Art You Engaged. / Are you engaged? is an emergency issue of The James Franco Review. Writers, editors, and artists around the country explored what it means for them to be politically or consciously engaged in their work and to also examine literature’s relationship to safety.
Impossible, or “The Story of The Story of Everest”
My freshman year of college, I had the privilege of being the straight-laced black theatre queen housed in a four man suite —the type of roommate that undergraduate, private, liberal arts college brochures promise but so rarely deliver. My roommates were, improbably, the three jocks who had somehow fallen down a rabbit hole and found a life in the theatre awaiting them on the other side (though, more probably, they were pushed…if not by some teacher with dashed dreams of his own, then by some girl senior year with a strong voice, long hair and a BLAND: Got here just today. ENCINIA: OK. Do you have a driver’s license and registration with you? (Pause) OK where you headed to now? How Long have you been in Texas?
These roommates, “bros” that they were, introduced me to the seminal HBO comedy series “Mr. Show with Bob and David”. My introduction began, as many do, with a ritual—one with which I had little familiarity then: Derrick, being a consumer of milk by the jug would clean (re:rinse out ONCE) a discarded jug from the recycling then at its middle he’d puncture it separating the bottom half from the top before filling the bottom half with water; meanwhile Max would run to his room and find his doctored gatorade bottle from whatever hiding place he thought was cleverest that week (usually behind a loose panel in his closet’s ceiling); while Colin (perhaps the richest, but definitely the most industrious) would make some transaction with a boy down the hall, a girl he met on the red line, a kid from the West side and procure some herb. Gravity bongs are the least forgiving of DIY bongs and never having smoked before I ENCINIA: You mind putting out your cigarette, please? If you don’t mind? BLAND: I’m in my car, why do I have to put out my cigarette? ENCINIA: Well you can step on out now. BLAND: I don’t have to step out of my car. ENCINIA: Step out of the car. BLAND: Why am I… ENCINIA: Step out of the car! BLAND: No, you don’t have the right. No, you don’t have the right.
At the time, Mr. Show was a show like none I had ever seen. It was full of all the wonder and wild weirdness of my favorite playwrights and filmmakers yet it was in a framework of a type of comedy I had little respect for: “sketch”. To me, at the time, sketch comedy lacked the sort of lasting insidious punch that truly great satire has. Until I immersed myself in Mr. Show it had been my estimation that comedy that broad was bound to be politically and socially BLAND: Let’s do this. ENCINIA: Yeah, we’re going to. (Grabs for Bland) BLAND: Don’t touch me! That’s why, I think the show’s best sketch, “The Story of the Story of Everest” has stuck with me for as long as it has.
The sketch begins with an explorer rushing into his parents idyllic home to tell him of his conquering of Mount Everest. His parents listen excitedly in the chachki filled living room set as their son tells of GUSTING WINDS (his arms fly this way) and SUDDEN SAVES (his body goes that way). Every time his body makes one of these outsized gestures he veers dangerously close to a tea kettle here or an end table there, his feet unsure of how to be back on flat ground. It’s the priceless collection of thimbles though that is ultimately the victim of his manic Minnellian gesticulations as he nears the climax of his story. The sketch goes like this, repeating that beat ad infinitum: he tells the story, he nears the climax and BOOM! The thimbles go flying, his parents growing more angry and less gracious with each fall. Finally his brother rushes in to announce BLAND: Why am I being apprehended? You just opened my — ENCINIA: I’m giving you a lawful order. I’m going to drag you out of here. BLAND: So you’re threatening to drag me out of my own car? ENCINIA: GET OUT OF THE CAR! BLAND: And then you’re going to [crosstalk] me?
ENCINIA: I WILL LIGHT YOU UP! GET OUT! NOW! (Draws stun gun and points it at Bland.) the impossibility of storytelling under the weight of gravity. That’s the genius of “The Story of the Story of Everest” it gives weight to the impossible task of telling a story. How do any of us do it, when everything in the world around us (even gravity) is constantly weighing us down? When each of us knows, innately BLAND: Cause you know this straight bullshit. And you’re full of shit. That’s all y’all are is some straight shit. That’s all y’all are is some straight scared cops. South Carolina got y’all bitch asses scared. That’s all it is. Fucking scared of a female. ENCINIA: If you would’ve just listened.
Jeremy O. Harris is a playwright and an actor currently living in Los Angeles, CA after studying acting and poetry at DePaul University. His plays NORF and XANDER XYST, DRAGON: 1 have been seen and developed in NY and LA. He is a 2015 MacDowell Fellow.
Image property of HBO Entertainment.