Friday, June 23, 2006

An Appreciation Of An Humourist

I was saddened to read that Art Buchwald is on his last legs, or rather, leg, as his kidneys have been slowly failing, the doctors are unable to stop this and he has refused dialysis treatment.

Art Buchwald, resident humourist for the Washington Post, is a legend to me, and informs a lot of my comedic style. Sometimes I'll find myself writing a particularly dry piece of wit and satire, and think to myself, "I'm ripping off Buchwald."

I wouldn't be the first person to try. However, the man is still as feisty as any kid from Queens:
Humorist Art Buchwald was supposed to be dead by now. His doctors told him in January that his kidneys were failing, but he chose not to endure dialysis and moved into a Washington hospice to await death. To his surprise, it hasn't come yet. TIME's Elaine Shannon visited Buchwald, 80, at the hospice, where they chatted about his forthcoming book, whom he wants to meet in heaven (Judas Iscariot) and his failure to get on Richard Nixon's enemies list.

You're going to Martha's Vineyard on July 1. What are you going to do there?

I'm going to live. Back in February I lost my leg--that had nothing to do with my kidney. After I lost my leg, I was very depressed. I'd taken dialysis about 12 times, and I said, "I'm not going to do it anymore." Because of my decision to be in a hospice, all my friends came here to see me. I've had everybody--the French ambassador, Ethel Kennedy, Ben Bradlee--come to say goodbye. You had to take a ticket like in a shopping center because there were so many people coming in. But as time went on, they kept saying, "Wait a minute. Why are you still here?" They didn't say it in a mean way. They were delighted that I was going to be with them for a while. Now I have a new leg. I have a life. I have a book I hope to finish soon. It's called Too Soon to Say Goodbye. I didn't know dying was this much fun.

What do you have to say to your doctors about the limits of medicine?

I have nothing to say to them, and they have nothing to say to me. The kidney is working, obviously. They didn't expect it to, because when you have a real kidney problem and don't take dialysis, you're going to die. And I chose not to.

I was thinking of the famous line "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard." My line is "Dying is easy. Parking is hard." Once I made up my mind, I was at peace with myself, and it became kind of funny. That's what my book's about.

Have there been times in your life when humor didn't seem like enough to get you through?

Yeah. You wouldn't be a decent person if you didn't feel that way. John F. Kennedy's assassination was a big blow to me. There were times in World War II when I was very frightened. I was in the Marine Corps. I was 18, 19 years old. You'd be a fool if you weren't scared. There have been a lot of parts of my life that I didn't turn into a joke.

And more recently?

Yes--I lost my wife. I lost my wife.

Do you have any religious belief?

Yes. I believe there is a God, but he's not the one all the religions claim. The Christian religion, the Jewish religion, the Muslim religion--if you believe in their God, other people will say you're an infidel. There's a God out there, but not the one that causes all the trouble in the world. The people who fight all the wars now--not just Iraq but all over--believe that their God told them to.

Which presidency have you found to be the richest vein for a humorist?

Nixon. But one of the things I have to live with is that I never made Nixon's enemies list. All my buddies made fun of me. My buddies made it, and I didn't. And my standing as a serious journalist in this town went way down. Once, I ran into one of the big shots and complained, and that person said, "You weren't important enough." That was a body blow.

And the Bush Administration?

It's a very rich vein. It's like discovering gold. The people around [Bush]--Rove, Cheney and the rest of the Administration--they lie to you. Unfortunately, it's scarier if they don't think they're lying. I use that kind of stuff for satire. I don't like to preach because that's not what people are paying me for.

I read your column about a game you play in which you name five people you want to meet in heaven. Yours are Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Rita Hayworth--I understand those. But Judas?

People said, "Why Judas?" I want to ask him if he really was a buddy of Jesus and whether he was responsible for Jesus dying and coming back. That would make him a good guy instead of a bad guy.

Does the game include people you'd like to avoid in heaven?

Yeah. Those are very personal I didn't want people like Adolf Hitler. So one of mine was the gal who took a parking place from me at the shopping center and then laughed at me.
Some Buchwald quotations:
A bad liver is to a Frenchman what a nervous breakdown is to an American. Everyone has had one and everyone wants to talk about it.

Every time you think television has hit its lowest ebb, a new program comes along to make you wonder where you thought the ebb was.

Have you ever seen a candidate talking to a rich person on television?

I always wanted to get into politics, but I was never light enough to make the team.

I worship the quicksand he walks in.

Just when you think there's nothing to write about, Nixon says, "I am not a crook." Jimmy Carter says, "I have lusted after women in my heart." President Reagan says, "I have just taken a urinalysis test, and I am not on dope."

People are broad-minded. They'll accept the fact that a person can be an alcoholic, a dope fiend, a wife beater and even a newspaperman, but if a man doesn't drive, there's something wrong with him.

Television has a real problem. They have no page two.

Tax reform is taking the taxes off things that have been taxed in the past and putting taxes on things that haven't been taxed before.

The buffalo isn't as dangerous as everyone makes him out to be. Statistics prove that in the United States more Americans are killed in automobile accidents than are killed by buffalo.

The powder is mixed with water and tastes exactly like powder mixed with water.

You can't make up anything anymore. The world itself is a satire. All you're doing is recording it.

Whether it's the best of times or the worst of times, it's the only time we've got.
A recent column by Buchwald, that to me demonstrates the best of his work:
By Art Buchwald

Everyone took what he or she wanted out of the president's State of the Union speech. My ears pricked up when he talked about steroids. He was obviously against them. How, I wondered, did steroids get into the president's speech?

Here's one version: The president was reading the sports pages about all the drugs that athletes are using. It suddenly dawned on him that there was no mention of steroids in his State of the Union speech. He called in his writers and said, "Why is there no mention of steroids in my speech?"

"We were saving it for the opening of the summer Olympics."

"I want to mention it now, before the Democrats do."

A speechwriter said, "If we talk about steroids, people will forget about the unemployment figures."

Another writer said, "Why don't you say, 'When I was governor of Texas I was a 140-pound weakling. Everyone was pushing me around. Then I started using steroids and lifting weights. In no time the muscles in my arms expanded and I weighed 200 pounds.'"

Bush said, "I don't want anyone to think steroids had anything to do with my winning the election in Florida."

The writer said, "And then, Mr. President, you can say, 'If the Democrats push me around, I'll give them a poke in the nose they will never forget.' That should please the conservatives."

"The question is," the president said, "am I for steroids or against them?"

The first writer said, "We better call Karl Rove in."

Rove came in and Bush said, "Karl, where do I stand on steroids?"

Rove looked in his black election book, then said, "The pollsters don't consider steroids a big election issue. People say they are more interested in jobs than in athletes who take body-building drugs."

The president said, "Then should I come out against them in my State of the Union speech?"

Rove said, "It can't hurt. You may lose the baseball-player vote, but you will keep the golfer vote."

The president said, "Who should sit next to Mrs. Bush in the balcony?"

A writer said, "Rush Limbaugh. And on her other side a professional football player who has been rehabilitated at Betty Ford's."

Karl Rove said, "Keep it simple. Appeal to children who watch sporting events on TV and don't see anything wrong with a hockey player improving his game."

"Do we have a letter I can read from an 11-year-old child who thanks me for my message about steroids?" Bush asked.

"I'm sure there is one," the writer replied. "I know we have hundreds about Pete Rose getting in the Hall of Fame."

"Should we also warn the kids against gambling?" the other writer asked.

Rove replied, "We'd better not. Bill Bennett might think we're talking about him."

The president said, "To make sure people know I mean business, I want everyone in my administration to take a drug test. I'll take it out of our Homeland Security budget."

Rove said, "You come up with all the good ideas, Mr. President."

A writer agreed. "It will bring the Republicans to their feet."
Art, you're still here, and I'm hoping you'll be here long enough to get around to finding this humble blog. There are damn few in the world left like you, and even your heirs apparent, among which I count myself, will never do it as well or as consistently, as you.

And believe me, I try!

And if anyone can beat death, Art, it's you. Make Death laugh the way you make me laugh, and even an old pegleg like yourself can run away....