Watching an HBO special Talking Funny with Ricky Gervais, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and Louis C. K. I was impressed by their thoughtful and witty observations on what being funny is about, and how each of them has their own individual style of taking their audiences into their comedic realm.
The next morning as I resumed my rumination of what I had heard, the image that popped into my mind was that of a tour guide. It seemed to me that what they had been saying could be most vividly understood within the framework of that metaphor.
Each of them takes the audience on a tour of their inner comedic world and shows them the sights, sometimes odd and strange at first, but then with their safety assured by the skill and confidence of the guide, the audience begins to see what is familiar in what at first seemed so foreign.
I found this image both comforting and intriguing because as I settled into contemplating it I realized it had much broader and deeper application.
The first iteration produced the thought that perhaps all art functions in the same way; that is, the artist in whatever medium, takes the viewer or listener, or reader on a guided tour of his/her artistic world. And when successful, the audience goes through a process similar to that already described. What is initially experienced as different evolves into a mix of the new and the familiar.
The next iteration produced the recollection of learnings from educational psychology which makes the point that we learn new ideas by linking that which is familiar about them to what we already know. Without that available link, we do not learn or understand the new material.
The next to last link was to the way we talk with each other and share the details of our separate lives as we try to establish relationships ranging from that of mutual respect and understanding to appreciation and intimacy. In conversation we can be said to be taking each other on guided tours of the ways and byways that structure our self understanding.
And the final link in this series brought me full circle to a place I have often visited in my explorations of ideas about who and what we are. Based on an exchange between Bogart and a female character in one of his movies, this idea has rested comfortably in an armchair in the living room of my mind where it watches the world at work and play from a large, and not always clear window.
In the movie the woman is defending the poor behavior of her husband towards Bogart the night before. She says, “you must forgive my husband for his behavior last night; he wasn’t himself.”
Bogart looks at her for just a moment and then says, “Oh, who was he?”
Who are we, when we are not being ourselves? I consider that a question in form only. We are always ourselves, maybe not always our “best” selves, but our selves nevertheless. And in our encounters with each other we are always taking each other on a tour of who and what we are; the demonstration may not be kind, may not even be informative in the way we want it to be. But it does show who we are; we are always tour guides for each other. Even in “costume” we are the owners of our roles.