Banana peel peril largely extinct; allusion remains in comedy

Most comedy must at least be partially based in reality to work. An audience unable to relate to a subject is usually an audience that isn’t going to laugh because they can’t make a connection to the joke or story being told.

For that reason, most people under the age of, say, 85, have had a hard time relating to the idea of slipping on a banana peel. Yet, it has remained a comedy staple practically since the invention of motion pictures.

This seems as counterintuitive as the French love of Jerry Lewis.

Apparently, though, slipping on banana peels was once a very real concern; hence, their role in comedy.

Consider this 1918 story, under the headline “Banana Peel Gets Verdict,” taken from the Greenwood Index, a South Carolina newspaper:

We note that some days since a suit was brought against the city of Columbia (S.C.) by a party who had received a severe injury as the result of a fall on account of having stepped upon a banana peeling that was thrown on the sidewalk.

This verdict should be a warning to every town to enforce more rigidly the ordinance against throwing these peelings on the sidewalks. We suppose that there is not a town that has not such an ordinance, and yet there is a great deal of unconcern about enforcing it. It is a common thing to see these peelings on the sidewalks of Greenwood, and numbers of persons have had accidents on account of it.

There used to be an ordinance against spitting on the sidewalk, but we seem to have thrown it down, too. It might not be a bad idea to let it be known that more attention will be given to it, and the one prohibiting banana peeling on the sidewalks.

Believe it or not, the banana peel was considered a genuine public hazard at one time, writer Laura Turner Garrison wrote in Mental Floss explained when examining how the banana peel gag became so popular in comedy.

“In the mid-19th century, a man named Carl B. Frank began importing Panamanian bananas to New York City,” according to Garrison. “The fruit quickly became a popular street food throughout America, but the surge in urban migration and lack of sanitation regulation posed a major problem in cities. People often tossed their garbage into the streets, leading to a general foul stench and public waste buildup. A fresh banana peel might seem non-threatening, but a rotting banana peel was a slime-covered booby trap.”

Around 1880, Harper’s Weekly rebuked those who tossed their banana peels on a public walkway, as this would likely result in broken limbs, and some Sunday Schools warned children that an improperly discarded peel would not only definitively lead to a broken limb, but that the individual unfortunate enough to suffer the broken would inevitably end up in the poorhouse due to this injury, Garrison added.

The banana peel gag has been a fixture in comedy since the beginning of the 20th century, with the routine widely accepted to have originated on the Vaudeville stage.

“The gag first appeared on the silver screen in the Harold Lloyd silent film The Flirt,” Garrison wrote. “While sitting in a restaurant, Lloyd’s character diligently peels a banana then tosses the skin on the floor. A snooty waiter walks by with a full tray, slips and falls. Chaos ensues.”

Buster Keaton employed the gag in his 1921 film The High Sign, and Laurel and Hardy used it in The Battle of the Century (1927).

It’s continued to be a regular feature in both comedies and cartoons over the decades through to the present, even though most viewers today likely can’t recall ever seeing a rotting banana peel on a sidewalk.

Perhaps the reason the banana peel gag remains viable is that while few of us have experienced slipping on a rotten peel, we have all slipped and fallen. And, like most things, when it happens to someone else it’s pretty funny.

(Top: New Yorker Cartoon by Liam Francis Walsh.)

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Toddlers and phones: as smooth together as onions and eyeballs

Enter this under: Things to do to torment my children.

An unattended Chinese toddler locked his mother’s iPhone for nearly 47 years earlier this year after repeatedly entering the wrong passcode while playing with it.

The phone was given to the youngster to watch education videos but when the mother, who was only identified by her surname Lu, came home, she was horrified to find that the phone had been locked until the year 2066.

“iPhone is disabled, try again in 25,114,984 minutes,” the phone notification read, according to the Global Times.

(The story did not detail if the mother left the 2-year old home alone, or with some sort of apparently lackluster supervision.)

When Lu took her phone into an Apple store in Shanghai, Wei Chunlong, a technician, told her she could either choose to wait a few years before attempting to re-enter the passcode or reset her device, which will cost her all data not yet uploaded to the cloud, added Newsweek.

And I’ve been getting a good chuckle out of locking my girls’ phones for five minutes when they leave said devices unattended. I look like a bush leaguer compared to this Chinese toddler.

Inept Florida interpreter angers some, amuses others

The recent hurricane that devastated the Caribbean and Florida was no laughing matter. But officials in Manatee County, Fla., unwittingly added hilarity to a Sept. 8 press conference when they hired a bumbling interpreter for the deaf for an emergency briefing related to Irma.

The interpreter, Marshall Greene, a lifeguard for the county, has a brother who is deaf, according to the DailyMoth, a video news site that provides information via American Sign Language. Greene mostly signed gibbering, referencing pizza, monsters and using the phrase “help you at that time to use bear big,” during the event. Other information signed to viewers was incomplete, members of the deaf community said.

While there’s no question that the county failed in its responsibility to the hearing impaired, watching a video of the press conference, with Greene’s signing translated into subtitles, is amusing to say the least. You can watch one of the videos here.

The county typically uses interpreters from VisCom, a professional sign language interpreting service. VisCom owner Charlene McCarthy told local media she was not contacted about providing services for the press conference and that Green was apparently not fluent in American Sign Language, according to the website AL.com.

Manatee County spokesperson Nick Azzara told the Bradenton Herald Greene was asked to interpret during the storm rather than have no one signing.

In retrospect, one suspects county officials now understand that it would have been better to have no one signing rather than an individual informing the deaf about pizza and monsters while a major storm worked its way toward them.

(Top: Manatee County, Fla., press conference held on Sept. 8 featuring interpreter Marshall Greene, in yellow.)

Reveling in the timeless joy of newspaper corrections

Having spent nearly 20 years in journalism all told, I saw plenty of unintentional errors show up in print, some by my own hand and others by friends and co-workers.

Given that thousands and thousands of bits of information appear in even the smallest daily newspapers, mistakes and subsequent corrections are a regular companion of journalists everywhere. Occasionally, they offer a bit of levity.

Most corrections, or their cousin, the clarification, are pretty straightforward, with the goal being to mend the mistake without repeating the error unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Sometimes, however, corrections are necessarily hilarious.

Consider this from the Oct. 30, 2014, edition of the New York Times, which came in the form of a letter to the editor:

To the Editor:

I was grateful to see my book “This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage” mentioned in Paperback Row (Oct. 19). When highlighting a few of the essays in the collection, the review mentions topics ranging from “her stabilizing second marriage to her beloved dog” without benefit of comma, thus giving the impression that Sparky and I are hitched. While my love for my dog is deep, he married a dog named Maggie at Parnassus Books last summer as part of a successful fund-raiser for the Nashville Humane Association. I am married to Karl VanDevender. We are all very happy in our respective unions.

Ann Patchett

Nashville

There’s also the unintentionally funny – although one is certain the reporter and editor didn’t get much of a chuckle out of having to put together the following, which appeared in the April 11, 1996, edition of the Spokane Spokesman-Review:

An April 5 story stated that Mary Fraijo did not return a reporter’s calls seeking comment. Fraijo died last December.

And then there are those corrections which leave one scratching one’s head as to how they could possibly have come about. Thus, we have, from the May 10, 2016, The New York Times, this:

Because of an editing error, an article on Monday about a theological battle being fought by Muslim imams and scholars in the West against the Islamic State misstated the Snapchat handle used by Suhaib Webb, one of Muslim leaders speaking out. It is imamsuhaibwebb, not Pimpin4Paradise786.

The number “786” appears to have some importance to some Muslims, at least on the Indian subcontinent; something about giving numeric values to the Arabic letters of the opening words of the Koran. However, it is not a widely held belief among Muslims.

Even so, one would think that given the overall conservative nature of most Muslim leaders, the handle “Pimpin4Paradise” would be viewed as a red flag – a bright, flaming- red flag.

One could see “Pimpin4Paradise786” maybe getting by, say, the editors at the local Peterborough Prattler, but the New York Times? Oy!

Fighting the good fight for those who love the ‘Muh-Crib’

mcribs

The basis of the First Amendment to the US Constitution is the right to petition; specifically, it prohibits Congress from abridging “the right of the people … to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

In other words, if folks have issues, they have a right to take them before their elected officials, no matter how petty those issues.

A recent local government meeting in a Los Angeles suburb might have left one wondering if the Founding Fathers knew just what they were doing when they embarked upon the American experiment 240 years ago.

During a Nov. 24 city council meeting in Santa Clarita, Calif., about 35 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, a college-age woman (seen above) stepped to the microphone during the public comment segment and proceeded to take three minutes of elected officials’ time to implore council members to do something about the dearth of McDonald’s McRib sandwiches in the area.

The video, in all its lustrous glory, can be seen here.

I’ve enjoyed it several times and have a few thoughts:

First, my BS detector was on high alert. Most people can’t whip up this kind of passion to save their own kinfolk, never mind stand up for a fast-food dish made from obscure parts of what may or may not be a living creature.

Second, if you watch the video you’ll notice that not once does the “petitioner” pronounce the sandwich’s name correctly. Rather than “McRib,” it’s “Muh-Crib.” This could be comedic genius or stage fright or ignorance. Again, I leaned toward the first; if someone has this much zeal for a sandwich, one would think they would know how to pronounce it correctly.

Third, because WordPress no longer allows bloggers to post videos without paying an annual fee, I’ve included a transcript of the young lady’s performance below. It doesn’t do her justice, but it gives you an idea about the earnestness of her appeal. It’s mostly a long run-on sentence, and I’ve replaced “McRib” with “Muh-Crib” to give readers a better appreciation of the tone.

She begins by stating that she’s with the Santa Clarita Food Committee, then launches into a history of the “Muh-Crib”:

In 1982 a boneless barbecue pork sandwich was introduced to the United States and it was available for only during a limited time during the fall, which is called the Muh-Crib, but this year McDonald’s, they decided to give regional managers the power to decide whether to sell the Muh-Crib at their locations, and apparently only 55 percent of McDonald’s franchises nationwide have chosen to sell the Muh-Crib, which means 45 percent have decided to skip it, including the Santa Clarita area. And there are 10 McDonald’s here in Santa Clarita and none of them are selling the Muh-Crib. Specifically, the McDonald’s on Chiquella Lane next to In and Out (Burger) is not selling it and it has been replaced by an all-day breakfast, which I think is a really poor substitute. And consumers have had to resort to the mcriblocator.com, which gives disappointing results if you use it because the nearest sandwich was seen in the Bay Area. And to be honest, the removal of the Muh-Crib from the menu has affected my family because every Thanksgiving my family would, like, order a 50-piece chicken McNugget (sic) and, like, 10 Muh-Crib, it was, like, a tradition in our family. And now it’s, like … my family’s holiday spirit is kind of messed up and broken. So basically what I’m trying to say is, like, I come to you in this matter that I hope you members of the council can help and speak to these McDonald’s managers because I tried calling the hotline and they, like, don’t take me seriously. To me, Thanksgiving for my family without this Muh-Crib is like Christmas with snow. It just doesn’t make sense. So, thank you for your time and listening, and happy Thanksgiving.

How the council didn’t break out in laughter is beyond me, and it’s just further evidence of why I’m utterly unqualified to hold elected office.

After a bit of research, it turns out the “petitioner” is an individual named Xanthe Pajarillo, a California comedian. I applaud her and wish her well in her quest for a “Muh-Crib.”

Final words of the fervent, a rogue or a public servant?

returned to sender

The above epitaph certainly leaves a bit of room for interpretation, doesn’t it?

Leaving out the wholly literal – and decidedly unpleasant – vision of James E. Williams being returned physically to the womb of his aged mother, we’re left with a few other options:

  • That the epitaph refers to the concept of Mr. Williams’ soul returning to God, from whence it came;
  • That Mr. Williams was a real jackass and was sent to his maker before his time was actually up because those around him had had more than their fill of him; or
  • That Mr. Williams was a former postal worker and the inscription was a means of underscoring his years of service.

While No. 2 is the most entertaining option, it would seem that if the decedent was real pill it’s likely his cohorts would have helped him shuffle off this mortal coil long before he reached 79 years of age.

Given that Mr. Williams is buried in the Hannah AME Church Cemetery in rural Newberry County, SC, it appears that No. 1 and possibly No 3 are the more probable explanations.

Of course, it could simply be that Mr. Williams wanted to ensure a chuckle to those passing by.

The man who fought Indians, Mexicans, Yankees and himself

bragg

Next year will mark the 200th anniversary of one of the Confederacy’s greatest foes: General Braxton Bragg. Unfortunate for the Southern cause was the fact that Bragg wore Confederate gray.

Bragg, born March 22, 1817, in North Carolina, was a key Southern commander in the Western Theater and later an important military advisor to the Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Although West Point-educated and active in the Seminole and Mexican-American wars, Bragg proved indecisive, ineffective and querulous as a Confederate general, earning the disdain of subordinates and superiors alike.

Bragg feuded with most everyone he came into contact with except Davis, and even Bragg and Davis were said to have squabbled mightily in the years before the war.

In fact, as Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant recalled in his memoirs, during Bragg’s time fighting Indians on the frontier in the 1850s the latter even managed to get into a major league rhubarb with … himself.

Grant related an experience that occurred when Bragg had been both company commander as well as company quartermaster, the officer in charge of approving the disbursement of provisions, according to Civil War Trust.

As company commander he made a request upon the company quartermaster – himself – for something he wanted. As quartermaster he denied the request and gave an official reason for doing so in writing. As company commander he argued back that he was justly entitled to what he requested. As quartermaster he stubbornly continued to persist in denying himself what he needed. Bragg requested the intervention of the post commander (perhaps to diffuse the impasse before it came to blows). His commander was incredulous and he declared, ‘My God, Mr. Bragg, you have quarreled with every officer in the army, and now you are quarreling with yourself.’

Bragg’s obsession with military propriety would seem to have bordered on the maniacal. During the Mexican-American War, for example, while Bragg and his men were enduring a murderous artillery barrage at Monterrey, Bragg saw an American horse driver fall dead from his saddle.

Bragg ordered his retreating men to halt, and in the middle of the onslaught ordered one of the other horsemen to dismount, turn around and recover the dead man’s sword because it was public property, issued by the government.

The horseman also took from the corpse a pocket knife, fearing that if he didn’t Bragg would send him back for it.

It would seem likely that Bragg suffered from one or more mental disorders that 150 years ago were simply chalked up to being cantankerous and thin-skinned. Whatever the true diagnosis, he was a poor choice to lead men into battle.