Published: Jan 4, 2012
Dying is easy, they say. Comedy is hard.
And here are 340 pages of comic writing, all by one guy.
To pull off 340 pages of funny --- gee, going in, don’t you kinda wish it were 280?
But the guy in question is Calvin Trillin, New Yorker veteran, author of 27 books, “deadline poet,” able to assassinate in a single phrase (in a novel, Rudy Giuliani becomes ”Il Duce”), a Yale grad who lists, as his greatest talent, an ability to “hum and whistle at the same time.”
Plus, he has the morning-after, kick-me look of a basset hound.
Yes, I’d say that a collection of Calvin Trillin’s sketches, poems and novel shards, culled from four decades, might be a keeper. [To buy “Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin” from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle download, click here.]
Jon Stewart certainly thinks so --- he gives Trillin the Great Man treatment. But let’s sample the wares and see for ourselves.
Mitt Romney As Doll
Yes, Mitt’s so slick of speech and slick of garb, he
Reminds us all of Ken, of Ken and Barbie —
So quick to shed his moderate regalia,
He may, like Ken, be lacking genitalia.
Some of you may be thinking: Oh, so Trillin is a clever liberal. Yes, he is. But really, he’ll look for laughs wherever he can find them.
About John Edwards, a kind of song, called: “Yes, I know he’s a mill worker’s son, but there’s Hollywood in that hair.”
This Kansas City native may love barbeque, but really, all food is his province: “When helicopters were snatching people from the grounds at the American embassy compound, during the panic of the final Vietcong push into Saigon, I was sitting in front of the television set shouting, ‘Get the chefs! Get the chefs!’”
Such a man can be counted on to have a skewed view of the Big Question: “When I was a writer at Time, I tried to escape from the Religion section by writing ‘alleged’ in front of any historically questionable religious event --- the ‘alleged parting of the Red Sea,’ say, or ‘thirty years after the alleged crucifixion.’”
Ditto on Wealth: “The minute I saw Forbes magazine's list of the four hundred richest people in the United States, my heart went out to the person who was four hundred and one…”
A license-plate motto he’d like to see: “Arkansas: Not as Bad as You Might Have Imagined.”
You get how it works: Hit upon an idea, toss off a wry line, expand. (“I live in Greenwich Village, where people from the suburbs come on weekends to test their car alarms.”) The aim is not convulsive laughter, but a modest vibration of the funny bone. It’s a style perfect for a kindler, gentler time. A New Yorker style. You will never read Calvin Trillin riffing on the first thing Google shows you when you search “Santorum.”
And yet. It’s wrong to knock a veteran of the humor wars as Old School just because he got an early start. And from time to time along the way Trillin does wield a sharper blade. At the height of New York excess in the 1980s, The New York Times ran a piece about dinner with Francoise and Oscar de la Renta that was so over the top it could have been a parody. It wasn’t, so Trillin wrote “Dinner at the de la Rentas.” First sentence: “Another week has passed without my being invited to the de la Rentas.” The Times piece noted how the de la Rentas cleverly invite only one celebrity in each category to their dinners. Which leads Trillin to have Francoise freak out over a sudden acceptance from Henry Kissinger: “My God! What are we going to do? We already have one war criminal coming!”
Some books are to be devoured, others to be sipped. “Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin” is best consumed in shot glasses, like single malt. That way, when you get to the Great Stuff, your response is as fresh as Trillin’s words. And the Great Stuff really is Great. Let’s end on this game-winner from mid court:
What Whoopi Goldberg ('Not a Rape-Rape'), Harvey Weinstein ('So-Called Crime') et al. Are Saying in Their Outrage Over the Arrest of Roman Polanski
A youthful error? Yes, perhaps.
But he's been punished for this lapse--
For decades exiled from LA
He knows, as he wakes up each day,
He'll miss the movers and the shakers.
He'll never get to see the Lakers.
For just one old and small mischance,
He has to live in Paris, France.
He's suffered slurs and other stuff.
Has he not suffered quite enough?
How can these people get so riled?
He only raped a single child.
Why make him into some Darth Vader
For sodomizing one eighth grader?
This man is brilliant, that's for sure--
Authentically, a film auteur.
He gets awards that are his due.
He knows important people, too--
Important people just like us.
And we know how to make a fuss.
Celebrities would just be fools
To play by little people's rules.
So Roman's banner we unfurl.
He only raped one little girl.