Okay, I had to write a paper for English class
tomorrow on Waiting for Godot... If any of you so called, English majors wanna point out my syntactical or grammatical errors, or my general lack of ability to write an English paper given the impetus
of last minute desperation
, now's yer chance.
And you know... Now's my chance too.
Why Laugh Now When You’ve Got a Whole
Beckett to Go Through?
What is funny? How do you define funny? If you’re talking about a sight gag, a funny joke, what you can see and hear, perhaps a ‘funny’ taste or smell, then funny is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain. This is a word that you ‘know’. It exists now, as part of an on stage production. Welcome to the world of Waiting for Godot. People think that they’re funny, but they’ve been fooled. They only participate in a form of funny, the funny that’s been pulled over their eyes, to blind them from the truth. Beckett, however, has realized the potential of his funny. He can bend and shape the funny to his will. Slammin’ Sammy B. knows where the joke goes. He’s crafty with it, like a small, arboreal creature, hiding delicious berries in the woods, to be eaten at a pleasant time of leisure. His funny is utilized in many ways. Waiting for Godot is fairly dark in tone, but Beckett lightens the mood here and there, with a joke, or a gag, or a delectable non-sequitur. Sometimes, he uses his funny to elicit a giggle, a titter, or a laugh from the audience. In rare instances, B. even uses his funny to help drive a point home. The amalgamation and juxtaposition of these shows the true skill of Samuel. Integration is key.
This play, this pièce de thêatre, as the French would put it, is in possession of punch-lines that Louis C.K., Richard Jenny, George Carlin, any respectable comedian would have killed to have thought of first. Vladimir and Estragon are possibly the wittiest homeless people who’ve ever graced the stage. With absolutely nothing to do, at a point in their lives where death would be agreeable compared to the antagonizing wait that is their lives, they consider hanging themselves from the pitiful dead tree. Describing the situation any further would destroy it. Here follows the excerpt:
Estragon: What about hanging ourselves?
Vladimir: Hmm. It’d give us an erection.
Estragon: (highly excited) An erection!
Vladimir: With all that follows.Where it falls, mandrakes grow. That’s why they shriek when you pull them up. Did you not know that?
Estragon: Let’s hang ourselves immediately!
The two contemplate what they could do to speed their way to a final resting place, and Estragon asks Vladimir to use his intelligence. Following the stage cue, “Vladimir uses his intelligence,” Vladimir replies “I remain in the dark.” This is a good all around line, but for some reason, the jokes just can’t be better than that. Pozzo’s inquisition of the two also has its high points. For example, when asked how old that he supposes Vladimir is, Estragon answers “Eleven.” Pozzo, in all reality, was endowed by Beckett to have such memorable one-liners as “I don’t remember exactly what it was I said, but you may be sure there wasn’t a word of truth in it.” And, after completely ignoring a comment from Estragon, and going off on a tangent, Pozzo reminds everyone to “Be a little more attentive, for pity’s sake, otherwise we’ll never get anywhere.” This comment is rather mindful of the whole of the play, as well as just being funny. The mindfulness stemming from the fact that indeed, everyone in the play gets absolutely nowhere.
Of course, everyone has their moments, and one moment of the play that was funny merely for the value of the words that Vladimir and Estragon use in their jibes, is when Lucky dances for everybody. Lucky dances, and again. Then Estragon fails to emulate him. Afterwards, Pozzo asks what the two thought the name of the dance was.
Estragon: The Scapegoat’s Agony
Vladimir: The Hard Stool
The actual name of it was, “The Net,” but the names the two protagonists gave, as well as bearing witness to Vladimir and Estragon’s power to poke fun, would make great stand alone punch-lines, or good band names.
Some of the humorous word play is long and drawn out, and rather pointed. For example, soon after they first appear on stage, Vladimir goes on a rant, between Estragon’s interjections and protests, about the two thieves that were with Christ when he died, and how one was supposedly saved, and the other damned. Vladimir’s beef was the idea that only one out of the four Evangelists talk about this idea. Four of them should’ve witnessed it, yet only one makes a significant note of it. They go through a big rigamarole after this, to arrive at Estragon’s line “People are bloody ignorant apes.” The storytelling was interesting and funny at the time, and maybe people aren’t paying attention to the message of the passage when they see it on stage, or read it for the first time, but in that story, Beckett is making a point, or so it seems. People don’t know the facts surrounding everything. They’re not entitled to know, and that’s not all. People will take the few things that they think they know and try to console themselves with that. A glimmer of hope is better than no hope at all, or so people would believe.
The few, yet memorable parts of the show that are made in the sake of antagonizing the audience carry a certain air, a certain… aversion to humanity, as it were. In the first act, Estragon contemplates leaving the place that they’re in directly through the auditorium, but (and as it can be funny to see people make excuses not to break through ‘the fourth wall’), Vladimir points out that they’re waiting for Godot. Thus, a joke is made of the audience itself (to wit, the audience isn’t serving a purpose, whereas doing nothing in the middle of nowhere does). In the second act, Estragon, while trying to find a way to escape a large group of imagined antagonists, “recoils in horror,” at the prospect of escaping through the auditorium. Vladimir’s original suggestion that Estragon go this way is that there’s “Not a soul in sight!” This could be taken two ways, either the audience is without souls, or that their souls are just not visible, perhaps both. Vladimir questions him about his recoiling from the auditorium, and then answers himself by saying “Well I can understand that.” Again, the audience, every member of it, is the brunt of a joke that points out what an ordeal it would be to have to face that much humanity all at once (after all, these two have enough trouble with the three people they deal with already).
A little physical comedy also serves to keep the mix nice and fresh. The physical comedy isn’t as prevalent as the word play, but as it is written, it seems like it would be quite a sight indeed. Again, when Estragon is trying to escape from his pursuers, Vladimir suggests that Estragon hide behind the tree, and Estragon does so. More accurately, he tries, and it doesn’t work. Physical comedy is something that needs to be seen, actually… This inability to hide could actually be portrayed seriously, but funny is the focus in the here and now. A gag immediately following this is definitely a sight gag. To protect themselves, they take up positions on opposite sides of the stage, and Estragon, Mensa member that he is, exclaims that the two of them are “Back to back like in the good old days.” Not only have the days that the audience has been witness to been completely lacking in goodness, but Vladimir and Estragon are not back to back (thus the stage direction that says they’re facing each other). Humorous indeed. In the vein of a Three Stooges sketch, they play the hat switching game with Lucky’s hat, and moreover, when Lucky thinks aloud at one point, a fight ensues that could (given the proper director), be rife with comedic hijinks. Lucky can’t think without his hat, and thusly, the other three men in the scene have to wrestle it away from him to get him to stop saying ‘skull,’ and ‘quaquaquaqua.’ This is an example of physical comedy gone terribly wrong though, as Lucky can’t talk aloud without his hat, and after Vladimir begins using it as his own, Lucky resurfaces in the second act as an utter mute, which isn’t really funny at all.
Also, and deserving of it’s own paragraph, is the incredibly effective use of pants in the final part of the show. Pants are funny. Trousers even moreso. This is a fact that has been recently publicized (never before 1999 did jokes having to do with pants run so rampantly throughout the world), and in light of that fact, Beckett should be considered ahead of his time as far as the whole pants/trousers thing goes. Beckett was the Ridley Scott of playwrights. Waiting for Godot was released before its time, making it the Blade Runner of modern theatre. If Waiting for Godot had had a monkey in it, it would be in possession of almost every major element of comedy available on modern day cable TV. Again, at the end of the show, where everything is repeating itself to prove to the audience that these men are faced with a depressing cycle rather than a dénoument, happy or otherwise, the idea of suicide comes up again. An escape is what they so desperately seek. Looking to hanging themselves from the pitiful little tree again, Estragon removes his belt to serve as a little rope to try to hang themselves with. The two test the rope, breaking it by pulling on it, and Estragon is left through a greater part of those last few moments with his pants around his ankles. All dramatic inferences aside, people with their pants around their ankles are funny. David Fincher knows this. Mike Myers knows this. Samuel Beckett knew it too, and he used it to the fullest effect that he could. He made a play to lighten the mood of the play when it was at it’s worst. The results are there, too.
Finally, to prove his comic prowess, Beckett uses (or abuses, rather) the comedic rule of threes. As a general rule, things that are done three times in succession can be very funny, even if they weren’t originally funny at all. A punch-line hitting after three dull lines before it, is also often a source of comic enjoyment, as a certain actor who played Matt of the Mint in The Beggars Opera was often fond of mentioning, a little too fond, in fact. However, when a person says something, says it again a little later, and then repeats themselves when everyone is least expecting it, the results can be as spectacular as the greatest lactic displays of nasal prowess that have ever graced the public eye. So, three times is key. Three times is good. But Samuel B. (ooh, he’s making this paper use abbreviations) throws the whole, ‘three’ thing out of the window. When Pozzo falls down, he calls for help. This would be a good time at which to use the rule of threes, but Beckett has him cry for help fifteen times. Three times is funny, but fifteen times is a laugh riot. Vladimir and Estragon weigh the pros and cons of helping Pozzo up. Vladimir gives two monologues. They talk about the weather, and all the time, Pozzo is whimpering. This would be pitiable, had not Beckett set the character up to be disliked by writing him up as being almost a total jerk (especially to Lucky) in the first act. Anyway, somehow, Pozzo managed to use the word ‘help’ in a line fifteen times and still pull it off as being humorous. This is an amazing feat from the hand of Beckett, because not everybody has the talent to break the rule of threes. Most notably, in the infamous ‘brain to optic screen projection’ scene in Wild Wild West, Will Smith mentioned the fact that an image was being displayed out of somebody’s head only four times, and fail miserably to be funny. Maybe if he’d said it three times, it might’ve been funny… but honestly, breaking that rule is for professionals only.
Samuel Beckett manages to take all kinds of things that are witty, funny, disjointed, or just plain clever and put them into a show. Waiting for Godot has all kinds of things that are tied up in it. Beckett has taken an art form, and just filtered it into a form of wholesome goodness that is very close to being pure wholesome goodness, something every playwright, or even every artist, should strive for. Vladimir and Estragon, not to mention Lucky and Pozzo, have the chance to be very interesting, very entertaining, and very funny characters because of the directions, and because of the words that Beckett has infused them with. The big B. has written a play that is insightful and thought provoking, that carries with it hidden meanings and themes that can only be inferred by those who are willing. But, and perhaps most importantly, all of this is accentuated by the funny parts.
A critic once said of Waiting for Godot, that it was a play in which nothing happened. Twice. The cyclical nature of this play is disheartening, however, it can be played comically, or tragically, as it is written to be both. People who haven't lived adverse lives tend not to 'get it.'
This play was accepted by inmates much better than the average member of the upper class. The reason? Inmates know what waiting for something can really be like. They know what it's like to be constantly looking at the same scenery, cycling through the days with a repetitiveness that destroys the sense of time.
Estragon: You want me to pull off my trousers?
Vladimir: Pull ON your trousers!
Estragon: (realizing his trousers are down) True.
He pulls up his trousers