ComPost Live with Alexandra Petri

May 21, 2013

Join us next Tuesday to laugh, cry, and dish about the moments that amused you, shocked you, or caused you to yell things that frightened the other people on the subway.

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Happy Tuesday, all!

I am pleased to report that I did not come back from the O. Henry Punoff empty-handed this jeer! So, if you were on tenterhooks about it, you can get off of them! I tied for first in punniest of show (losing the clap-off the legendary Ben Ziek), made it all the way to the punslingers Final Four, and my fellow punsters were kind enough to give me the mmVP trophy. It has a giant turkey on it, and excited some comment on the plane! 

So, that's my news, on a lighter note. How are you all?

Just wanted to mention that the "Valley of Ashes" mentioned in "The Great Gatsby" was a real place, the Corona ash dump, where Flushing Meadows park is now. That was where all the ashes were hauled to in the days when people burned coal at home. It was cleaned up a decade later for the 1939 World's Fair. Here is a 1920s aerial photo: and a photo of a worker atop an ash pile there: (Granted, Fitzerald was surely getting some additional symbolic mileage out of the place, but it wasn't something he just made up out of nothing.)

Wow, good to know! Was it actually called The Valley of Ashes at the time? 

Did you have a pun time?

I had the best time! Now that I've actually managed to make it on to the podium, I've become completely insufferable! I'm going to bask on my laurel forever -- and my hardy, if I can find one -- yup, you could say I'm a real bask-it-case!

(screams wordlessly for several minutes)

If you would please put aside your high-brow literary references for a bit, what do you think of some bloke called Sebastian Faulks reviving Bertie Wooster and Jeeves. Is nothing sacred? St. Martin's Press, publisher of the new book “Jeeves and the Wedding Bells," calls it “comic work worthy of the master himself.” Somehow, I seriously doubt that! What do you think?



I understand that insofar as the joy of Jeeves/Wooster consists in the plot, you can replicate the hijinks and machinery endlessly, similar to cranking out more Bonds and more Holmeses, even. But for me, much as I love Plum's finely turned plots, and for many other Wodehouse aficionados as well, I think so much of the joy resides in the peculiar voice, and it is so, so hard to nail, that I quail a little at the prospect and wish Mr. Faulks would let I dare not wait up on I Wodehouse like the cat in the adage.

What think you of this piece? I have to object to certain generalizations in it as I have never ever seen a "manicured European parks patrolled on all sides by officious gendarmes, [but] you will not find any people inside." This casually offensive piece of bias makes the whole article suspect.

I wrote a whole response to it! My basic difficulty with it was I agreed with almost everything except the conclusion. 

I quail a LOT. "Scream for Jeeves" was a big disappointment to me. I thought a combo of H.P. Lovecraft and PGW would be great. The author got the HPL right but not the PGW.

PGW is almost impossible. As someone who reads a lot of him (reread "Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves" on the plane to Austin) and then sits down to write, what you wind up with is often a hideous pastiche that has the same syntax but lacks the lightness and humor. I read somewhere that he would just sit down with a Bartlett's Quotations open and consult it regularly, but it's all aboutBertie's peculiar base of reference, all his quotations and Scripture Prize bits of scripture and public school Latin snippets.

Mixed metaphor. You rest on your laurels. You bask in ... well, something else.

Fine, resting, resting. 

Enough fanfic. Please.

Yes, seriously! 

I'm not as attached to Austen as I am to Wodehouse, but hear hear. Enough Everything With/Without Vampires/Zombies/Seahorses. Leave that to the corners of the Internet where it is best practiced. 

This is a bad transition, but after the new Star Trek movie it's impossible not to draw the Spock/Jeeves comparison. They both communicate by infinitesimal flutters of the eyebrow and are fonts of useful information. The main difference is that Kirk is actually capable of functioning on his own, giving the Kirk and Spock duo enough steam to have space adventures, and the Wooster and Jeeves duo only enough steam to avoid matrimonial entanglements. 

There's a variant of this dynamic with the Sherlock Holmes and John Watson duo, where the Plucky But Less Fact-Heavy member of the duo is the sidekick instead of the Prime Mover. 

In fact, you can explain almost all famous pairs along these terms. Gene Roddenderry I think at some point said something about how it was Logos, Eros, and Thumos battling it out in multiple persons. 

Every time I read about this cat, I wonder what the adage in question was.

I don't know! It's not the cat who gets slammed in a doorway trying to decide whether to come in or not, is it? I read about one recently. Cats do do that. 

Reflected glory. That's what you bask in. Except it's your own glory. Oh, never mind.

An astute observation, sir or madam. 

Actually, I thought the image worked quite well. Basking on your (single) laurel - most amusing! Jes sayin.'

It's a smallish laurel with a turkey on it, which doesn't preclude a little basking.  

Why don't you apricate? Just wear lots of sunscreen.

A sound plan! 

I guess that's how apricots got that way!

just sounds a bit scratchy and otherwise uncomfortable (if a type of wreath or entire tree)

And if it's bad for you, think how it is for Daphne!

If Hillary becomes President, will a Marine hold her purse while she fishes for a cough drop? Does she get a female Marine to go in the bathroom with her?


Maybe it is because I haven't had breakfast, but I 

"Aunt calling aunt like mastodons bellowing across primeval swamps." Nobody can ever surpass that, and nobody should try.

"She gave him a look you could have poured on a waffle."

Bertie: What ho, is that Gussie? Is he one of the undead? Jeeves: I'm afraid he is sir. Bertie: I suppose we should make with a stake. Jeeves: Very good. sir. If I may suggest, over the heart is the traditional staking place.

I would participate.

For some reason I read this as "Pope." 

(screams wordlessly for several minutes) (yes, we are) Links (video or meatish) would be appreciated. thx

Oh, yes! Here's my punniest of show entry. 

When is the Post going to have a chat about Angelina Jolie's boobs? I would participate. Is that because you have something you need to get off your chest?

Too soon?

Oh ugh. that's the sort of thing that becomes really obvious. I can see the reviews now. "He thinks he has achieved PGWness, but it reads like he just sat down with Bartlett's..."

He strove for PG Wodehouse, but only achieved PG-13.

Or something. We've got time to workshop these, folks.

...which leads me to the incomparable pairing of Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry in the BBC adaptations. Which further leads me to the both of them in the last series of Blackadder with Rowan Atkinson, set in the French battlefields of World War I. It's perhaps the closest I've seen to the spirit of Wodehouse, while not actually being Wodehouse.

Yes! Blackadder! The World War I series really was the best. 

then you have to include Kipling. The Cat Who Walked by Himself. I guess that means no sidekick. But I'm sure there were sidekicks in Kipling. And upper class English public school tropes. I'm positive. (Also, I was in a play of that Kipling story when I was 10.) Also, we discussed The Cricket in Times Square on this chat recently. The cat and the mouse are definitely in buddy movie territory in that book.

I should look for the Cat book!

Can we think of other examples on the Buddy Spectrum? I'm sure TV tropes has a file on this...

OK, one can do this for a short paragraph, but few manage even that. IT's what fooled me into buying Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. The ads quoted one brilliant paragraph (Lady Catherine: "have all of your ninjas left you?" Elizabeth: "We never had any ninjas." Etc.) and I thought the whole book would be that good. It wasn't.

Yeah, that is usually the trouble. Anyone can produce one brilliant paragraph. It's the one after that, and after that, and after that.

"That's how dating works!" some jerk comes in and says at this point. 

Elizabeth Bennet : Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of Love. Mr. Darcy: Don’t try to frighten me with your sorceress ways, Miss Bennett. Your sad devotion to that ancient emotion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the rebels’ hidden fortress… Elizabeth Bennet: I find your lack of faith disturbing, sir.

I can't figure out how to remove the Euro signs, but I think they add a certain je ne sais quoi. 

Buddies are equals. Robert Culp always used to say that I Spy was responsible for reviving the Buddy genre.

I don't know, I think all sidekicks secretly consider themselves buddies. 

There's a great Onion article from a few years back saying Best Friends Each Secretly Think of Other As Sidekick which I think sums up this phenomenon nicely. 

See? This is brilliant. And unsustainable.

It burns twice as bright but half as long, as I think the fellow said. 

But it's really only one plot, isn't it? Someone needs to get dis-engaged to the wrong woman and/or engaged to the right one, while an imposter (or someone present under false pretenses) attempts to steal a pig (or rare pottery, embarrassing manuscript, French chef, Bobby helmet . . . ).

Your sad devotion to that ancient emotion has not helped you make your sister Lydia behave herself, or given you influence enough to keep your mother's mouth shut.


I thought it was squirrels who did that, trying to decide whether to run across streets, until they get run over.

Them too!

I enjoy "P&P&Zombies" because it didn't take itself that seriously and I knew the source material well. "A. Lincoln, Vampire Hunter" was waaaay too serious. However, the film version did introduce me to Benjamin Walker, who is attractive in a non-standard way.

And married to Mamie Gummer, Meryl Streep's daughter!

Yes. So what? Even Plum himself acknowledged this, in a joking letter to a friend about a critic's calling him on it.

And the golf stories have different plots... 

I think you mean plain old English boarding school tropes. Kipling did not set his school stories at Eton or Harrow. This is like people thinking that a Cockney accent is distinguished because it's British.

Precisely, sir or madam. 

It was before your time, Alexandra, but that show was my intro to PGW. Each week, the same actor and actress would play different characters ~ he was always a Mulliner. I just watched as they got in more and more trouble and then, with seconds to go, everything would work out. I found my jaw literally (yes) drop at one episode, it was so wonderful. The dvds are available.

This sounds delightful! I'm going to have to hunt it down!

Please don't verb "workshop."

Sorry, I'll noun it. 

When you're trying to figure out if your room isn't big enough to swing a cat, how does one hold the cat? By the front paws, which would make the radius smaller, or by the rear paws or by the tail, which would give a pretty large radius but probably annoy the cat the most. It's also probably the safest ~ there are no little pointy bits on the tail.

It's expressions like this and "There's more than one way to skin a cat" that makes me glad the idiom-makers have retreated back out of public life, since they seem really creepy. 

I guess the one in Nicholas Nickelby counts, but that was more slave labor camp than school, wasn't it?

"Look down! Look down!" whoops, mixing my Hefty Nineteenth Century novelists there

I love you, Ms Petri!

I endeavor to give satisfaction!

No, it doesn't. British public schools are what we call private schools. Like Choate or Phillips Exeter or Andover. Boarding schools are not necessarily "public schools," not by a long shot.

Yes, this is a good clarification. Public = Private. 

Wrong time frame. Dickens was a hundred years earlier than PGW. OK, well, not exactly, but.

Well, what's a century between friends?

"English public schools" are not "ordinary."

Indeed, sir.

No, John Alderton and Pauline Collins also played non-Mulliner characters from PGW's short stories; there were several golf ones, in fact. But this show (now available on DVD, thank heaven) was my intro to PGW, too.

(Underlines this title on list of Things To Investigate Further.)

when we can discuss PGW?

That about sums up the Compost chat...

I'm gong to read/reread me some PGW-this is great timing!!

Accept only the genuine article!

I am currently listening to a radio piece on the tornadoes by a BBC reporter named, I swear, Alastair Leafhead.

Ha! That's great. 

As much as I enjoy reading and rereading PGW's novels, I love reading some of his essays, short stories, odds and ends. I just discovered a free kindle e-book "A Wodehouse Miscellany Articles and Stories". Lots of fun. There are a lot of PGW works available as free e-books. Glad I got me a Kindle!

Now that's one upside I will grant you. 

I think his poetry is swell, too, but I have an acknowledged soft spot for doggerel. 

Richard Dawkins did a pretty good job in his Jeeves bit where Jeeves instructs the young master in the basics of Christianity.

It is a fairly ripping read, which I think it is in great part because he dispenses with description and cuts straight to the dialogue. The dialogue is easier to catch than the similes.

She doesn't yet know she just picked up a lifetime of reading.

And rereading!

"The girl had as many curves as a scenic railway!" Beat that!

"You are without exception the worst tick and bounder that ever got fatty degeneration of the heart through half a century of gorging food and swilling wine wrenched from the lips of a starving proletariat. You make me sick. You poison the air. Good-bye, Uncle Alaric," said Ricky, drawing away rather ostentatiously. "I think we had better terminate this interview, or I may become brusque."

Sadly, it's on Tuesdays during lunch. I probably should have taken up something useful like small engine repair.

But that seems like a lot of trouble to do on Tuesdays during lunch.

Tell her to be careful where she looks for Spinoza in the bookstore.

And be sure to eat plenty of fish with it. 

When we're watching a movie, we note when a character becomes "the sort who causes hundreds to fall under suspicion when he's found in the library stabbed to death with a paperknife of Oriental design."

Ha! That's a mouthful, but a delicious one!

Hey Alex, you should go get a cup of coffee. Pour in some cream. Enjoy the beautiful array of Raleigh-Taylor instabilities. Okay. Back to the news.

And on that note, I will! 

Have a splendid week, folks! Keep calm and read Wodehouse! Also the Compost! And feel free but nouned to follow me on Twitter!

In This Chat
Alexandra Petri
Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost, a lighter take on the news and issues of the day, and she contributes to the Post editorial page. Her work has appeared in venues such as The Huffington Post, The Week,,, Collegehumor, and The Harvard Crimson. She has appeared on Jeopardy!, Showbiz Tonight and Canadian radio, and she has performed at Boston's Comedy Studio and Comedy Connection. She would love to be on your TV show, radio show, Daily Show, HBO special, or to be an honored guest (or regular guest) at your Bar Mitzvah. She is the author of two books (unpublished, but contact her!), two screenplays, three plays, one musical, and one memoir (Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast.)
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