Wednesday, September 18, 2013

"A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To A Theory"

When you call a blog Just Thinking – as I spontaneously did when my friend Ken Levine asked me what I wanted to call it when he was setting it up for me – you grant yourself permission to roam the world of incidents and ideas, think about them, and then write about them.

Cards on the table.

I resent experts because I am not an expert and I am jealous that they get to be heard talking about things and I don’t.  Not being an expert invariably means, “What do you know?”, which is a mere stone’s throw from “Shut the f**k up!”

I don’t want to shut the f**k up, so I reject expertise as a precondition for expressing an opinion.  Expert or no, I say let all opinions be adjudicated on their merits, not on the credentials of the Opinionator. 

I know experts spent a lot of time and effort in school studying to become experts, or committed an equal amount of time and effort accumulating specific “life experience” so they can speak authoritatively because they’ve “been there, buddy!”  And I consider them respectfully. 

All I ask for an equal consideration, in the form of a respectful hearing of the conclusions my views unalloyed by study or experience has led me to, and, where appropriate, a patient clarification of where, in their expert opinions, I have gone astray.

(Let it also be remembered that experts invariably span the ideological spectrum, often, despite accreditation up the wazoo, diametrically disagreeing with each other.  What are we untutored ignoscenti supposed to make of that?)

So the last few days, I expound on the issue of how the move to the big cities changed everything.  Adding that, with certain institutions – I mentioned courtroom adjudications but I could have just as easily addressed education, the governing of our country, the reading of our Constitution – we are required to believe and behave as if we were still living in the nineteenth century.  (Or in the case of the Constitution, the eighteenth.)

Well, we’ll see how that one flies as the comments pour in.

This next one is a little more perplexing, not to mention challenging to my reputation, when it turns out that that opinion seems quite evidentiarily to be wrong.

It’s the matter of “heredity” versus “environment.”  Which of the two has the most influence on the individual?

The underlying question here is, “Can people actually change?”  Or are they immutable products of their genetic encoding?  Questions don’t get much bigger than that.  Free will versus “This is it, Baby!

“Conventional Wisdom” suggests that the answer to this question is that it is a proportionately indeterminate mixture.  Something from “Column A” and something from “Column B.”  Your nose is your nose.  But there are doctors who can turn your outsized shnozzola into a thing of classic beauty.

My view on the matter has always strongly favored the influence of heredity.  Why?  Well, you start with the genes you inherit from your family, most specifically your parents.  And then, you come out, and who’s there waiting to bludgeon you with unending lessons concerning the right and wrong way of doing everything for the next eighteen years, or possibly longer?

Your parents.

Acting on their genetic insistencies, which is also, you may recall, your chromosomal inheritance.

Parents on the inside; parents on the outside.  Is it any wonder we are so much like them? 

This seems like a solid argument for hereditary influence.  Except there is at least one example I can think of where this influence is not overwhelmingly apparent.


Yes, there are physiological and temperamental similarities between me and my parents.  But I made my living purveying comedy, chronicling the passing parade from an unvaryingly comedic perspective.

And my parents, at least generically, did not. 

Where then did the “funny” come from?  (In me and my brother?)

My Dad, who passed away when I was six, was reputedly an inveterate joke teller.  A joke teller tells jokes because they like comedy, and they want to be in the game.  This, however, has nothing to do with, and may well be a compensation for, an inability to pick up on the funny things that are happening all around us and opining about them in a humorous fashion.

My mother was funny on occasion, but always in a kind of ditzy, what used to be called, “Gracie Allen” manner.  I have quoted this story elsewhere.

We were driving past the Silent Cinema in Toronto, and my mother asked what that was.  I replied,

“They show silent movies there.”

“You mean like ‘The Marx Brothers’?”

“‘The Marx Brothers’ aren’t silent.  They’re ‘noisy’.”

“Oh, yeah.  Otherwise, how would you know that one of them couldn’t talk?”

She was like that.  I’m not like that.  (And neither is my brother.)

So here we are, a guy who believes strongly in heredity (my belief generating most likely from my congenital desire to be held accountable for nothing), and the primary element of my existence – what I am, justifiably or not, known for – appears to derive from elsewhere.

I don’t need any expert to point out the inconsistency of that.

Fortunately, there is one thing I like better than an answer.

It’s a mystery.

I may shoot my mouth off.  But with no expertise to defend, I have no trouble admitting that, on this matter and many others, I am terribly, and most humblingly confused.


Canda said...

It would appear that your mother had excellent off-center thinking, and that is why you write character comedy, and not just hard joke after hard joke in your scripts.

In my opinion, character comedy is more enjoyable to watch, and more difficult to write.

Rebecca said...

But Earl, your genes don't *only* come from your parents. My sister is built just like our mother, who so built just like her mother. But I am not. And neither is my older daughter who looks just like her father, who looks just like his mother.

But my younger daughter is built just like my sister and mother...even though I am not.

So, do you have any aunts or uncles who were funny in the same way you are? What about your grandparents?

I'm a firm believer in the effects of environment and upbringing upon children as they are growing up. But there is no question that heredity is at least equally responsible for the people we are. And something like a particular sense of humor? I'm betting on genetics...even though it may be an ancestor who died before you were born. You know, those rogue genes have a way of turning up in unexpected places.