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George Condo. “The comedian”.

“To produce the whole of its effect, then, the comic demands
something like a momentary anesthesia of the heart.”

Henri Bergson.

“A mother decorates the Christmas tree in May,” recites the fat policeman with onion-smelled breath.
He pauses dramatically, looks away from the reading screen for a moment, and casts over him a cheap-movie piercing glance across the table. The couple of officers standing beside the man remain still, hardly breathing, vastly serious.  Not even he does feel like breathing the oppressive and suffocating air of that narrow interrogation room.
“His little son comes to her and asks”, continues the fat policeman, unperturbed, “Mom, why are you decorating the Christmas tree in May?”
Another pause, even more dramatic than the last one. For a second, the eyes of the policeman seem to liquefy at the smooth light of the screen. The corner of his mouth twists imperceptibly, before finishing:
“The mother answers: ‘And with the damn huge cancer you have, do you really think you could reach December?’ ”
The silence coming upon immediately after is so dense that even the tiniest thought becomes audible. The effort of the two officers for hiding the fit of laugher charges the atmosphere, outlining an incipient tremor in their cheeks, a sudden tension of uncontrolled spasms in their belly, and a subtle nasal gasping. The fat, onion-smelled breath policeman, on the contrary, holds a countenance of surly severity, almost stoic. The only thing betraying him is the tiny tremor that lingers clinging to the corner of his mouth, and certain look of veiled funniness in the accusing eyes staring at him. Without blinking, the man asks:
“Is this the sort of material you use in your routines, mister…,” he revises the content of the folder open on the table, spelling out: “Mike…?”
“Litoris,” he answers apace, unaware of the huge mistake he just made.
“Mike Litoris,” ends the fat policeman.
Too late. A second later, the face of the fat policeman is dyed of a raging garnet, sweeping out his undaunted and cynical countenance at a stroke. He feels how the eyes of the policeman stab him across the table, as two incandescent and slayer daggers, as one of the officers makes an acute groan of almost painful laughter ―eyes glued on the ground, and the other one convulses silently with his head sunk into his shoulders.
The sudden punches that the fat policeman inflicts on the stomach of his partners, makes him give a start of panic. The blows rumble in the depressing hollowness of the cold room, same as the whines of the officers leaning pitifully among spasms of chuckles and pain.
“That is my artistic name,” he stammers in a rush. “It´s not the first name I gave them,” he explains, looking at the officers helplessly. “I gave them my name first and then they asked me…”
“Maybe they got confused in the reception,” hurries to gabble one of the officers, in a barely perceptible thread of voice. “It’s just they had a lot of work registering cases and…”
The officer stops abruptly before the fist of the fat policeman closing sharply in the air. Now the fat onion man focuses his whole aversion directly on him, who starts to sweat profusely through every single pore of his body.
“Do you understand the seriousness of using this kind of material in your routines, mister Whateveryournameis?”
“Yes,” he wheezes, shaking spasmodically his head.
He understands in a perfect clearness, as the whole underworld where still remained the comedy that laughed yet about defects, misfortunes, colors and forms. The comedy banned since decades ago for attempting against the laws of decorum, good feelings and human rights. Even the jokes regarded as naive and white in another time, could put you in a serious legal trouble, if someone decided that they had some discriminatory or disrespectable element towards persons, communities and living beings on the whole, or just they guessed an incitement to some behaviors considered not very humanitarian. In fact, call them white jokes meant risking a sizeable fine already, if you didn’t pay enough attention. Not mentioning the jokes openly derisory and cruel, those ones were enough to earn a life sentence in Azkaban, as a Harry Potter’s mad character would say, if the potterian universe wasn’t equally questioned in several countries almost for the same reasons.
“Do you know how many laws, anti-discriminatory regulations, of rights and of public defamation breaks the content of this folder?”
The policeman drops his fat hand (probably stinking of onion too) on the bulky folder, sized with the whole material he was carrying at the moment of the raid and the arrest.
“Yes,” he mutters again, giving a second start.
Every law passed by these lands, enacted and hardened through the last thirty years, against every expression that could be interpreted as offensive in any form towards any individual or reality. So severe and hardened that had ended by get rid of the comedy as such from every public sphere. Inane jokes, faded routines that seemed more like a sad pantomime, had replaced the classic comedy, that one that used to laugh about everything and everyone in varying degrees. Because that’s what comedy was about, according to his understanding, laughing at some other, and that laugh implied mockery, inevitably. Impossible to purge it from its essence, no matter how much they try to whiten it. Even the most innocent joke lacked of innocence when it came to comedy. That is why it was dangerous. That is why an excessive zeal of promoting the deepest human compassion, no matter how well-intentioned it was, had turned it into an object of conviction and prosecutions, had forced it to descend until cellars and dark places, until hidden slums, where the need of laughing at others made a crowd night after night, at the edge of crime itself, what probably brought an extra touch of adrenalin to the whole thing.
“And you probably know about the procedure that the laws command at this point,” continues the fat policeman, going over the papers on his desk with a ridiculous calmness. “Because I can see this is not your first offense…”
No, it was not. And yes, he knew the procedure perfectly, both the legal one and the alternative one, announced by his inquisitor with a loud throat clearing to unblock his chest and barfing a gross whiff of onion, before giving course to a ritual already known: a kind speech about the importance of respecting laws; a generous, understanding attitude; to finally going for a smiling extortion, where the freedom was offered to him in exchange of keeping the whole comical material sized, which would be probably used to liven up days and nights of boredom in that dim, prison pigsty, if it was not offered to the highest bidder among the sized ones themselves.
When he stamps the last signature in the last document that sets him free, both of a very long time in jail and of the folder containing the ultimate comical material collected, the darkness of the dawning has started to decline faintly, and the shapes of the city cast that unreal tone of vague limbo, before the first colors in the world are defined. Or maybe it was just him, projecting himself upon a mono-tonal world, lacking of the liveliness and joy that once took it out its frame.
He closes his eyes and breathes in. At last, a bit of clean air, free of confinements and sickening fumes. He lifts the collar of his jacket to deal with the cold breeze of that hour, and walks the street down, thinking about a contact to find a new clandestine den where he can offer his work; looking for a new address not marked by the police where he can stay; and collecting more comical material to rehearse…
“A boy complains to his mother,” he starts, barely aware of what he is doing: “ ‘Mom, I don’t want to go to Europe’. The mother answers: ‘Shut up and keep swimming! ‘ ”
He lets out a brief laugh, rejoicing in his own bad joke, as a good comedian. The laughter bounces, resounding, stretching its echo through the empty streets, and he looks around, uneasy. Nobody here, nobody there. He sighs relieved and keeps on his route, walking into the grayness, into the verge of a dawn that seems delaying in its willing to come back.