John Hurt as Krapp in Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape carefully, cautiously, contemplatively and then completely eats a banana, at first by letting it hang out of his mouth, just hanging there, caught between the air and its fruit shorn of peel, and the inside cavern of Krapp’s mouth, and then biting it off and chewing. Beckett embraces the comedy of eating. Consider how vulnerable we are when we open our mouths, when we allow to appear an entrance to our inner workings, why anything might fly in! And then the look on our faces as our jaws move up and down, side to side, while etiquette tells us to keep our mouths close when we chew so that no one outside of ourselves can see the business of masticating, which as necessary as it is to our survival, must not be seen at the proper dining table, as though the dismembering and reducing of solid food objects to a mash in our mouths indicates something less noble, less rational, less superior about human beings, because as we know, other animals as well as ourselves masticate in the same way, meaning we’re closer to the beasts of the world than the gods of the world.
So, to let food hang halfway in our mouth calls upon all the zealots of manners to rage with fury. And here resides one of the key components of comedy, crossing boundaries, doing what is not to be done, showing what is not to be shown–transgressive and uproarious. And, of course, something phallic appears when Michael Gambon (who stars with Helen Mirren in one of my favorite food movies, The Cook, Thief, His Wife and Her Lover) holds up the banana revealing the humor of food and human anatomy, especially of the generative and sexual variety, appearing together. Besides eating, sex also tickles our funny bone.
Ah, the wonders of Key and Peele. How often I’ve laughed; how often I’ve cried. And now, for something not co completely different, the famous “Mary eating” bit from Arsene’s monologue in Samuel Beckett’s Watt. To set the scene, our hero Watt has finally arrived at the home of Mr. Knott, wherein he meets Arsene on the way out. In offering his views of life before departing, Arsene discloses the eating habits of one of the former maids, Mary.
Now when I say that Mary ate all day, from her opening her eyes in the morning to her closing them at night, in sleep, I mean that at no moment during this period was Mary’s mouth more than half empty, or, if you prefer, less than half full, for to the habit generally received of finishing one mouthful before initiating the next Mary had never, notwithstanding her remarkable papers, been able to adapt herself. Now when I say that at no moment of Mary’s waking hours was Mary’s mouth more than half empty, or less than half full, I do not mean that it was always so, for on close and even on casual inspection it would have been found, nine times out of ten, full to overflowing, which goes far towards explaining Marys indifference to the pleasures of conversation.
Arsene’s monologue in Watt features many an outstanding rhetorical flourish, but none as guffawing funny as the bit about Mary’s eating habits.
Between on one hand a large pouch or bag, containing the forenoon’s supplies, cunningly dissimulated in the tattered skirt, and on the other Mary’s mouth, Mary’s hands flash to and fro, with a regularity that I do not hesitate to compare with that of piston-rods. At the moment that the one hand presses, with open palm, between the indefatigable jaws, a cold potato, onion, tart, or sandwich, the other darts into the pouch and there, unerringly, fastens on a sandwich, onion, tart, or cold potato, as Mary wills.
Part of the humor here, of course, surfaces through the sentences, the very construction of syntax which Beckett meticulously and obsessively follows with complex sentences reveling in independent clauses, subordinate clauses, complement clauses, and relative clauses; and featuring rhetorical devices such as anaphora, antanagoge, chiasmus and so on. Of course, obsessive eating indicates any number of emotional traumas, and certainly operates as an addiction threatening anyone’s life; an yet . . . however . . . as Beckett points out a number of times, unhappiness is funny. To see Marry eating continuously as she goes about the business of the day courts laughter and horror, sympathy and the very lack of sympathy which helps engender laughter; or, sympathy expressed in laughing at that which we know we have done as well when stuffing our faces with fast food as we drive, shoving hot dogs in our mouths for a competition, wolfing down popcorn and candy as we watch a movie, sit on a couch and consume soda after soda watching a sitcom. Our natural behavior becomes absurd and comedic when taken to extremes, and this provides the land of comedy. This obsession in consuming also shows our desperate clinging to life, our anxiety-ridden consumption of everything around us, and that, yes of course, means death.
Ah, The Meaning of Life. Yes, gluttony figures often as a sin besides an eating-disorder, an both embrace death with a wonderful play upon etiquette horrified, taboos of civilized eating transgressed. But Python have not finished with the ways eating leads to dying.
Now, wasn’t that fun. Bon Appétit!