blue haze of oneness with the universe, that is a want. If you want to be like Jesus Christ or the Buddha, so full of love for the world that you put others’ needs above your own, that is a want.

Second Reason Why Telling Yourself Not to Want Things is Bad: It is Cruel

If you do want things — because it is impossible not to — and you are telling yourself to do something impossible, you are being cruel to yourself. Most likely you are doing that thing called “introspective projection” I believe — somebody who should have cared for you was cruel to you and terrifying when you were very young, and the only way to not be utterly terrified of annihilation was to take that voice as your own. So you are carrying that inner tormentor — the mother who took you to a store but forbade from wanting the wares — around with you, and torturing yourself with it.

So what doe the spiritual traditions mean when they say that the ego is an illusion?

Just that the ego is not the whole story. Your wants come from outside of yourself. Your satisfactions proceed out into the world. What you think satisfies them may not. You may want things in the store that may not make you happy. And you may want them for reasons you do not understand.

Maybe you want a nice Mommy doll because your Mommy won’t let you say “I want”! Maybe you want a baby doll so you can tell her “No saying I want”!

Or maybe you want something better. It’s open to you.

And to pun a little, you are open.

Your ego is real but it is part of a bigger world.


Italian Interview


[this was translated from the Italian, or possibly Malay.  It is a mixture of half-truths, quarter-truths, mistranslations, and lies and embellishments by the interviewer, a dubious character named Peter Dangelo]

And ‘since high school that I wanted to become a screenwriter, the same time when I stopped believing in love, to have ambitions and brush my teeth. Then I gave up and I started to do interviews only to be able to have the money to pay for my coffee enemas as Demi Moore. I get them anywhere, even in the phone booth. You never enemas?

This is a great question which is not asked often enough by prudish American media outlets.  My goal is to evolve into an intelligent sea anemone (coelenterate) in which a single opening serves as both mouth and anus: thus everything I eat and drink will technically count as an enema.  

I was in Las Vegas at The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino, in there is no miniature Venice, crossing I had the impression of having a huge penis.

This is good news for those on your team — bravo.

 It ‘was a great feeling. A wonderful day. I love Las Vegas for that ..

Eric, you wrote episodes of series sensational from Futurama, the Simpsons and now one of the most followed series in America, The Big Bang Theory, is fantastic, and I really do not I enjoyed so much in a long time, the last time was for Shinder’s list.

I’ve never seen this film — it is the man who created E.T. giving us his views on the Holocaust?.

I realized that Italy is in recession when a pimp went to resume prostitutes mountain biking and for payment accepted tickets resturant

At 8 years old I was so poor that Mark Twain often called me to apologize. After a bad investment in Yemen from my father: a large consignment of lupins shipwrecked in international waters, we have fallen into poverty. Today for a living I steal money from the wallets of my cleaning lady. You before becoming an accomplished screenwriter what you did for a living?

In my past have been: poacher koala, screenwriter sneezing of Hollywood actors, and today carving small penises in parmesan I sell to the wives of managers of silicon valley.

I composed rants for witches, worked for the New York Department of Mental Health persuading sadistic murderers to murder more gently, bought sand mandalas cheap and sold them dear, Added Numbers Incorrectly for Dollars a Day from the Privacy of My Own Home, hawked nostrums for curing Existential Ennui on the Boardwalk in Coney Island, and trained the Children of the Elites in the Advanced Indifference and Frivolity.

One thing that I’m not proud of was when I close an orphanage in the suburbs and a recovery program for ex-offenders. You have done things you regret bitterly?

Once in a corn field in Iowa the dead of winter I was approached by a strange woman well over six feet in height.  Ice crystals glinted in her long flowing blond hair,  well over six feet tall.    She asked me what I thought of an article she had written criticizing the reclaiming of sewage through a centrifuge and proposing instead the use of submerged ceramic evaporation chambers.  I told her it was “good but not great” and a single tear rolled down her cheek.  I regret  bitterly not saying it was “great”.  What do I know about sewage?

If I lived in the US I would be a conservative one of those with a sense of the state consolidated so as not to retreat even an inch in front of the threat that someone would connect the battery of a Toyota to my testicles. And I would have returned to his country, kick ass, that clandestine Superman, one that has been introduced illegally in the states for too many years.

A dear friend, Simon, can not read well, it is understandable only in the third year of engineering. You like me, you’re surrounded by people obtuse, with urinary tract infections and john malkovich?

I am surrounded by people smarter than myself.  They are also much taller than me.  They are also, unlike me, able to convert light into energy.  The ladies tell me these people are trees, but I respond “you are trees” and run away, and feel I have won the argument.

Not believing in yourself is the first thing on which hinges the economy of the products for personal hygiene. People who would not scruple to test every kind of product on defenseless animals, should tell me how often lathering my testicles?

This is a question I feel quite strongly about, and have even made it into a political program in the states.  My motto is “Billions for Testicle Torture, But Not One Cent for Testicle Torment”. 

For a few months I lived in a Decathlon Dubai ward rollerblade. I had no money. That ‘s where I met Nadia. She was the classic girl who falls half a gram of amphetamine and then puts you anxiety if you take the Aulin on an empty stomach. He spent the afternoon throwing up in the thermos, was sexually insecure as Herbie the Love Bug. 

I do not need to tell you that too much sexual security is a turn off.  The typical potential sex partner responds: “You are so secure, what do you need me for?  Go have sex with your security, Mr. Big Shot.”   That is what they will say.  The sex people.

He lived with guilt unsustainable, said he felt responsible for the death of the deer Bambi after hitting him with a toaster on the nape. That’s all this to ask you if you had ever lived period destabilizing?

One time I was fairly sure that my skull and pelvis had become a sort of jelly or ooze or paste oozing about in my skeleton like an octopus or Slime Mold, but that when I checked them they would suddenly harden up like cement in order to trick me.  Eventually the three of us (skull, pelvis, and me) learned to laugh about these and other such misunderstandings.  Like every good marriage, the marriage of a man to his major bones  is built on a foundation of lies and braggadocio.  

since they are aware of the bitter condemnation of autoerotic practices by the Vatican, I can not help feeling guilty. I am seriously thinking to stop masturbating.

You find the condemnations bitter, but I think if you listen to the music of their words and not just the libretto, you will find them instead to be rather sweet.

 If nothing else while I’m finishing this interview.

In Italy there is a saying in my part: Bill Clinton was able to feel your pain before you. E ‘is a saying that is also there for you in New York?

I am a Democrat, so my response to this should be taken with that in mind.  In my view, having seen the increasingly radical views of the US Republican party, and its grandstanding on everything from immigration to healthcare reform, I thinkif I were a young woman and former President Bill Clinton came up behind me while was writing this and breathed in my ear I would say “President Clinton?  Is that you?”  and he would just smile, and look at him with a twinkle in his eyes.  I feel so good with him that I would invite to travel with me to Middle Earth where we would kill so many goblins together and drink so many tankards of mead and sing songs for so many years that ultimately when the old man reached the age of two hundred we would die together wrapped in each other’s arms in a hammock with no more fear of death than two sleepy children have of their bed time.   I feel strongly about this, but I accept that in all questions of politics reasonable people can disagree!

In the delivery room, just after the birth of my son I had the uncontrollable instincts of eating the placenta, it happened to you?

I am not tempted to eat the placenta.  I am tempted to eat the actual child.  Also, the child is tempted to eat me. The wife is tempted to eat me.  I am tempted to eat the wife.  Everybody is tempted to eat everybody.  Where I come from this is called “family”.  I hope this answers your question.

An eagle has seized my thesis just moments before my graduation. To this are never more become a doctor. Otherwise I would have also graduated from Harvard like you. However at 26 I started to steal silverware and then sell it to the luxury hotels of Monopoly.

Thanks to scientific research today at CERN we can send to the speed of neutrinos slices of ham, 730 km, from Geneva to Gran Sasso, in a few nanoseconds. A major step forward for humans and especially for catering services. It ‘a entuiasmante news.

If we think that the man is willing to accept any kind of injustice but can not accept the damage done by a hail of small claims. What makes you think that?

I think that because a tiny cricket who lives in my head called “Old Jimbo” makes me think my thoughts.  But as to why I think that, I could not tell you, at least not in an Italian publication.

Now I have to say hello, have already been 20 minutes without the coffee enema, I have to go make me one. Sometimes, on special days when I have to do something as important as the interview today, I feel the variant and I do an enema to gatored. Eric because you do not want me to shake hands?

You should shake whatever the spirit moves you to.

wishing you success in all your endeavors I remain your obedience and humble servant

Eric Linus Kaplan