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.)

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.

Osteen vs. Luther: in a theological debate, go with the dead guy

osteen luther

There’s no doubting televangelist Joel Osteen’s appeal to millions of Christians. The senior pastor of the largest Protestant church in the US, Osteen’s televised sermons are seen by more than 20 million viewers monthly in more than 100 countries, and he has written five New York Times bestselling books.

The Texas-based preacher has been lauded for touting God’s love for humanity, efforts to inspire others to overcome personal setbacks and emphasis on the need for mission and purpose in life.

Similarly, Osteen has been criticized for his simplistic black-and-white thinking, being a theological lightweight and applying Scripture out of context.

While I generally keep my distance from televangelists and megachurches, I will also readily admit to not being able to see into the hearts of others.

I can’t determine, in this case, whether Osteen is a well-intentioned individual who is doing his best, and has very likely provided solace to a significant number of people, or if he is part preacher, part carnival barker who has used his ability in the pulpit to enrich himself.

That said, there are many theologically savvy types who have had a field day picking apart Osteen’s teachings. Among them is the individual who created this imaginary back and forth between Osteen and 16th century Protestant reformer and noted killjoy Martin Luther.

While the twitter conversation is, of course, imagined, both Osteen’s and Luther’s quotes are taken from the respective religious figures’ various sayings and/or writings.

Luther, not remembered as a light and fluffy sort, would probably have had Osteen burned at the stake after sitting through just a few minutes of one of the latter’s feel-good services.

osteen luther 2

Social media: It’s not just for the tech savvy anymore

facebook

The below may or may not have appeared in a British newspaper as a letter to the editor. I came across it on a local webpage, Wrisley.com, that included a screenshot of the newspaper clipping from one Peter White of Derbyshire titled “My own social media,” which does give it a bit more credence.

Whatever the case, it’s good for a laugh:

SIR: I haven’t got a computer, but I was told about Facebook and Twitter and am trying to make friends outside of Facebook and Twitter while applying the same principles.

Every day, I walk down the street and tell passers-by what I have eaten, how I feel, what I have done the night before and what I will do for the rest of the day. I give them pictures of my wife, my daughter and of me gardening and on holiday, spending time by the pool. I also listen to their conversations, tell them I ‘like’ them and give them my opinion on every subject that interests me… whether it interests them or not.

And it works. I have already four people following me: two police officers, a social worker and a psychiatrist.

Peter Brook, Holbrook, Derbyshire

(HT: Wrisley.com)

Dad ‘stunned’ to learn teen apathetic about religion

simpsons church

As my four younger daughters and were I were en route to the local library last night I asked Daughter No. 3 how her most recent Sunday evening religious education class had gone. Three of the four are preparing for confirmation and are in the first year of a two-year program. They are about as enthusiastic as any young teen would be about having to spend 75 minutes every Sunday evening learning about religion.

Daughter No. 3 was quick with her response: “We didn’t learn anything.”

Me: “What do you mean, you didn’t learn anything?”

D3: “We had a party because we won’t have another class until after the holidays.”

Me: “Well, that must have been nice, right?”

D3: “Oh, yeah.”

I then decided to see how much or – more likely, in her case – how little she was enjoying the class. “How about I ask you some questions about what you’ve learned this year?” Her sisters, sitting in the back seat, and likely hoping for a repeat of this memorable Q-and-A session, immediately voiced their assent.

“Dad!” Daughter No. 3 broke in. “No! You always ask me hard stuff. About the bible. You know I don’t know bible stuff!”

Now, to be fair, Daughter No. 3 is an exceptionally bright young lady. She has a very good chance of finishing the current semester with straight A’s and just last week learned she had earned recognition as a South Carolina Junior Scholar.

That said, she is not on the fast track for a doctorate in Theology.

“Okay,” I relented, “how about if I ask you about the sacraments? I’m sure you’ve gone over those, right?”

D3: “No.”

Me: “Really? You haven’t gone over the sacraments?”

D3: “Dad, we’ve only been to class a couple of times.”

Me: “You’ve been going since October, so it’s been more than a couple of times. Just name the sacraments. I’ll give you a hint: There are seven of them.”

D3: “Um, marriage, baptism, communion … confirmation … “

And then the fun began.

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Falcons’ marketing department takes a short siesta

falcons graphic

It’s long been a running joke that football players are better known for brawn than brains. Apparently, the marketing department of at least one professional football team didn’t pay all that much attention in college, either.

The Atlanta Falcons will be in London this weekend to play the Detroit Lions, part of the National Football League’s effort to broaden its fan base.

To give Falcons fans an inside look at the team’s journey across the Atlantic, the club posted the above infographic detailing the travel schedule.

Someone’s lack of geography knowledge could have proven costly, as the graphic showed the team traveling first to Baltimore and then to somewhere in Spain, rather than London, which would have left them more than 900 miles south of Wembley Stadium.

Fortunately, the Falcons were alerted to the mistake and corrected the error, greatly diminishing chances that a group of extremely large, muscular and no doubt irate men would be left wandering the confines of Barcelona Airport.

(HT: Deadspin)

Mama didn’t cotton to a modern-day Huck

huck

It took just a bit of warm weather this past Saturday for me and my girls to high-tail it to the great outdoors.

We made our way to Poinsett State Park – named for Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first US Ambassador to Mexico and the individual who helped popularize the Poinsettia – where we enjoyed balmy 75-degree weather as we wandered through pine thickets and meandered along the edge of an old mill pond.

While we saw several large turtles and many small fish, the highlight was the abundance of giant tadpoles. We managed to catch a couple of these monsters (see below), which were fully three inches in length, longer than many of the frogs we normally catch.

These whoppers will grow into river frogs, and given that we saw hundreds upon hundreds of the oversized juveniles, one can only imagine the cacophonous croakings that will soon reverberate through the park once the tadpoles reach maturity.

Our tadpole-catching excursion gave me an opportunity to regale my daughters with one of my own childhood adventures which involved regular-sized tadpoles, but managed to get me into giant-sized trouble.

Sometime around 1970, when I was 6 or so, my family and I were living north of Bellingham, Wash., in the small town of Ferndale. Ferndale is just a few miles from the border with British Columbia, and like much of the Pacific Northwest has a temperate climate. It receives some snow in the winter and plenty of rain the rest of the year, which is ideal for young boys who thrive on getting dirty.

I’m a little hazy on exact dates, but I believe the incident in question happened either in late spring or summer. My paternal grandparents were driving up from San Jose, Calif., to visit, so my parents had spent considerable effort to clean and get everything shipshape. This included me, the oldest grandchild.

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