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Culture, Reality

Get Smart, (and Funny)

by Brandon Edmonds, illustration by Mike Scott / 25.06.2010

Wanna get laid? Smart and funny is invariably what you get when women are asked what they look for in a partner. (Also works for guys. We like smart and funny, too.) Smart and funny will get you laid, and a whole lot more. So how do you get smart and funny?

You’ll want the fundamentals in place. That means a good, basic education. A good, basic education is rarer than you’d think. The majority of the planet’s population doesn’t have one. Locally, it’s no better. Here’s the Voice of America: “South Africa’s public education system is in serious decline. Reports of dismal graduation rates, bad teachers and crumbling buildings are commonplace.” In the Eastern Cape, where the ‘chattering bohos’ – that whole strata of jobbing ‘creatives’ who live to show and tell us deep and challenging things – are readying for the mass motley Grahamstown ‘kulcha’ inhalation – mud schools are the rural norm. There are chronic shortages of teachers and teaching materials. Graduation rates are disastrous in the province: ‘the average number of students who graduate from high school is 50%. Some schools graduate as few as 9% of their students.’

We know all too well the consequences: hard sociology warns us that these young minds ‘left behind’ face a very uncertain future, one riddled with insecurity, joblessness, immense pressures, and the grinding daily ask of survival. And what of their relationships? Their prospects for love, sex and fulfillment? These aspects of life are just as important. Without material and emotional capital, the lifelong fruits of a good and basic education, what are the real chances of the under-skillled boys and girls of the Eastern Cape – at happiness?

Your good, basic education is the single most important public asset you have. It’s not entirely your perfect skin or your rock hard abs getting you sack action, it’s the cumulative legacy of morning assembly, of crash cramming history, fathoming calculus and straining your brain on geometry; most it all, its muddling through Shakespeare, through the Classics, through artistic achievements in art and literature that continue to articulate human experience hundreds of years later. Because what smart and funny really boils down to, is fluency. Cultural and linguistic fluency.

To get with someone worthwhile, you’re going to need to get their references. You’ll have to have read what they’ve read, and seen and heard what they’ve seen and heard. That’s if you’re after something beyond a single Saturday night. Of course the idea of ‘someone worthwhile’ is terribly value laden. It cuts across our default democratic rhetoric in the West: we’re supposedly all equal now in everything. But love and sex demands elitism. You want the best person you can have.

A discerning approach to romance has been relentlessly undermined in popular culture. Anything goes. Think of endless ‘reality’ dating shows in which selection is reduced to an arid grid of hotness, buffness and carnal enthusiasm. Soul, a genuine meeting of hearts and minds, doesn’t come into it. The French romantic novelist, Stendhal, called falling in love, ‘crystallizing’. There’s no better image for it: a powerful, immutable bonding, so easily smashed to pieces. If you didn’t get the reference, you may want to dip into some Stendhal (or simply avoid me like the plague at parties).

Okay so funny. How do you get funny? Key here is exposure. Seek funny out far and wide. Then dive in. Here’s Steve Martin (he was a massively popular comedian in the 1970s, these days a Disney dad in forgettable family fare) responding to a heckler in the crowd: pauses, smiles to himself wistfully, then says, “I remember my first beer!” Donny repeating ‘I am the Walrus’ in The Big Lebowski. How about Uncle Monty in ‘Withnail & I’? He’s a giant rotund peach of a man, with mellifluous diction and a winning capacity for self-dramatisation. “As a boy,” he opines, “I used to weep in butcher shops!” The David Brent dance? The cowboy farting sequence in ‘Blazing Saddles’? Dave Chappelle as Rick James: “I’m Rick James, bitch!” Cartman. Gilda Radner. Bill Murray. The naked wrestle marathon in Borat. Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove. Bill Hicks. Stand-up great, Chris Pryor, doing the voice of his own near-fatal heart attack. Buster Keaton not even blinking as an entire front wall collapses over him? Jerry Lewis’ “Hey, Lady!”. Woody Allen cheating in his metaphysics exam by ‘looking into the soul of the boy sitting next to me’. A ravenous Charlie Chaplin turning a boot lace into linguini. Funny. Funny. Funny.

Funny is highly subjective. What’s funny to you is a window into your inner life. An x-ray of who you are. Some people have ‘funny bones’, they’re naturally funny. They’re as rare as a good, basic education is. But most of us are funny by reference, by recall. We simply pass along what was funny to us. If you do that well, the punchline becomes yours by association. Point is you can seem funny by immersing yourself in funny stuff. You can seem smart too by immersing yourself in smart stuff. Duh. Perfect skin and rock hard abs don’t hurt either. Happy hunting.

Illustration © Mike Scott. Check out more of his stuff here and here.

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