“Stand-up Tragedy”: When Coping Mechanisms Become Calls to Action

I’m not a particularly gifted comedian, but comedy plays a big role in the life I’ve made with my Mate. We like to say Jon Stewart pretty much raised our children. I know he got us through the Dubya Bush years, especially after the invasion of Iraq. When the Daily Show theme music came on, we’d yell, “Hey boys, Funny People!” and the boys would come running.

Since the election of 2016, I’ve leaned hard on Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah to remind myself that I’m not the only one who feels like my country’s turning back 100 years. But since the death of George Floyd, like the comedians themselves, I’m finding more solace in bitterness.

Isn’t that a contradiction? No–not when the bitterness is shared, and focused.

This morning’s New York Times article about Richard Pryor, by Jason Zinoman, put it best. After moving on to discuss Pryor’s legacy among Black comics, including SNL’s Michael Che and The Daily Show’s Roy Wood Jr., Zinoman focuses on Dave Chappelle, and coins the perfect phrase:

Over the past few decades, Chappelle has repeatedly made comedy from the pain of police brutality, but what stood out about his recent set was how his typically grave tone didn’t pivot to a joke, how often he let his unfiltered outrage sit there…Chappelle went long stretches without jokes, producing a kind of stand-up tragedy. When he asked what the police officer whose knee was on the neck of George Floyd could be thinking, he spoke with a righteous anger that comedy could not address. There are limits to what a joke can do.

Stand-up tragedy. YES. That is what feeds my soul these days: someone standing up, literally, and calling out what happened and what it means. Here is Trevor Noah, his first workday after the death of Rayshard Brooks:

Trevor isn’t telling me what to do. But when this professional funny person, this man whose impish dimple has brought me so much joy over the past five years, looks me in the eye and speaks his bitter truth, I feel called up. Which is how I want to feel right now.

It’s even more (bizarrely) comforting to hear comedians call other people out–people not like me, whom I wouldn’t have the right to criticize. Here’s Hasan Minhaj, from his show Patriot Act, calling out his fellow immigrants from Asia and the Middle East:

There are some speakers, like Killer Mike and Kimberly Jones, whose words are pure bitterness and zero comedy–no less brilliant and even more gripping–and I’ll probably focus on them another time.

Right now I want to give a huge shout-out to those “Funny People” whose wit and wisdom is fueling me these days–and hopefully you too. Please share others!

White Privilege, Part…II? XVIII? Who’s Counting?

The US election of 2016 ushered me, like a lot of folks, into a new era of reading, listening, and discussion, all aimed at understanding, to paraphrase Hillary, “What the Hell Just Happened (And What Does it Mean)?”

I quickly figured out that it was mostly my fellow white people who were asking that question. People of Color (whom I’ve mostly just been reading and listening to, since leaving very-colorful Tacoma for this very-white island 7 years ago) not only sounded less surprised on the whole, but also less shook. The overall message seems to be more along the lines of, “Really? Didn’t see this coming?”

For these thinkers, Trump isn’t the blacklight lighting up the creepy-crawlies in the sofa cushions; he’s just one more creepy-crawly in a house whose infestation was built into its foundation-which some of us have been noticing only intermittently. I realized I had something to learn.

One of the most powerful passages of one of the most powerful books I’ve read this past year comes from Ta-Nahesi Coates’ Between The World And Me. He writes of the Dream—NOT Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream,” but quite the opposite. This Dream, to Coates, is the illusion of fundamental American fairness, decency and democracy that middle class whites cling to in order to feel good about living the way we do when we know others have not been, and still are not, able to live that way.

The mettle that it takes to look away from the horror of our prison system, from police forces transformed into armies, from the long war against the black body, is not forged overnight. This is the practiced habit of jabbing out one’s eyes and forgetting the work of one’s hands. To acknowledge those horrors means turning away from the brightly rendered version of your country as it has always declared itself and turning toward something murkier and unknown.

Coates concludes that stark paragraph with this statement:

It is still too difficult for most Americans to do this. But that is your work. It must be, if only to preserve the sanctity of your mind. —pp. 88-89

I think I might change that last word to “soul,” or perhaps “heart,” because I feel Coates’ challenge more there than in my mind. And for me the challenge is not to change my opinion about America so much as it is to change my focus. To think about what I haven’t had to think about. And to let new voices have my ear.

One such new voice I heard recently on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show: Grammy-winner Chance the Rapper, debuting his new song, “First World Problems,” accompanied by Daniel Caesar.

Son One likes Chance and Caesar, and urged me to listen. I now urge you to do the same. Not your style of music? It’s not mine either. But give this song—pun intended—a chance. And pay attention to the lyrics.

These lyrics especially–notice the connection with Coates’ Dream?

Now—think about what you are thinking about. And let me know. Keep the conversation going.


Stephen Colbert As Atticus Finch Defending Gollum: Triple-Geek Heaven!

I love Stephen Colbert. I love the Lord of the Rings series. And I practically know To Kill a Mockingbird by heart.


You’re welcome.


Mariachi Flor de Toloache: Watch For That “Colbert Bump”

My friend Beth is one proud mama. Her daughter’s band, Mariachi Flor de Toloache, is set to play The Late Show with Stephen Colbert this coming Friday, September 25.

In case your vision of mariachi is limited to portly gentlemen in tight-fitting suits, take a look at Flor de Toloache, the only all-women mariachi in New York City:

(Courtesy latino.foxnews.com)

(Courtesy latino.foxnews.com)

OK, the tight-fitting suits part was correct.

Flush with the glory of their recent Mexico tour–the only all-female US mariachi group ever to do so–Flor de Toloache has thrown themselves into their new project, playing both warmup AND backup for The Arcs, the new band formed by Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach.

What’s funny is, Mr. Auerbach had no idea he was about to change his whole band’s sound when he asked his manager to hire a mariachi band. Beth says no one told him the band was all-women–not to mention all-gorgeous. Even funnier, he hired them to play. Only after realizing he dug their instrumentals did he happen to ask, “You guys don’t happen to sing, do you?”

Do they!

So now The Arcs are scheduled to play for Mr. Colbert and his shiny new Late Show next Friday, and guess who will be featured? I’m not really a Late Show person (though I do love Stephen). I’m not really a mariachi person either. But these women are DYNAMITE, so not only will I be watching them and cheering them on, I hope a whole bunch of you guys tune in too!

Then tell me what you think, eh? Ai-ai-ai-ai-ai!!!!





Are You Highly Campetent? (Stephen Colbert Would Be, If He Went Camping)

Like my new word? Thanks, so do I.

Since I really will backpack for chocolate, and since I just got home from doing just that, I’ve been making mental lists of the little extras that, over the years, have made ordinary camping trips extraordinary.

Though they’re most effective in backpacking, where luxury is harder to come by, I see no reason why these tips can’t be adapted for car-camping too.

Ready? Here we go:

Campetent campers pack mac & cheese. Highly Campetent campers do that too, but they add a small, chopped-up brick of real, extra-sharp cheddar…and some fresh greens. (Mustard greens are the best!)

Campetent campers pack a sleeping pad. Highly Campetent campers pack a chunk of carpet padding, 4 inches thick, 18 inches wide, long enough to pad a tired body from shoulders to knees, compressed in a sack to the size of a small sleeping bag. (I give all credit to my Mate on this one! Best camping sleep EVER.)


Campetent campers bring rope to hang their food out of reach of critters. Highly Campetent campers bring bright orange rope, so they don’t trip over it at the edge of their campsite.

Campetent campers stay fully hydrated. Highly Campetent campers stay fully hydrated in the knowledge that they can safely enjoy a small box of Cabernet after dinner and still be ready to hike next morning.

Campetent campers pack biodegradable soap. Highly Campetent campers make sure that soap is lavender, or peppermint, so when they take that icy, delicious creek-or-lake bath at the end of a hot trail day, not only does their body thank them, their fellow campers do too.

Campetent campers pack a change of clean clothes. Highly Campetent campers leave a change of clothes in the car to change into when they arrive, sweaty and dusty (or cold and wet).


 My dad used to mix Tang into Cream of Wheat to make camp breakfasts more fun. Not necessarily recommending that, but…Got any tips of your own?

Disgruntled that Gruntled Isn’t a Word

…and I say it’s time we do something about this.

Say it with me: gruntled. It’s got that lovely piggy sound, mixed with that soft “l” that conjures images of nestling and cuddling. After a nice meal, cozy on a sofa with my sweetie and a glass of wine, am I “satisfied”? “Happy”? Heck no, those words don’t begin to cut it. I am gruntled. I am as gruntled as a pig in…in whatever makes pigs feel gruntled.

(courtesy trickfist.com)

(courtesy trickfist.com)

But you know when I just said the word conjures up images? Actually that’s wrong…it conjures up sounds. Which brings up another missing word in our otherwise ridiculously repeatedly redundant language. We can “visualize” something even if we can’t see it. But what do we do if we want to imagine a sound? Shouldn’t we be able to “audiolize” it?

(Can’t take credit for that one, gotta admit. That one came from my colleague Laura, an impressively smart 21 year-old.)

(courtesy Pinterest)

(courtesy Pinterest)

When I think of all the missing words in our language, I can start to feel…well, not exactly overwhelmed. Definitely whelmed, though. And guess what: “whelmed” IS actually in the dictionary! It’s just not used. I say we bring it back. I mean, doesn’t that pretty much describe how you feel most Fridays? Save “overwhelmed” for when you really, really are…like when your mother-in-law and the landlord arrive on your doorstep at the same time.

(courtesy Pinterest)

(courtesy Pinterest)

In an earlier post, I gave you “Cutiful,” a word I definitely need to describe my dog Juniper: https://gretchenkwing.wordpress.com/2013/06/07/stephen-colbert-got-a-new-word-for-ya-cutiful/

Scritch my schnozz! I'm CUTIFUL.

Scritch my schnozz! I’m CUTIFUL.

Now it’s your turn: What word is missing from our lexicon? Nominate your favorite Noah Webster wannabe!