Image courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/
Greetings everyone, and welcome to the August ChatterBulletin and to the charismatic sign of Leo! Many of us are experiencing pretty “hot” summers this year so the fiery nature of the Leo is expressed perfectly by the extreme heat during the month of August before we turn the corner into September and head for fall. Although Leos are known to be very regal (they are after all the “King of the Jungle”) they are really a bunch of big kids who would prefer to have fun rather than be responsible. So in keeping with my fellow fun-loving Leos, my theme for this month is “Humor.” As I said, Leo’s like to have fun, and they have this marvelous ability to “lighten” the mood by making everyone laugh. They are also extremely creative people, which is why many of them become artists of one kind or another. I have a ton of Leo friends who are performers, actors, artists or musicians. This also explains why Leo is the sign associated with “drama” – and by that I don’t simply mean the drama we see on TV or in a movie. Leo’s will have drama woven into their lives at all times. And if there isn’t any, they’ll create some.
Some famous dramatic Leo’s you might have heard of are – Madonna & 1st husband Sean Penn, J-Lo & almost-husband Ben Affleck, as well as his brother Casey Affleck, both Antonio Banderas & his wife Melanie Griffith, and then we have such notables as Lucille Ball, Mae West, Helen Mirren, Kyra Sedgwick, Halle Berry & Sandra Bullock, along with Steve Martin, Laurence Fishburne, Dustin Hoffman, Robert de Niro, Robert Redford, Kevin Spacey, Wesley Snipes, both David Duchovny & Gillian Anderson (of X Files fame), film directors Roman Polanski, James Cameron & Alfred Hitchcock, writers Sir Ian Fleming (of James Bond fame), J.K. Rowling (of Harry Potter fame), Beatrix Potter, Emily Bronte & Danielle Steele, designers Yves St. Laurent, Louis Vuitton, Coco Chanel & Martha Stewart, and artist Andy Warhol, musicians Jerry Garcia, Mick Jagger, Whitney Houston, George Clinton, Louis Armstrong & Count Basie, and athletes Roger Federer, Magic Johnson, Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez, Arnold Schwarzenegger & Hulk Hogan, along with such notables as Henry Ford, Fidel Castro, Napoleon Bonaparte, Benito Mussolini, Marcus Garvey, Bill Clinton (& Monica Lewinsky!) as well as our current president, Barack Obama. The list literally goes on and on and on, but notice how many famous performers, artists, musicians and writers we have here, along with famous as well as infamous rulers and/or world leaders! All very “Leo!”
But back to our theme and the subject of “Humor.” There are some kinds of humor that can be considered as universal and others that are most definitely culturally or even age-specific. I grew up in England and our somewhat eccentric sense of humor is certainly not always understood or appreciated by others. And then every now and again, something transcends and can be translated across cultures and oceans. People of all ages respond to humor, whether it is a young child watching a puppet show or Tom & Jerry cartoon, or an intellectual adult who goes for something more mature and satirical. Humor provokes laughter and provides amusement, but even more interesting is that the term “humor” derives way back to ancient times and refers to the “humors of the body” which were believed to control human health and emotion and therefore the goal was to keep these body fluids, or humors, in balance. The Four Humors were Yellow Bile, Black Bile, Blood & Phlegm and were directly related to each of the Four Elements, Fire, Earth, Air & Water. Consider this, when times are tough, do we not use humor to see us through? So in order to find balance with all of the stress in our lives, we have to find some sort of humorous outlet. When my sister and I were (and still are) dealing with the loss of our mother, as much as there was to cry about, we have had and continue to have a lot of laughs and a multitude of hilarious stories.
So what makes us laugh? We all have our own particular favorites and for me, I know there is a certain brand of humor that always wins me over, and that is the ability to have you laughing one minute and then crying the next, because it is all about the emotional experience and how you “feel.” One of my favorite examples of this comes from British writer and comedian Ben Elton.
© Ian Bradshaw
This Ben Elton portrait was taken by my old pal and English photographer Ian Bradshaw
Ben Elton is a magician for mixing outrageous humor with very real and politically driven issues that are relevant and recognizable to the reader. He always seems to be ahead of his time starting with his 1st book “Stark” that dealt with environmental awareness (look at us now!) to his more recent analysis of the Facebook culture in “Blind Faith.” I own every single one of his books and absolutely loved each and every one of them. His characters are always brilliantly funny, and sometimes pathetic or simply tragic. For instance, his 2nd novel “Gridlock” depicts a near-future London in which traffic congestion has reached almost critical levels thus becoming “gridlocked” – and although the government is apparently planning a new road system, they typically ignore investing in the more obvious mass transportation solutions (such as trains) in order to alleviate the problems. The book was published in 1991 and 12 years later in February of 2003, in order to combat the ever-increasing traffic concerns, the City of London introduced a controversial “congestion” charge for anyone driving into the inner city zones. Gee, what a shame they closed down so many railways all those years ago…
And while we are on the subject of brilliant English comedy, another of my absolute favorites has to be Fawlty Towers, created by John Cleese of Monty Python fame and co-written by his wife at that time, American-born actress Connie Booth, who also played the maid Polly to John Cleese’s hotel proprietor, Basil Fawlty. They were very smart and only broadcast 2 series of 6 episodes each, thus quitting while they were ahead. Each episode was brilliantly crafted and written, often escalating to outrageous heights. Who can forget the “Hotel Inspectors” or “Don’t Mention the War” episodes, and one of my all-time favorites, the one with the dead body, the “Kipper and the Corpse.” http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=1225102734036773727#
And one of my favorite features was the way the Hotel’s sign changed each episode, so “Fawlty Towers” became “ Watery Fowls”, “Fatty Owls” or even “Farty Towels!”
Here is a link to watch all of the episodes!
We grew up on Monty Python, watching it from the very beginning. I remember my mother coming home from work one day to find a group of us gathered around the TV set glued to the likes of the “Ministry of Silly Walks”, the “Dead Parrot” and the “Spanish Inquisition.” “What on earth are you watching?” she declared incredulously. Always curious to see what the younger generation was up to, she joined in and began watching along with us, and it didn’t take long before she was totally hooked as well! It literally became an institution, especially in our family, and whenever something totally bizarre or randomly funny happened, we would exclaim, “Pure Monty Python.” One such day when my mother had been to see her bank manager, she described how he had instructed his secretary to grandly bring in Mrs. Curtis’ files. She expected a little dossier, something small and neat, but what arrived on the desk instead were mounds and mounds of huge files, big as telephone books! She came home chuckling to herself as to how “Pure Monty Python” the whole thing had seemed, that little old her required so much paperwork. And I also fondly recall when I took her to see their movie “The Life of Brian” when it first came out. We laughed ourselves silly, well, it was so silly and quite controversial at the time, so when Jesus started singing, “Always look on the bright side of life…” from the cross, well… that became one of our signature songs. And, just the other week, I was watching Graham Norton, another of my favorite irreverent comics (this one Mum passed on to me ironically) and one of his guests was Sir Eric Idle, one of the Monty Python members. And guess what, he actually stood up and started singing our song!
Here, for your viewing pleasure are 20 of the best ever Monty Python sketches!
Another of my favorites is, or should I say was, the TV show Ugly Betty, which I thought was one of the funniest series to come along in a while. I was totally surprised and devastated to hear they had cancelled it – a real shame.
Again, I thought the writing was so clever because one minute you would have Betty or another character in a seemingly silly slapstick situation and then the next, it would be totally tugging at your heartstrings. Vanessa Williams was brilliant as the evil Wilhelmina Slater, a true Cruella de Vil of the fashion-publishing world. I honestly thought I would feel completely lost without this show, but I am pleased to announce that I have recently and unexpectedly fallen in love with the hit show Glee. Now, I had no idea what a “Glee” club was, (we didn’t have them in England) and I’m not exactly a huge fan of “musicals” but I have to say, I have laughed out loud in every single episode and have become a big fan. It really is very clever the way they have combined the crazy cast of characters, with their individual stories, along with all of the song and dance routines. Truly a delight!
And in closing, I would just like to wish all of my fellow Leo friends out there a very Happy Birthday, including my good pals Rowena, Ringo, Kim and Pam from my college days, my dear friend and musician Gretta in Seattle, our mutual friend and bass player Jared in Hoboken, and in Williamsburg, my always hilarious pal Julie, and in London, my old friend Andy who recently resurfaced after a long absence. And then there is also Pam, neighbor and friend to our family for many years, and Jordan, my dear friend Tracy’s daughter who came and interned with me this year. Happy Birthday!