Tag Archives: humor

RIP Gahan Wilson (1930 – 2019)

In the United States, Gahan Wilson died. I saw his death announced on the Facebook page of Tim Lucas.

Gahan Wilson was an American author, cartoonist and illustrator.

The Sea was Wet as Wet Could Be” (1967).

I was unacquainted with the work of Wilson. Dave Letterman introduced him in the 1980s as the “guru of gruesome, wizard of the weird and the Michelangelo of the macabre.”

Me being European, Wilson reminds me of Tomi Ungerer (1931- 2019) or Roland Topor (1938-1997) and perhaps more of Topor, since like Topor, Wilson was not political.

Wilson’s appearance at David Letterman’s (March 30, 1982) when he published Is Nothing Sacred?.

Wilson is regarded as the only heir of Charles Addams (1912-1988) and often mentioned in one breath with Edward Gorey (1925-2000) .

The epithet ‘sick humor‘ sometimes pops up, although I have to disagree on this one, as, as a European, I am used to Hara Kiri, most likely the epitome of 20th century sick humor.

Since I found out about his death, I watched the “The Waitress” episode of The Kid (2001) and Wilson’s appearance at David Letterman’s (March 30, 1982) when he published Is Nothing Sacred?. I also listened to a reading of the wonderful story “The Sea was Wet as Wet Could Be” (1967).

“The Waitress” episode of The Kid (2001)

His cartoon “I am an insane eye doctor and I am going to kill you now…” is frequently cited as of his best work. In it, a non-suspecting man reading an optometrist’s ‘eye examination’ with the text cited is approached from behind by a knife wielding optometrist.

There are body horror elements in his work and the cartoon “Harry, I really think you ought to go to the doctor.”, in which Harry is a regular man with the head of a prawn, is positively Lovecraftian.

RIP Henry Jacobs (1924 – 2015)

Via the death of Ken Nordine I find out that Henry Jacobs died.

Interview with Dr. Sholem Stein” (1955)

Henry Jacobs was an American sound artist and humorist, known for the radio program Music and Folklore, the TV program The Fine Art of Goofing Off (1971–1972) and compositions such as “Sonata For Loudspeakers” (1955).

Sonata For Loudspeakers” (1955), it’s hard to tell whether this is serious or comical.

He also invented the fictional characters Sixt Von Arnim, Sholem Stein and Shorty Petterstein.

The Fine Art of Goofing Off 

Of these three, Sholem Stein is my favorite. I used him as a mystification in my book on the history of erotica in which I put the following words into his mouth:

“Man reveals his true nature in his fears and desires. Show me what he is afraid of, show me what excites him, I will tell you who he is.”

I use Sholem Stein off and on nowadays, I usually have him cite dicta I don’t know who to ascribe to.

RIP Ken Nordine (1920 – 2019)

From Word Jazz (1957)

Ken Nordine (1920 – 2019) was an American voice artist, best known for his series of spoken word jazz poetry albums, the first of which was Word Jazz (1957).

A Passion in the Desert” (1955)

He also recorded a version of Balzac’s risque story “A Passion in the Desert” (1955).

‘The Way Things Go’ is World Art Classic #463


The Way Things Go by Peter Fischli & David Weiss is World Art Classic #463.

Peter Fischli & David Weiss’s work is unclassifiable. Which is a good thing. Yet despite this quality of being genre-defying, their work is defined by playfulness and humor absent from 90% of contemporary art.

I rather enjoy wit and humor in art.

The absence thereof, seriousness, is, in my view, one of the faultlines in 20th century art. Modernism, for example, was reigned by a detrimental “cult of seriousness”.

I first realized my predilection for humor in art somewhere around 2006, when I saw the painting ‘Man weeping, his tears form a waterfall‘.

The humor of Peter Fischli & David Weiss reminds me obliquely of that of The Chapman Brothers, minus the Chapman’s fondness for painfullness.

I’ve recently canonized Fischli and Weiss.

As I said in the title of this post, The Way Things Go is ‘World Art Classic’ #463. Its alphabetical neighbors are The Unswept Floor, a second century AD mosaic and The Witch by Salvator Rosa.

Finding Nemo

This page May 29, 2014 is part of the comics series. Illustration: Little Nemo sitting upright in bed

Illustration: Little Nemo sitting upright in bed

When we were children, there was a joke about three boys sitting in a boat. One was called biteme, another one pinchme and a third hitme.

Hitme fell out of the boat. Who remained in the boat?

You can guess what happened next.

In Rabelais and His WorldBakhtin describes a somewhat similar word game.

A 13th century medieval monk searched all biblical and patristic texts for sentences containing the word nemo, Latin for nobody.

He then interpreted phrases such as “nemo deum vidit” (“Nobody has seen God”), along with many other references to nobody, to mean that Nemo referred to a proper noun and thus was a certain person and that the phrase actually meant “Saint Nobody has seen God”.

That text, known as the “History of Nemo“, is now lost, but its story is not and it is easy to see why it so fascinated medieval everyman.

Bakhtin remarks: “everything impossible, inadmissible, inaccessible is, on the contrary, permitted for Nemo. Thanks to this transposition, Nemo acquires the majestic aspect of a being almost equal to God, endowed with unique, exceptional powers, knowledge (he knows that which no one else knows), and extraordinary freedom (he is allowed that which nobody is permitted.)”

I am reminded of another childhood memory. I have younger brother who is called Joost. There is a Dutch expression which says “Joost mag het weten,” (literally “Joost is allowed to know [it]”) meaning “heaven knows” or “God knows” (nobody knows).

When we were children, many people used to say jokingly to my brother “Joost mag het weten.”

One day — apparently fearing that some big secret was being kept from me — I asked my mother. “Mother, when am I allowed to know it?”

PS 1. If you like these word games, I recently posted on the medieval nonsense word blituri[1].

PS 2. Nobody is also a subcategory of the void and a sister category of nothing. I recently mentioned the void [2].

When a nose is not a nose

Caricature of human nose Illustration: Napoleon III nose caricatures from Schneegans's History of Grotesque Satire

Napoleon III nose caricatures from Schneegans’s History of Grotesque Satire

Following my previous post on [1] the concept of the grotesque body in Bakhtin’s book Rabelais and His World (which mentions the term grotesque 91 times), I did some research on previous books Bakhtin mentions in Rabelais and His World with reference to the grotesque.

One of the authors whose name pops up most (13 times) is that of Heinrich Schneegans, author of Geschichte der grotesken Satire (1894).

Bakhtin criticizes Schneegans for failing to notice the connection between caricatures of the human nose (above) and the phallic symbolism of the human nose. Sometimes a nose it not a nose.