Bumping into humor

November 6, 2010 § 2 Comments

Before the evening I sat in the condo of a Vanity Fair magazine writer’s living room, I had never heard of him or any of his shows. But as I waited in the awesome presence of books to be read, temptation got the better of me. And against the hammering of my mother’s caution, “do not touch what does not belong to you,” I reached for the nearest one, pried it open and was introduced to Dick Cavett.

“Being the offspring of English teachers is a mixed blessing. When the film star says to you, on the air, “it was a perfect script for she and I,” inside your head you hear, in the sarcastic voice of your late father, “Perfect for she, eh? And perfect for I, also?” -Dick Cavett, It’s Only Language, Talk Show.

As a daughter who also hears her (Headmistress/ Principal) mother’s voice, I could not prevent the laughter that spewed upon reading the above. To be quite honest, I laughed a little more quoting it here. With such an attention grabbing first paragraph, I felt compelled to dive into the advance copy of Dick Cavett’s book, Talk Show: Confrontations, Pointed Commentary, and Off-Screen Secrets.

When the VF writer appeared, I announced my discovery and how much the first paragraph tickled me. He raved about the wit and intelligence of Cavett, and luckily for me, after citing past shows, he said I could have the book. With my curiosity piqued to the height of Kilimanjaro’s summit, I wanted to Google Cavett but fear that the internet would taint my views led the other way. Whether on the 2, F, R or Path trains, splayed across my bed, or on the throne, I voraciously consumed the compilation of essays, page after page.

Sometimes unaware of my surroundings (because the book pulls you in,) I would almost burst at the seams of my ribcage with laughter. Other times audibly (but not too loudly) re-read the euphoria inducing words to the death stares of New Yorkers who would rather ride the train in graveyard silence. A few times, folks who witnessed my giggles, cast sideward glances at the book or inquire about the source of such glee. Like an Evangelist, I rushed to spread the gospel.

Talk Show is ladled with satire and intelligence. In the essay, The Wild Wordsmith of Wasilla, Cavett examines Sarah Palin’s famous ability to string words that make absolutely no sense. But if you think you’ve heard or seen that moot dissected and debated in every possible way, I say, you’ve never had it Cavett’s way. Whether he was unearthing encounters (private or on his show) with literary canons such as John Updike, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal and John Cheever, or famous actors such as John Wayne, Richard Burton or Marlon Brando, he holds the reader’s attention hostage.

Imagine the delight to have read about another fraction of the Watergate scandal. More so Dick Cavett’s strand of that experience and how much of a fixture he was in the former president’s mind. Talk Show grazes in pastures most memoirs do not and is a celebration of diverse experiences. From his youthful days, to writing for Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show, and Jack Paar, dealing with depression, telling on himself and many embarrassing moments, politics, friendships, reunions, et cetera, it is the epitome of a life being lived colorfully.

However, it was not all giggles and doubling over with laughter. There were somber tones. In What my Uncle Knew About War, merely labeling wars as horrifically brutal and senseless killings was insufficient. Instead, Cavett carved a niche beyond the surface of the cranium and into the reader’s psyche. For example: ‘“Tom [his (uncle’s) best friend] and I were trotting along, firing our rifles, and I turned to say something to Tom and his head was gone…” He said the worst part was that while still holding the rifle, the body, now a fountain, continued for four or five steps before falling. He hated to close his eyes at night because that ghastly horror was his dependable nightly visitor for years- like Macbeth, murdering sleep.”

On the other hand, I have a single ought against, or should i say disagreement with Imus in the Hornets’ Nest. It is very clear that Cavett respects Don Imus in part for his ability, as one of the few public figures who does not assault the English Language, to pronounces all the c’s in arctic. But as an African woman, his nappy headed ho comment bruised. Cavett can not understand why the mob came at Imus because no matter how much he knows of slavery or segregation, he is not a woman of African descent. In said essay, he asked many questions, and to answer whether he (Imus) meant to harm or not, I say, it does not matter. Sometimes the best intentions do not make things right. It hurt. He should not have said it. Imagine a prominent African saying C****ker ho as a joke on the airwaves. That would definitely be career suicide. Or let’s take for example CNN anchor, Rick Sanchez being axed for his joke. I am not against free speech, but with it comes responsibility.

Nevertheless, the flavor of the book is not tainted by this. As a matter of fact, what is a book that does not enlighten, or evoke emotions that last a train and bus ride, or tickle the reader who in turn raises the ire of their fellow commuters? Cavett’s does all of this. Talk Show is a remarkable collection of essays from his New York Times column and a must have for the reader who appreciates humor, honesty and good writing. It will be on sale November 9th, 2010.


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