Noted theater critic and writer Laurie Stone told a joke she said she stole from funnyman Mel Brooks at a Pierson College Master’s Tea Wednesday. “Tragedy is when I have a hangnail,” she said, “and comedy is when you fall off a cliff and die.”
A long time critic for the Village Voice and The Nation, Stone has also published several fiction and nonfiction books. At the tea, she discussed comedic theory and her experience as a writer. She also read from three of her short essays.
Stone began her presentation with a discussion about the nature of subversive comedy — a style that plays an integral role in her own work. Subversive comedy is not inspirational, she said.
Through repetition, tragedy becomes comical, she said.
“Subversive comedy knows what tragedy knows but isn’t shocked by it,” Stone said.
Stone also explored the relationship of comedy and tragedy.
“How does atrocity sit in the space where comedy happens?” she asked.
Specifically, Stone pointed to what she said were “really funny jokes on the Internet” immediately after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Stone said she tries to write comedy that has “ruefulness and mourning.” It is important to connect the writer’s vulnerability with the reader’s, she said.
After discussing comedy and tragedy, Stone read from a personal narrative called “Youth’s Body.” The essay explores her relationship with her aging, once-beautiful mother — a relationship Stone calls “combative and tempestuous.”
Stone then read from another personal narrative called “The Ohio Experiment.” In it, Stone describes herself as an artist in residence for three months in Ohio, which she wrote was the perfect time to reinvent herself.
In her introduction to the essay, Stone said she decided in Ohio “not — to be critical of anything.”
“[But] I fail miserably,” she said.
After sharing her personal narratives, Stone read from a short story about a female theater director who is involved with two men — both of them emotionally unavailable, one about to be married. The story delves into the complexities of the male-female relationship.
“Men and women are at war,” a character named Ben says in the story. “That is what sex is.”
Stone took time for questions and reflected upon her experience as a writer — specifically addressing what she thinks it means to be a writer of comedy.
In response to a question about the importance of life experience in writing, Stone said, “It’s all how you tell it.”
“Someone can make incest in the family really boring and a paper cut really interesting,” she said.
Students said they appreciated Stone’s insights into her life as a writer.
“I really appreciated her candor and humor, and I found her very smart and engaging,” Lisa Gross ’04 said.
Zoe Kazan ’05 said though she “[doesn’t] know much about comedy,” she enjoyed Stone’s discussion of her trade. Kazan said Stone “bridges [comedy and seriousness] nicely.”
Stone is the author of “Starting with Serge,” “Close to the Bone: Memoirs of Hurt, Rage and Desire,” and “Laughing in the Dark: A Decade of Subversive Comedy.”
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