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12 September 2022

Comedic Timing


Karen has entered the cultural comical iconography. There’s no getting rid of her now, except to laugh at her. And laughter is the best medicine.


The best comedy is usually unplanned, unrehearsed, unexpected. A decade ago, The American People were not allowed to laugh at a president and his rather unusual ears. The laughter, consequently, went underground via snide, snarky commentary on websites. Smiling in secret has its advantages, but laughing out loud in public is by far the healthier choice!


I’ve not a clue as to where Karen will go, now that the truths about the covid-cult are coming out. She’ll doubtless still troll the hallways of your office, in search of more petty pompous opportunities to pull rank over you — or under you, since Karen is typically a low-grade grump, a code-enforcer of minor status who is fixated on the base and minor minutiae in the mundane world of business and/or politics.

What I do know is that the Karens of the world have always been with us, and shall always persist in our midst.


From the manufactured heat of hyped hysteria, she emerged, like a heat-seeking missile, ready to destroy any fun, any moment of pleasure, any chance for a moment of pleasure.


Spoiled Brat Mick Jagger and his Rolling Stones (whom I’ve long detested, without even knowing them personally) once moaned, “What a drag it is getting old.”


For Karen, it’s a bigger drag being young.


I came to know this type of “character” early in life, in my life. I can thus state that Karen is a character type not worth writing about, except in an essay like this one. My dear dear friend, literary assistant, and personal advocate of THE DAWN, schooled me in the sin of putting into posterity a worthless malcontent person through even minimal use of him as a fictional character.

This man was a supervisor, highly placed, for both her and Dear Husband. He was the male Karen, and though the masculine version has been given several names (Ken, Neil), the appellation KAREN reigns so supreme that I’ll call him XY-Karen.


When Dear Friend first met this sucking-the-air-of-the-room King-Boss, she asked,  “Who died and left him King?”


Probably no one died, but XY-Karen believed he was King. Of anything and everything around him. While Dear Husband suffered the narcissism of Big Boss XY-Karen in relative silence, I did not, and neither did Dear Friend.


I opined to her once that maybe I could write him into fiction, for purely therapeutic, cathartic purposes. Her response was fast, furious, and funny.


“Don’t you dare immortalize that jerk by basing any fictional character on him. I’ve never met anyone so worthless, so not there, so filled with nothing at all. If you ever write a character with even a small part of that ****, I shall never forgive you or talk to you again.”


And that was the end of that!

Karen thereby comes to the writing board as an example of comedic timing that was completely untimed and spontaneous. If there’s one thing that we Americans do well, it is to instinctively create lemonade out of lemons. Karen is the lemon in the human gene pool, a sour note in any song, a person born miserable, and ready to create misery for anyone in her midst, all throughout her miserable existence.


To some extent, she knows she’s a sourpuss, but doesn’t care. Everyone else is responsible for her misery: they’re happy at her expense.


Yada-yada-yada.


And, so, I think the best way to deal with The Universal Misanthrope is to immortalize her in comedy, though not in a mean-spirited way.


From seemingly out of the blue, but, in reality, from the drunk-as-a-sailor spending-spree depths of Gavinwille, Covid-Karen showed up on gigantic billboards, all up-and-down the California freeways during the winter of 2020. Her crow’s feet were etched more deeply into her sallow skin than are the cracks and potholes on I-80 that have yet to be Cal-transed into driving condition.

My own personal experience with this ghastly ghoul who stalks joy 24/7 started young, during my childhood. One of them, no, several of them, well, to be most honest, most of them were my grammar school teachers in Prospect Park, New Jersey.


That little Dutch town of my girlhood was populated with Karens. My 7th-grade teacher was among the most oppressive of them all. Tall, lanky, thin, gray-haired, sniveling, sometimes with her long nose, she and I did not get along. I, who got straight-As in her class, had learned by that tender age to at least try to stifle my dislike of someone who was truly dislike-able.


But, as Dear Daughter has always informed me: “It shows in your eyes, Mom.”


I was selected to play the part of Elspeth in the 7th grade end-of-the-school-year play. Back in those days, the Schoolmarm chose who would perform the roles in the school play; there was no auditioning. I’d performed quite capably in the 3rd-grade theatrical work, “The Lost Toys”, as Janey to the only other character, Jimsy. The opening line of this one-acter was:


“Ho-hum, when will he come?”

Santa was evidently late in arriving that Christmas Eve. I was told that I uttered the line with utter dead-pan aplomb!


This 7th-grade production was also a one-act play, but it was to be a serious affair:


a dramatic historical mounting of the early days of the Revolutionary War in northern northern New Jersey.


This region did, indeed, in historical fact, serve as the trampling grounds for many a bloody battle in the fight for freedom from a tyrant King. The retreat of George Washington during 1776 through the fields and swamps of the northern part of New Jersey took up a lot of real estate. Retreating through those farm-lands, fields, and meadow-lands was also accomplished by British General Clinton. I myself took several of my own retreats through that state, though without an army to lead or support me.


My character, Elspeth, was the barmaid in one of those taverns, colonial watering holes that are now part of The Register of Historic Places, all profitably preserved with mucho public funding in the Garden State.

The costuming was to be provided by the dramatis personae, the five children in this play. The several boys fashioned their own tricornes; they also provided the pewter tankard mugs for the beer-and-cheer portion of the action. Methinks their fathers sacrificed a night or two of imbibing for the cause of small-town drama.


The two girls in this play were myself and a classmate portraying, respectively, a barmaid, and a patron, or patroness. My classmatey somehow was allowed to sit amongst the colonial boys at a table in a roadhouse, during an era when a woman did not enter a gin mill to become a barfly. We’d wear long skirts and frilly white blouses, but we were stumped as to our headwear. I then provided the inventive answer.


I purchased from the Sears catalog the matching granny caps for the granny gowns that I so cherished as my after-school wardrobe during those brief, dark winter afternoons, after-school, and nights, to accomplish my reading of sundry books, all of them non-fiction.


The two caps arrived, just in time for the performance, but not for any usage during the rehearsals. And there were many rehearsals before that mid-June, hot and humid, evening spectacle. Getting the English accents right was of particular concern (or obsession) for Mrs. Schoolmarm. I, or my voice, seemed to pose a big problem to her:

“Your accent is still not English enough. It sounds Irish.”


“And what is wrong with that?” I asked.


After half a dozen tries to English-ize my brogue, the Irish, or, more accurately, the Scots-Irish in me, only became more pronounced! Schoolmarm Karen finally gave up.


The night of the performance, We, the Children, were engaged in a lively romp through our lines. The colonial white caps looked terrific on me and my pub-matey, until the elasticized bands began to stretch, and did not retract to their previous shape. The colonial caps slid down onto our foreheads. While my gal-pal peer on-stage pushed hers back onto her hair, I, as Elspeth (a leader not a follower), hesitated and did not re-position my cap.


The audience began to titter, then giggle.


The boys took their steins of pretend-ale and clanked a cheer, then clanked another cheer, then a third time, and a fourth, until the metallic clinks and throaty male sounds of raising jubilation, and clanking-cain, filled the auditorium. I continued as the straight man, or girl, with the granny cap almost covering my eyes.


The audience burst out in peals of laughter.


Our historical enactment of sober subject turned into a comedy of colonial farce!

The next day, in the classroom, Schoolmarm Karen was very much put out with me. I was supposed to have been the steadying hand, the calming influence, the conscience amongst my puckish peers, the “no” to squelch their naughtiness. I said nothing, but I am sure my feelings and thoughts showed in my eyes:


Lighten up.


I guess you could say that I had a sense of comedic timing, down-pat, by the age of thirteen!


When the time, comedic and otherwise, came for me to come up with a name for the heartless wench in THE GHOST, the appellation, Elspeth, immediately came to mind. My dear friend read the draft with hilarity and amazement. She found the character of Elspeth to be A Classic. However did I devise this one??


I explained the story of the 7th-grade play to her.


“Even then,” she said, “You knew how to stage and set a scene.”


I must nonetheless grant credit to that granny cap, which I would later learn is a French Revolutionary mob cap. And I give many thanks to my peers who saw a ripe moment and made rich humour out of it. Me, I just played along on that stage!