The video, below, is of Chicago comedian Dan Ronan, who died a few weeks ago at the age of 24.
I found out about Ronan via a tweet from Kumail Nanjiani, who plays the hilariously racist (against white Canadian immigrants) programmer on HBO’s new show “Silicon Valley.”
In the clip below, Ronan plays the part of a 60-year-old cartoonist talking about his comic strip “Skunky Funkybuns.” The sketch is pretty funny, and really hits on my pet peeve about comic strips (that they’re a lot like Scooby Doo and magic tricks, once you figure out the gimmick (there are no real ghosts, and the tricks aren’t real magic) they become a lot less fun).
I’ve often wondered about creative people. Whether it’s actors or poets, photographers, artists or even political activists — what makes you good at what you do, I suspect, is in large part a certain connection to the world, an empathy, a skill at observing things that others may not see. And also perhaps actually caring (perhaps too much) about what you see around you. (Though I’m sure not all do.) And caring can hurt. Seeing things, including bad things, where most people see nothing, can be trying over a number of years.
I remember in undergrad I took a lot of poetry classes. I was a writing major, and particularly loved poetry. I was surprised to see how many great poets were either a mess, or worse, committed suicide. Sylvia Plath, one of my favorites, comes to mind. She wasn’t inspired in spite of her madness, she was inspired by it. And there’s the rub, as I see it, for people who are creative.
Plath’s poem “Daddy” is a work of art (and to this day, still somewhat inscrutable, to me at least). It’s viciciously funny, and nasty, and brilliant. At the time, I’d never read anything like it. (And still really haven’t.) Here are the last five stanzas — the poem is about her father, who she clearly had issues with:
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.
But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look
And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I’m finally through.
The black telephone’s off at the root,
The voices just can’t worm through.
If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two——
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.
There’s a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.
I particularly love Plath’s use of the cadence — the boom-boom-BOOM that you can hear in her sentences. I’ve written about this before, the fact that I really believe good writing, expository writing, still has an almost poetic rhythm, a melody to it that’s not unlike poetry, whether the reader fully realizes it, hears it, or not.
I’ve always suspected that you need a good dose of madness to be truly inspired. The trick is keeping the madness at 49%, and never crossing to 51.
Here’s Skunky Funkybuns.