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Friday, August 25, 2006

Food-Related Comedy

I present two cases for humor dissection: The first from Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, and the second from Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Ernest. Food plays many roles in our lives... not the least of which: a prop for hillarity. I think the aristocratic obsession with food also factors into both examples.

The black magician was sprawled on some boundless sofa, low, with pillows scattered over it. As it seemed to the barman, the artiste was wearing only black underwear and black pointed shoes.

"I," the barman began bitterly, "am the manager of the buffet at the Variety Theatre..."

The artiste stretched out his hand, stones flashing on its fingers, as if stopping the barman's mouth, and spoke with great ardour: "No, no, no! Not a word more! Never and by no means! Nothing from your buffet will ever pass my lips! I, my esteemed sir, walked past your stand yesterday, and even now I am unable to forget either the sturgeon or the feta cheese! My precious man! Feta cheese is never green in colour, someone has tricked you. It ought to be white. Yes, and the tea? It's simply swill! I saw with my own eyes some slovenly girl add tap water from a bucket to your huge samovar, while the tea went on being served. No , my dear, it's impossible!"

"I beg your pardon," said Andrei Fokich, astounded by this sudden attack, "but I've come about something else, and sturgeon has nothing to do with it..."

"How do you mean, nothing to do with it, when it's spoiled!"

"They supplied sturgeon of the second freshness," the barman said.

"My dear heart, that is nonsense!"

"What is nonsense?"

"Second freshness - that's what is nonsense! There is only one freshness - the first - and it is also the last. And if sturgeon is of the second freshness, that means it is simply rotten."

"I beg your pardon..." the barman again tried to begin, not knowing how to shake off the cavilling artiste.

"I cannot pardon you," the other said firmly.

And now take two (a favorite scene I first played out in a freshman acting class at Olympic College... Luckily, I got to be Algernon.)

Jack: Well, that is no business of yours.

Algernon: If it was my business, I wouldn't talk about it. [Begins to eat muffins.] It is very vulgar to talk about one's business. Only people like stock-brokers do that, and then merely at dinner parties.

Jack: How can you sit there, calmly eating muffins when we are in this horrible trouble, I can't make out. You seem to me to be perfectly heartless.

Algernon. Well, I can't eat muffins in an agitated manner. The butter would probably get on my cuffs. One should always eat muffins quite calmly. It is the only way to eat them.

Jack. I say it's perfectly heartless your eating muffins at all, under the circumstances.

Algernon. When I am in trouble, eating is the only thing that consoles me. Indeed, when I am in really great trouble, as any one who knows me intimately will tell you, I refuse everything except food and drink. At the present moment I am eating muffins because I am unhappy. Besides, I am particularly fond of muffins. [Rising.]

Jack. [Rising.] Well, that is no reason why you should eat them all in that greedy way. [Takes muffins from Algernon.]

Algernon. [Offering tea-cake.] I wish you would have tea-cake instead. I don't like tea-cake.

Jack. Good heavens! I suppose a man may eat his own muffins in his own garden.

Algernon. But you have just said it was perfectly heartless to eat muffins.

Jack. I said it was perfectly heartless of you, under the circumstances. That is a very different thing.

Algernon. That may be. But the muffins are the same. [He seizes the muffin-dish from Jack.]

Jack. Algy, I wish to goodness you would go.

Algernon. You can't possibly ask me to go without having some dinner. It's absurd. I never go without my dinner. No one ever does, except vegetarians and people like that.



At 8/25/2006 02:17:00 PM, Blogger Diane said...

I recently watched The Importance of Being Ernest (with Rupert Evertt as Algy, Colin Firth as Jack) and remember that scene! Subtly hilarious when played out.

David Sedaris wrote a very funny piece called "Today's Special" about pretentious food and eating out in New York. Here's an excerpt:

Part of the problem is that we live in the wrong part of town. So-Ho is not a macaroni salad kind of place. This is where the world's brightest young talents come to braise carmelized racks of corn-fed songbirds or offer up their famous knuckle of flash-seared crappie served with a collar of chided ginger and cornered by a tribe of kiln-roasted Chilean toadstools, teased with a warm spray of clarified musk oil. Even when they promise something simple, they've go to tart it up- the meatloaf has been poached in seawater, or there are figs in the tuna salad. If cooking is an art, I think we're in our Dada phase.


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