Patton Oswalt & The King and the Clown

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               I’ve changed the movie so many times for Patton.  Once when I was deliriously sleepy I considered the perfection of comparing him to his favourite film the Princess Bride.  Not quite Korean.  I bought (stole) many stand-up routines that I didn’t already have.  I bought books on tape and I bought and borrowed new and used books during this strange journey.  When Spaceship Zombie Wasteland came out I had to purchase it.  I can’t just read in Borders or Barnes and Noble like so many people.  I like my little library of comedian books.  I don’t fit into one category, though the concept is as brilliant as a sparkling slice of sky cake.  Horror and Science-Fictional writers leave the world (Spaceship), simplify the world (Zombie) or destroy the world (Republicans).

                Gong-gil (Lee Jun-ki) and Jang-sang (Kam Woo-sung) just want to entertain the world.  They’re puppeteers, actors, tightrope walkers and jesters, but there is a problem.  Gong-gil appears more feminine and beautiful than some women and powerful men want to steal him away.  Considering the subject the King and the Clown was a real triumph, breaking the record in Korea for the highest grossing film.  The director Lee Jun-ik (Once Upon A Time In A Battlefield, A Happy Life, Radio Star) shouldn’t be confused with his star.   

              Patton starred in Pixar’s film Ratatouille in 2007 joining Pixar’s voice talent with fellow comedians like Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Tim Allen, Billy Crystal, Eddie Izzard and Daniel Whitney.  He’s been everywhere and done everything though.  He’s been a bridge troll, been to KFC and even released some albums that are incredibly hard for me to find.  I connect with him a lot being an R.E.M. fan.  Fables of the Reconstruction of the Fables of the Reconstruction of the Fables of the (stop me) was an amazing album.  I got into R.E.M. a bit late and I lean toward Lifes Rich Pageant.  I like that as I wrote KOCO (see cover) and read SZW Patton was connecting the Michael Stipe lyrics to his life.  We’re dedicated to what we love.

               Jang-sang has committed a murder to protect Gong-gil from being prostituted.  We’re never quite sure if his feelings go further than that.  The movie (also called the King’s Man) itself walks a tightrope.  The subject matter is not blatant nor is it hinted.  It was enough for China to ban it with Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain though.  Personally I think banning things is gay.  They should knock it off.

               The two clowns end up in Seoul (16th century) getting into trouble satirizing the King.  Soon to be executed they beg for the King to see their show.  No royal laughs and they’ll accept their fate.

               Though Patton has been on primetime shows, his comedy is more aimed at college crowds or at least his own peer group.  His jokes flip back and forth from pop culture to higher brow to geek.  He wowed me with a piece about Anne Frank where he goes into the historic house not knowing he has to pay.  He hides and starts a diary.  I mentioned sky cake before because it’s perfect.  Patton does various pieces about religion, but here he explains the purpose and need of religion and why he likes it, even as a “stone-cold atheist”.  The violent ruled the world, but with some kind of moral code and eternity dessert, humans could create civilization.  I was a little angry because I’ve explained the same concept to friends in the past but  seriously … sky cake.  The title is deserved of a band.  I just joined the Benevolent Church of Sky Cake.  I think I’ve gone too far.

               It isn’t long before the King becomes enamored with Gong-gil.  He has the clown perform for him privately and has the other performers make satires of treasonous acts, resulting in fear and murder.  As more and more truth is revealed no one is safe.

               Is it better to live a blissful life?  Is it better to mask depression with drugs?  Is it best to fall in line?  Some comedians simply entertain.  Some comedians hold up mirrors to themselves, some to society.  Patton has a beautiful moment where he expresses no mourning for the end of the worst President we’ve ever had, as if a good leader would destroy any comic.  Now where will I get material?  I’m reminded of the towers falling.  Will anything be funny again?  I wondered where I should move when people acted like that.

Jang-sang is imprisoned twice and mutilated for his feelings toward Gong-gil.  Gong-gil attempts suicide.  In the end they both find themselves on a tightrope with a speech amidst  the chaos that brings smiles to the audience.  They want to be clowns even in the next life.

               I’ve mentioned the tightrope that some comedians walk with low and high-brow humor.  Meaningful and silly.  Referencing and satire.  Shock and subtly.  Patton puts the others in awe with confidence and depression.  With charisma and geek.  I hope to watch the Princess Bride with him someday.  I have the Buttercup version too.  I think the first book I ever wrote breaks down as Zombie (simplifying), with elements of Spaceship (the role-playing adventures) and then Wasteland (killing the characters off one by one).  What are you?



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               As I child I loved Steve Martin, the man in white with an arrow through his head.  As I grew older I felt he followed the path of Eddie Murphy (they would even work together in Bowfinger).  He was this energetic, hilarious guy on television, movies and records who, as he aged, became something else.  He began making watered-down family entertainment.  Maybe that’s what everyone does.  I felt like I was his audience though.  Shouldn’t he care what I want?  Writing this book I decided to give every comedian a real chance.  I listened to him read Born Standing Up with hope.

               The Customer is Always Right begins with an awkward scene of a chubby older man named Ahn Chang-jin and a schoolgirl.  The saying “The Customer is Always Right” gets a lot of visual ridicule throughout the film.  I have always had a problem with it.  I understand it.  There is no successful business without the customer, but a line may be crossed.  Sung Ju-ru plays Chang-jin, a barber.  The schoolgirl he’s with is prostituting herself, but he’s never going to get that far.  She runs away with Chang-jin’s money.  It’s a strange beginning as the barber believes his life is perfect.  He’s a perfectionist at his trade and has a wonderful wife, seemingly.  A gangster played by Myung Gye-nam is about to change his life forever and put the philosophy of the film’s title to the test.

               Steve Martin was a comedian before comedy clubs existed.  He focused his lack of commercial talents into an avant-garde act.  Rick Moranis called it anti-comedy.  Though I started out feeling a distance between us, I felt pulled in while Steve Martin read his own exquisite words recalling his epic life.  Steve studied comedy and broke down what he should and shouldn’t do.  And he often did both.  I started to realize that he was two people, the man and the man on stage.

               The Customer is Always Right feels like a stage play.  The shots aren’t boring, they are the creativity that comes from being in a box.  Kang Yang-gil (Gye-nam) has come in for a shave and some money.  He’s witnessed a hit and run.  It was the barber’s car.  He’s not happy with just one visit either, he’s going to make many.  Paying for his shave and then making the barber pay for his mistake.  He’s going to take whatever he wants.  Even the barber’s wife.

               There is a certain woman I’d love to talk about right at this moment.  Ellen DeGeneres probably has an idea of who I’m talking about as well.  I will not mention her name though.  She was such a crazy liar she had to write two books about it.  Sympathy for Mr. Martin and Sympathy for Mrs. DeGeneres.  Moving on.

               When Chang-jin tries to stand up for himself there is a frightening scene where he is slapped and slapped and slapped like he was an incompetent gangster.  He’s slapped until there is a red face and tears.  The anger melts to the whimpers of a child.  There is no way out of this hell.  One mistake that he’ll literally pay for forever.  The scene is not uncommon and a detective is hired to slowly unravel the real identity of Myung Gye-nam.  At this point in the film, you may also begin to put the clues together.

               Every comedian starts out with heroes and looking for identities.  Before his joyous happy feet and the surreal thoughts surrounding “getting small” Steven Martin was a magician.  He was an intellectual magician, an intellectual comedian, an intellectual writer and actor.  He was breaking the whole process down.  What works, what doesn’t.  Becoming what needed to be.  I fear writing this, I’ve written for so long and Steve’s words bury me.  Some author’s large vocabularies come from expensive editors and an explosion of thesaurus use.  With Steve, it’s real.  I’ve felt him becoming his old self as he quoted his own jokes and I see things differently.

               Myung Gye-nam is playing himself.  I will never forget him because of this film.  He often plays a small role and is in many gangster films.  His daughter has been hit by the barber’s car.  It has nothing to do with the prostitute at all, in fact, the barber’s wife was behind the hit and run. Gye-nam only wants insurance money that will come from his death.  He plays his final role in real life attempting to drive a man into homicidal madness.  He needs an accident for the insurance to pay off, maybe a slip of the razor.  That will pay for what his daughter needs.  In the end, Chang-jin rescues his sign and places back on the wall, The Customer is Always Right.

               Steve Martin is a wonderful writer.  Considering all he’s done in the entertainment industry there is nothing to not be proud of.  If he’s doing what he wants and he’s happy now, it matters little what you or I think.  I can always go back and watch or listen to what I enjoy.  I can watch The Jerk.  I can understand the past, present and future of Mr. Martin on a new level.  The only person that is right is the person who is harming no one and is happy inside.  I can do my own happy feet if I need to … and I think … I … will!

Janeane Garofalo & The Road Taken

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               Janeane speaks with a huge vocabulary.  She’s one of the most serious comedians you’ll experience.  She’ll jump from speaking about important social issues to apologizing for how people may perceive her.  I first saw her on Comedy Central.  She was young.  She was taking about being on the phone with a parent and the parent wanting the noise in the background to be turned down.  It was R.E.M.  She finds this strange and ironic, not thinking of R.E.M. as a loud band.  Later in her life she speaks of leaving another alternative band’s show, Weezer, because it was too loud.  She repeats, too loud, for comic effect.  Her life is a circular joke.

               Kim Sun-myung’s (Kim Joong-ki) life was more serious.  He was a North Korean soldier, imprisoned for 44 years.  The original title of the film is The Choice.  Sun-myung could have left the prison and avoided over four decades of mistreatment.  His communist beliefs were the only things the South Koreans (and the U.S.) wanted him to denounce.  They’re still calling people socialists today.  I even call myself a socialist.  It’s good to be in my country at this time.  Not everyone is this lucky.

               Janeane calls herself a peace activist, an atheist and she’s very vocal in the liberal movement.  Rarely are comedians non-vocal.  Poor mimes.  Well anyway, she is one of my first favorites.  Her insecurities seem to not get in the way of her getting on stage and being in many successful television shows & films even though her father’s skull is trapped in a bowling ball.

               We stay in the cell with Kim Sun-myung and his friends.  I enjoy the film because of its rarity.  North Korean are usually not portrayed correctly, or just found in spy and war films.  They were and are people with lives and dreams, not faceless enemies being shot or sliced with swords.  They each get pulled out one by one, once in a while for a chance to change their thoughts and be free.  How can you be free if you’ve been forced to change your thoughts?

               Opinions aside I want to take a second to talk about Bathroom Monkey.  Wait, no, though that was hilarious, my favorite non-stand-up performance came from Janeane in Sweethearts.  A film for people who don’t need happy endings, it starred fellow stand-ups Bobcat Goldthwait and Margaret Cho.  It’s about a romantic night for a suicidal woman.  My lungs kind of give out as I watch the end, as the sun rises.  Of course no one pays attention to a piece of art like this.  Much better than any dog-pulled roller skates role.  Janeane doesn’t take acclaim as well as others though, so I’ll cut this essay short. 

               Kim Sun-myung watched many North Koreans come and go in his 44 years, as one would expect.  He never threw his ideals away though.  People were beaten over and over.  People died in prison, but it didn’t deter him.  He listened as unification seemed a possibility and then faded away. 

               He was finally released back to North Korea in the late 90’s after amnesty international put some light on him as the longest-serving political prisoner in the entire world.  In the late 90’s films like this probably would not have been made in South Korea.  A few years later it was made, nothing censored.  Times change when voices unite.  So if you really want a world full of hate and war, please keep voting for it, or not at all.  Until then peace activists like Janeane will speak loudly, without the big stick.  Maybe you’ll need us one day when all the guns and bombs don’t work.