“Through me the way to the suffering city; Through me the everlasting pain; Through me the way that runs among the Lost. Justice urged on my exalted Creator: Divine Power made me, The Supreme Wisdom and the Primal Love. Nothing was made before me but eternal things And I endure eternally. Abandon all hope – Ye Who Enter Here.”

A Confederacy of Dunces and the Problem of Adaptation

Ed. Note – I realize most of you could give two craps about this topic. Mail them to me.

Being in the pro bono humor writing business can be a challenge. Getting someone to physically laugh at something they read is a difficult prospect. The most I hope for on any given post is that you, Dear Reader, smile faintly and think to yourself, “That’s funny.” I recently finished reading A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole and have to be in awe at a work of text that got me to laugh out loud several times. The book is a Pulitzer Prize winner and is widely lauded as one of the most important, and overlooked, works of American fiction in the last century. Of course it has garnered lots of attention from Hollywood even though

production seems to be doomed. However, I feel like it is ultimately better to keep it off the screen. So many other great books (Atlas Shrugged, The Watchman, Dune, etc.) have tried to make the jump and failed. I don’t want Confederacy to fall into the same category of those massive Big-Screen busts.

One reason Confederacy will have trouble translating is that the humor in the book is very language-based. The author uses the main character’s (Ignatius J. Reilly) personal journals as a big source for laughs. The reader gets to analyze Ignatius’ long written diatribes against society, an aspect that would almost definitely not translate to big laughs in a movie script. Sitting through a 7 minute voiceover scene would be painful, no matter how great the content.

Another reason that a movie just wouldn’t work is that the novel’s plot isn’t a like most critically acclaimed Hollywood movies. Toy Story 3, for example, was an absolute roller coaster. Every single word uttered by every single character serves to drive the plot forward, up and down. There is not one single scrap of fat or filler in that movie. That’s why it was so good. Confederacy’s plot on the other hand is less like a roller coaster and more like a meandering, drunken bicycle ride through the French Quarter of New Orleans. There are many frivolous distractions that serve no purpose other than to paint Ignatius in an even more ridiculous light. In my opinion, some of the funniest scenes in the book have absolutely nothing to do with the plot whatsoever.

I want to see Confederacy succeed. I just think that it’s precisely the type of literary style that can’t be adapted to the screen. A funny book will never be as good as a funny movie.

The reason that a funny movie or audio track elicits a bigger laugh is because the sensory work is already done for you. When you’re watching Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, you don’t need to imagine what Jim Carey would look like talking with his butt. It’s there. When you listen to Chris Rock’s Bring the Pain album, you don’t need to imagine the inflection in his voice. It’s there. The path to humor is already laid out. These types of media will always dominate the “Big Laugh” category. Reading requires extra mental energy. That allocation of focus makes the path to laughter more arduous so the reaction isn’t as big. Here is an example. Please select the option that makes you laugh hardest.

1) Little Andy toddled through the garden. He knew that silly kitty was out there somewhere. Andy waddled around the bush and his face was suddenly struck by a furry meat sack. He glanced at the sky as he tried to right himself and he heard the padded thumps of that silly kitty’s feet scurry off in the distance.


In closing, this entire post is to serve the purpose of informing you, Dear Reader, that I read a book. Aren’t you impressed?

United Engineers Unveil Crash-Proof Aircraft Prototype

United's New "Crash-Proof" UAL 7500 S

Atlanta, GA  – Engineers at United have completed the construction of what the company is a calling “the world’s safest airplane.”  It is a landmark innovation for the beleaguered carrier, which reported a net loss of $325 million in Q4. 

“We believe that this new prototype will revolutionize the flight industry and put United Airlines back at the top an industry leader,” said Jeff Smisek President and CEO.  Smisek is still sensitive about revealing the actual design secrets until the patents clear, however he was able to share a broad overview of the safety enhancing features of the new UAL 7500 S prototype.

“Basically our engineers looked at the material used to construct the outside paneling of the plane,” Smiskek explained.  “Instead of using aluminum, the design team used the same material that we use for the black box.”

The relatively simple and intuitive idea was born out of a team-building exercise that United’s top-engineers attended one Wednesday night.  They went to a Comedy open mic at Brewsky’s pub.  “There was one comic who was talking about Viagra side-effects and how women are always shopping,” recalls project manager Vishtan Kallistak.  “Then he eventually moved into some interesting discussion about airplane construction.  He said, ‘If the black box is the only thing that survives a plane crash, why don’t they just make the whole damn thing out of the black box?”

With that, the United design team rushed back to their office and immediately began drawing up plans.  8 months later, the company is ready to reveal the first ever crash-proof airplane.

“We’ve contacted the comedian and signed him to a lucrative consulting contract,” Smisek says.  “We think with his assistance, we will become the number one aircraft service carrier in the world.  He has already offered some interesting insights on the quality of airline food. ”

Boba Fett: Imperial Employee or Independent Contractor?

“I want to use the gym at the Death Star!”

Many times organizations will face challenges for which they are not prepared. Perhaps they don’t have the skill set in-house to complete an assignment. Current employees aren’t trained to effectively execute a specific directive. Maybe it’s just a matter of pure manpower. There aren’t enough associates to physically complete the task. This creates a need for organizations to develop flexible staffing models in order to react quickly to new challenges.

Organizations can sometimes make do with existing resources. They can train current employees, which can be both time-consuming and expensive. They can hire a new full-time employee that specializes in whatever skill set they seek. However, hiring a full-time employee for a short assignment doesn’t make sense for the organization in the long run. If they are looking to bridge a brief gap in skill sets for a finite amount of time, then organizations will often hire independent contractors.

The Galactic Empire faced a great challenge after the escape of the Rebel vessel, the Millennium Falcon. Site manager Darth Vader attempted, on numerous occasions, to capture Han Solo & Princess Leia (et al) with little success. This was not an issue of manpower or resources. The Galactic Empire had a massive fleet of starships, a moon-sized “Death Star”, and approximately 17 billion cloned “Storm Troopers.” After doing a gap analysis, in which management defined the skills needed for a future project and the skills that the organization had at the time, Mr. Vader decided that the Empire required outside assistance. They needed someone who could operate outside the rigid framework of Imperial job descriptions, someone with a certain array of special weapons and tracking devices that could assist them in achieving the objective of capturing the Rebel figure heads.

Mr. Vader contacted his Head of Human Resources, Balton VanRhssk, who recommend they outsource the function of recruiting of a bounty hunter to Jabba the Hut, an amorphous blob from the planet Tattooine. Jabba recommended a number of reputable bounty hunters: I-88, Bossk, Dengar and Boba Fett. All of these qualified applicants were brought in for a “group interview” with Mr. Vader. After their interview was complete and it was verified that their B23-1-14 Imperial Peace Keeping Permits were in good standing, Mr. Vader selected Boba Fett as the most qualified applicant for the assignment.

“Tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult team member.”

The question facing Mr. Vader and Mr. VanRhssk was how to categorize Boba Fett’s employment status with the Empire? Ideally, they would prefer to categorize Boba Fett as an independent contractor, alleviating the Empire’s responsibility to pay certain taxes and health benefits. Given the dangerous nature of a Bounty Hunter’s work, it was doubtful that the Empire would want to be liable for any catastrophic injury that might befall Boba Fett during his assignment.

Independent Contractors are self-employed individuals hired on a contract basis for short-term, specialty assignments. They usually have a high amount of discretion in the manner in which they go about completing their assignment. There are a number of widely accepted criteria that help determine if a worker is an Independent Contractor or an employee.

1) If the worker supplies his or her own equipment, materials and tools.

  • The Empire did not initially provide any equipment to Boba Fett. He came readily equipped with his own blaster, Mandalorian body armor, and starship (Slave I). However, later in employment the Empire did provide Boba with the use of a Carbonite freezing chamber to complete his work.

2) If the worker can be discharged at any time.

  • The hiring of Boba Fett was intended to act only as a supplement to the Empire’s initiative to capture Han Solo, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker. Therefore, on the off-chance that Imperial Stormtroopers would capture them during the course of normal operations, the objective would be completed and Boba Fett’s employment would be summarily terminated.

3) If the worker controls the hours of employment.

  • Boba Fett was given the autonomy to work as he saw fit. He was not required by Mr. Vader to report to work at any certain time, nor was he required to clock in or out.

4) Does the employee solely rely on the employer for a steady income?

  • The Empire was not Boba’s only source of income. He had several other active death-contracts at the time with Jabba the Hutt.

In this case Mr. Vader and Mr. VanRhssk correctly categorized Boba Fett as an independent contractor and not an employee of the Empire. This turned out to be an important decision later on. During the staged execution of Han Solo, Boba was knocked into a Sarlaac Pit and injured. Boba attempted to sue the Empire for medical benefits after he escaped, claiming he was technically an employee, but a Circuit Court Judge threw the case out based on lack of merit. The Empire’s lawyers were able to provide an adequate defense that Boba met all the conditions required by law to be considered an independent contractor and not an employee of the Empire.

Steve Byrne and the Pittsburgh Takeover

Yet another home-grown comedian has made an enormous stride. Comedian Steve Byrne has just landed his own show on TBS called “Sullivan and Son.” The first run of the show will be about 10 episodes long and will be set in Pittsburgh. Finally, we can hear classically trained actors attempt speak Yinzer and expose the flaws in their research.

Steve is originally from Pittsburgh’s North side (technically Hampton) but he’s been a nationally touring comedian for a long time now. I’ve been lucky enough to work with him on at least one occasion. One Saturday night, probably 4 years ago, Terry Jones and I stopped in to see his show. We were on our way to a crap bar gig and introduced ourselves after he had finished up his set. Steve said we should come down on Saturday just to do a quick guest set. So we did. It was one of the first times that I truly felt a little part of the broader community of stand-up comedians. You could tell he was trying to pay forward some favor that had probably been done for him when he was starting out. He also gave us a copy of his DVD 13 or Bust, which basically follows Steve’s one night journey to play all thirteen of the comedy clubs in NYC in one night. It is truly one of the unheralded inspirational comedy documentaries.

This is all to say that with Steve Byrne, Billy Gardell and Anthony Jeselnik all gaining national attention it’s becoming abundantly apparent: people are buying whatever we’re selling. I know that just because every one of those comics is from Pittsburgh doesn’t necessarily mean that there qualities are identical. But there is a common thread.

Check out the interview Steve did with WDVE today. CLICK HERE.