“[S]uddenly the clouds would part, and his satiric joie de vivre would reassert itself, and he’d break me up laughing; he had an almost tender regard for human folly, his own included, that I found endlessly funny.”
This might describe the second-funniest person I’ve known. Like many funny people, words for him were toys, malleable like Play-Doh. Sound and sense were up for grabs. Like me, he loved puns, clichés and platitudes. We once spent an hour riffing on a favorite expression of my mother’s: “I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts . . .” What we found funniest about such shopworn phrases was the solemnity and conviction with which some people used them.
The other side of my friend’s temperament was a periodic glacial silence. In retreat he became catatonic. This could go on for hours or days. I learned not to take it personally and knew he would return, usually with a joke or a sarcastic wisecrack. At the top, Ben Downing describes his friend, Tom Disch, the mordantly funny poet who committed suicide on July 4, 2008. I remembered it while reading Disch’s “Duelling Platitudes,” a sixteen-stanza collection of linked cliches in About the Size of It (2007). It concludes:
“A queen who tells us to eat cake
may be making
a big mistake,
“But the same advice from our corner baker
is par for the course,
not grounds for divorce.
“All adages are relative; each
will have its season.
So dare to eat your peach,
My friend, but keep it within reason.”