Nothing Is Funny Until You Burn.

Sometimes it’s better to scream more and care less.

Courtesy of Pinterest

We are here to laugh at the odds...” Charles Bukowski

Bukowski never gave a bad speech, mostly because he hated speeches. People laughed because he didn’t care. He even tossed bottles of beer to the crowd. Some people he told to fuck off. Some told him to fuck off.

“We had a grand old time,” he said.

Most people don’t get that about humour. It isn’t how funny you are, it’s how little you care. It’s like a cat ignoring you until you can’t stand it any more. You grab the cat and pet the hell out of it. You don’t even like cats, but you’ll be damned if one of them is going to ignore you.

“I’d leave, too, if I wasn’t being paid,” he’d say, then go back to grossing women out.

You can’t give people the opportunity to decide whether you’re funny or not. People will judge someone who’s trying to be funny, but nobody knows how to judge a stoic. That makes people laugh because you really don’t care.

Bukowski used to get drunk on campus stages. He’d read some poetry, gross a few women out, even laugh at his own jokes. Students would get up and leave. He’d applaud their decision. “I’d leave, too, if I wasn’t being paid,” he’d say, then go back to grossing women out again.

Before the Steve Allen show, Jack Kerouac spent all afternoon in a bar around the corner. “They [the Beat poets] took themselves so seriously,” Bukowski said, remembering one occasion when he shared a reading series with William Burroughs. “I thought he was a bore,” Bukowski admitted. “I ignored him at the hotel afterwards. His room was right next door.”

At the same time, talking like a wise man didn’t necessarily make you a battered one.

Bukowski felt the same way about some comedians. “All right,” he wrote, “Lenny [Bruce]had been funny at times: ‘I can’t come!”—that bit had been masterful but Lenny really hadn’t been that good.”

As far as Bukowski was concerned, someone like Albert Camus got it right. “Humanity may have been suffering but not him,” Bukowski wrote. At the same time, talking like a wise man doesn’t necessarily make you a battered one.

“I always preferred somebody who screamed when they burned,” he wrote, believing his own life was cheapened by tragedy. He called himself “a real whore” when it came to readings. Auden got $2,000, Ginsberg, $1,000—Bukowski, $200 plus airfare and accommodation. “I talk money like a pool sharp,” he confessed. “It’s all survival; forgive me.”

The idea was laughable, and produced the book “Women,” a scathing testiment to the craziness of women and the creepy men in their lives.

He was fifty and starting his third novel: “The Poet.” Along the way, especially after the release of “Post Office,” Bukowski went from being demonized to idolized. “I was four years without a woman,” he confessed. “Suddenly they were writing me, asking if they could come over and get laid.”

The idea was laughable, and produced the book “Women,” a scathing testiment to the craziness of women and the creepy men in their lives.

Bukowski could be searing and funny at the same time, winking like “I’m only joking, folks,” but the imagery was—and is—too real to be ignored. It’s like when someone says they read the prescription bottle wrong and ended up in a coma. “There will always be something to ruin our lives,” he said, “it depends on what or which finds us first. We’re always ripe and ready to be taken.”

Still, Bukowski couldn’t stay mad at himself for long. Maybe he was a coward, although he was a tough in school; maybe he was a fatalist, although he admitted he was always too lucky ‘to end up on the street.”

Real poets know wonderful things happen when you scream. You go where screamers go, where half the world is burning and the other half is taking showers. Bukowski liked the former. He liked being around “desperate men with broken teeth and broken minds and broken ways.”

Remember Richard Pryer and his famous show in Vegas when he ends lighting a match, saying, “This is the joke going around now. It’s me running out of my house.”

“They are full of surprises and explosions,” he said.

Like the alleys outside of bars, there’s always a subterranean crowd, something Bukowski counted on, like the whore in “Barfly” who “sucks like a vacuum cleaner.” The best blowjobs are done with the lips. It doesn’t take concentration. The more detached you are, the better you are. Let them do the screaming for once. You’ve screamed enough in your lifetime.

It’s true, the funniest people are the most tragic. Remember Richard Pryer and his famous show in Vegas? He ends by lighting a match and saying, “This is the joke going around now. It’s me running out of my house.”

We laughed because he didn’t hold back. “Whatcha gonna do?” Jm Brown asked him and Pryer replied: “I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do mothafucka,” “I’m gonna keep doin’ this stuff. That’s what I’m gonna do.”

We laugh at tragedy because it’s the purest form of humour. The man’s broken, he’s screamin’, he’s on his last bottle of beer. “Throw it at them,” Bukowski would say. “Let them taste the foam and broken glass.”

If you want to be funny, you can’t care. You can’t want sympathy. You have to burn and let them know you’re burning. Truth is burning flesh. Nobody knew that better than Richard Pryer. Nobody wrote about it better than Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac and maybe Albert Camus.

“The only ones for me are the crazy ones,” Kerouac wrote, “the ones who burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow Roman candles, exploding like spiders across the stars…”

Either you care or you don’t, either you scream or you don’t.

In the end, Kerouac cared too much, even though he burned like the others and screamed like the others. He still cared, and he died caring. Bukowski didn’t care. He wrote on, never letting it interfere with his life or his loves or anything destined to “surprise and explode” outside of his written work.

Either you care or you don’t, either you scream or you don’t. As Bukowski also said: “Somebody once asked me what my theory of life was, and I said, ‘Don’t try.’ That fits the writing, too. I don’t try; I just type.”

That’s probably the greatest lesson for all of us. You don’t have to try, you don’t have to care. You just have to scream for yourself. That’s when the cats crawl all over you.

Robert Cormack is a freelance copywriter, satirist, journalist, novelist and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores. For more details, go to Yucca Publishing or Skyhorse Press.

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