Explaining things

I got copies of the upcoming catalogue from University Press of Mississippi: it's real now. So yes, I've googled myself some more and I'm seeing it listed places. (Fuck you: I have so little else in my life apart from my hot wife, amazing son, well-paid career and respect of my peers.) But then I came upon this thing

Society has its talkers, but how rare the instances of refined and elevated conversational power! Talking is indeed a vulgar art everywhere, but how few make it a fine art! The endless repetitions of the commonest platitudes; its gossip - if not mischievous or malicious, yet empty of good - discover often a talent and a tact of no ordinary grade; but how unworthily employed!
— Mrs. Katie Clark Mulliken, "Conversation as a Fine Art." The Ladies' repository: a monthly periodical, devoted to literature, arts, and religion. Volume 1, Issue: 1, Jan 1868, pp. 10-13.

I liked it because, in full on nineteenth-century lady style, it keyed into one of the things I'm getting at with the name of this book (and blog). My title was inspired by an interview George Carlin did for the HBO website prior to what was to be his last special, It's Bad For Ya.

I am a stand-up comedian, and I love that title. Stand-up comedy is a vulgar act. It can be vulgar the usual way we use that word. But vulgar really means “of the people.” It’s the people’s art. Just stand up and talk about the things that are on your mind. Whether it’s shopping or credit cards or your wife or your kids, or if it’s stuff about America, it’s all stand-up comedy.

My contention has always been that stand-up comedy is a form of talk not substantially different from the talk we all engage in in small-context settings. It is playful, non-instrumental, ludic. It is conversation, but really that moment in a conversation where one person kind of takes over for a while. The other people are there and are necessary for this person's verbal display, and their reactions are not only the goal but part of the performance itself, but it is that moment in conversation when focus is on one talker. It is talk among a small group of intimates.

Stand-up comedy introduces the complexity of the larger group, the specialised space that forces attention on the performer (as opposed to it being temporarily granted), the increased expectations of competence on the professional, performing in front of strangers, the spatial distances of broadcasting and the spatio-temporal distances of recording, all of which interrupt that 'small group of intimates' vibe and yet is the style of talk being enacted on stage. 

We all know good talkers (and bad talkers), but the professionalisation of stand-up is more than simply talking well: it is learning and mastering the skill sets required to bridge those various distancing mechanisms and, in collaboration with the audience, create the pretense of intimacy.

If you want an amazing discussion of the kind of informal talk I'm referring to, read Michael J. Bell's The World From Brown's Lounge: An Ethnography of Black-Middle Class Play. It will change your life.