Camels Are Easy, Comedy's Hard

Camels Are Easy, Comedy's Hard

by Roy Blount Jr.
     
 
An eclectic collection from Roy Blount Jr., master of American humor writing
I’ll tell you what kind of book I believe in: one that makes people say, at first sight, what the first person who ever saw a camel must have said: “
What in the world is that?” And then, after a while, “Yet it seems to fit together some way.”<

Overview

An eclectic collection from Roy Blount Jr., master of American humor writing
I’ll tell you what kind of book I believe in: one that makes people say, at first sight, what the first person who ever saw a camel must have said: “
What in the world is that?” And then, after a while, “Yet it seems to fit together some way.”
In this laugh-a-minute assortment of essays, travel writing, poems, and even the occasional crossword puzzle, Roy Blount Jr. covers sixty-four different subjects, all unified by his trademark humor. “Tan” is a personal essay about Blount’s lifelong battle with—sometimes for and sometimes against—that elusive summer glow. “Wild Fish Ripped My Flesh” chronicles his misadventures navigating the Amazon River. And “Lit Demystified Quickly” is a tongue-in-cheek poem about larger-than-life literary figures such as James Joyce, William Faulkner, and Walt Whitman.
Camels Are Easy, Comedy’s Hard 
is a classic compendium of the wisecracks and wisdom for which Blount is renowned.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
``Have you ever considered writing something serious?'' People ask this of Blount all the time, but he says, after thinking it over, ``Nah.'' Along with a quick flip through this book, that should give you an idea that Blount is delivering more of what he is so justly famous for: humor, humor, and more humor. Not only does he explain the title of the book, he also holds forth on a variety of current events and social topics: free speech, the Gulf, Atlantic City junkets, and aerobic guilt, to name a few. He also has a way with words, deftly spelling out, in various places, the sounds some of our four-footed friends make: ``aooo, aooo'' (dog), ``eeeurghgr'gl'gl'gblglglglghg'blegh'' (camel). Or sounds humans make: ``scrarglesgggrklblnk glgnk'' (rummaging through a toolbox). Also included: 12 crosswords Blount did for Spy magazine. Recommended.-- Carol Spielman Lezak, General Learning Corp., Northbrook, Ill.
Kirkus Reviews
Fresh from a sojourn as novelist (First Hubby, 1990), funny essayist Blount, Jr. (Now, Where Were We?, Not Exactly What I Had In Mind, etc.), returns to his usual modus operandi with a widely varied collection of entertainments. Blount is more pointed and trenchant than ever in this package of reportage, book reviews, poetry (O.K., Blount, we won't mention "doggerel" again—how's "light verse"?), character sketches, travel writing, and, Lord help us, crossword puzzles. And it's all terrific. Despite an occasional dizzying shift in tenses, Blount's writing just gets better and better. The author rivals the Perils of Perelman in Westward, Ha! when he undertakes dog-sledding in Vermont, a safari in Africa, or assaults by piranha and by a memorable guide on a Conrad-like trip up the Amazon. There's a set piece, in true southern intonations, on how the narrator's old Mama became a famous storyteller; for those of a religious bent, there's also an exegesis on the Book of J. Then there are the folks Blount likes (Jimmy Carter and the late Gilda Radner) and the folks he doesn't (the Oval Office's incumbent and his predecessor, as well as malefactors of great wealth). Find out more than anyone ought to know about coon-dog hunting competitions and synchronized swimming meets (in which the girls offer such aquatic show-stoppers as Blitzkrieg-1939 or Rosh Chodesh-Israelean Festival). In a dozen crosswords, Blount explodes words and reassembles them to "create advanced, antiestablishment, biodegradable crossword puzzles for gain." "The public," he says, "knows what it wants—something dumb—and it isn't easily fooled." Yet he may just be the writer to do the fooling; here's a text that'sjust clever and giddy enough. Comedy may indeed be hard for the moribund, as the old show- biz chestnut has it. But Blount, showman that he is, sure makes it look a lot easier than either dying or camels. All in all, some hard-shell writing talent.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781480457751
Publisher:
Open Road Media
Publication date:
12/10/2013
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
303
Sales rank:
659,505
File size:
15 MB
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Read an Excerpt

Camels Are Easy, Comedy's Hard


By Roy Blount Jr.

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 1991 Roy Blount Jr.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-5775-1



CHAPTER 1

How a Camel Goes


"Eeeeurghgr'gl'gl'gblglglglghg'blegh."


THAT'S NOT IT. IT'S richer, more crowded in there. More b's, maybe—b's and g's and l's on top of one another.

The cry of a camel being cinched up.

For four days it awoke me at dawn. I was on a camel safari in central Kenya, just east of where, scientists tend to believe, human life began. Though Kenya still has vast open spaces and more elephants than automobiles, it is not, by general agreement, what it used to be. Depending on your point of view, paradise began to go downhill when human life began, when the British took over, when independence was won, when Americans saw Out of Africa. To the area's camels, creation went out of joint when the idea arose that the camel was a "beast of burden."

That idea dates back to time immemorial, and yet camels are freshly outraged each time someone starts loading them up. Every camel seems to be thirty centuries old and yet to be confronting its role in life for the first time at that moment. So many things are done to a camel behind its head. What in blazes is going on back there?

Eeeurngh' glablalala'bleagh'l'leh.

The perfect protest. The noise I want to make when I get out of bed or sit down to work. But I don't have the chops.

A camel's long, not-quite-droopy lips are usually loosely pursed, except when they move old-yokelishly side to side in cud chewing and when they curl and gape enormously for a teeth-baring, tongue-baring eeeoounh'g'blagl ... A camel's dark, heavy-lidded eyes, with luxuriant, dark, sand-resistant lashes, make it a highly aloof (its head, of course, may be eight feet above the ground) yet strangely come-hither animal. I am thankful that you have all seen at least pictures of a camel, because if you hadn't you wouldn't believe me when I say that a camel looks a little like a giraffe, a little like a dinosaur, a little (when folded up) like a grasshopper or frog, a little like an ostrich, a little like a horse and a little like a librarian.

I highly recommend a camel safari. Fifteen of us travelers—American, English, French, Canadian and apologetically South African, ranging from late teens to retired—spent five days covering twenty-three miles with one white hunter, Julian McKeand; his top Masai assistant, Barsula Lemaidok; twenty-four spear-carrying, red-wrapper-wearing, trinkets-in-their-earlobes Masai warriors, who had their hair in long braids dyed with red ocher and who protected us from the elephants that charged us and the bandits that might have; two Meru cooks; and forty camels. For four of the days we rode camels or walked with them over red dust and chunks of volcanic rock in near-desert country northeast of Isiolo, part of what used to be called the Northern Frontier District of Kenya (four hours from Nairobi). We saw warthogs and the greater kudu. We ate delicious stews and tarts and even a cheese soufflé cooked in a tin-box Dutch oven on open fires. We slept on camp beds under mosquito netting. The Masai set up shower and loo tents for us every evening. And let me tell you something else about camels.

You have heard that camels stink, balk, spit and bite. These are stereotypes. Julian McKeand's camels have acquired a certain crucial (to Westerners) propriety. A camel spits only when it feels threatened, but when this does happen it is even worse than you might think—the cud is ejected at the perceived threat, and a camel's breath, while not foul, as I had been led to believe, is so profoundly funky in a vegetarian way that I am thankful these camels apparently never felt threatened, although I went so far as to try petting them. (Only one of them liked it.) You can see the cud rising up the four-foot-long throat, but in the case of McKeand's camels that just means the camel is in a mood to ruminate.

A camel bite entails crunch and gnash, and is extremely hard to disinfect. A male camel gets sexually aroused only occasionally, but when he does don't get in the way, because such a camel has been known to bite the top of a man's head off. McKeand's camels are all gelded males, however. "It keeps the party clean," he says. And they are well trained. None has ever bitten a customer. All the Masai have to do is say "oop oop" and the camels fold majestically—first onto the front knees, then onto the back knees, which collapse, and then down onto the chest callus.


FOR EONS CAMELS have been kicked, whipped and fitted with bits that make their lips bleed, but McKeand's camels—the gelding aside—have been treated sympathetically. At first, McKeand said, the Masai he hired saw no point in safari camels, because you can't get meat or blood from them. Masai are cattle lovers. Their traditional diet is mostly milk, sometimes mixed with blood tapped from their cows' jugulars. But safariing is a good enough gig that they can buy more cattle (or put more money in the bank, now that drought kills so many cows), hire other Masai as herdsmen, and subsist on goats' meat, cornmeal and vegetables provided by McKeand. They continue to believe that people who pay to walk around with camels are crazy, but they have acquired a taste for camel milk and an affection for camels as wholes. They deal with camels' deep disinclinations deftly and with good humor. They remove ticks from the camels' eyes tenderly. At night, when the hobbled camels hear lion noises (lions passed within a few yards of our beds), they crawl close to the Masai, who sleep around them.

Once a camel gets under way, you wouldn't think it was outraged at all. It has an easy gait—back left foot, front left foot, roll, back right foot, front right foot. Dah, dah ... dah, dah. It is a bit as if the camel were two extremely long-legged bipeds, yoked in tandem, taking turns walking. I tried to walk in step with either side of a camel and then with either end of a camel, and I could never quite keep it up. Length of stride aside, there is a differential involved that no one person can master.

On camelback, I found myself singing, "How mild, how mild, how mild can a cigarette be? Smoke Camels and you will see ..." Was this just a cheap joke on the part of my subconscious? The "How mild ... how mild" part fit the camel-gait rhythm, and it is true that a camel—when it is being led by a Masai, as ours were—is a mild ride. The only person who has fallen off a camel in the twelve years McKeand has led these safaris was a man who fell asleep.

In dry and unoppressive hundred-degree-plus heat we passed through country that proved how grand scraggliness can be. The sky was hugely blue, the rubbly terrain was ruddy and untampered with, the blue-gray-green mountains were abrupt in the distance, and the plant life was rigorously minimal. There had been no rain in twelve solid months. The vegetation was thorn trees—varieties of acacia, like the tiny-prickled, tenacious waita-bit tree—and poisonous Sodom apple bushes whose leaves are so abrasive that the Masai use them to smooth ornaments with.

Camels thrive in such terrain, not only because they can go a week without water but also because they can eat twigs, thorns, abrasive leaves and probably birds' nests. As to birds, we saw the orange-bellied parrot, the sulphur-breasted bush thrush, the speckled mouse-bird, the red-billed hornbill, the goaway bird and the superb starling. A superb starling appears to be wearing an electric-blue suit. A goaway bird hollers "Gawn, gawn!"

"You're a goaway bird in a wait-a-bit tree. Why do you do what you're doing to me?" I sang, but it got no rise from the camel I sat on.

Then I began to listen to the young Masai behind me in the procession. He was leading the last camel, which, like the lead camel, wore a euphoniously clonking wooden bell. This Masai had been circumcised only recently, we had been told, which meant he had just begun his seven-or-so-year apprenticeship as a warrior, during which time he would avoid the company of women. But the young Masai behind me did not sound horny. He sang in a soft, sweet, highly uncamelish voice:

Ah yah yih hoyoy
Ah yah yih hoyoy
Ah yah yih hoonh
Hoy yoy
Hoy yoy
Hoyyyy yi-no
Heh-gung
Heh-gung
Hoymoy


only longer and more complicated.


ON THE LAST evening in the camp the younger Masai danced for us. They gathered in a tight bunch and jumped straight up and down, high, continually, in unison, almost flatfootedly, just bouncing. And singing. By turns one man in the bunch would not jump; he would stay down to lead the singing, so there was always this one pair of feet on the ground in contrast with all the others that rose to the level of his knees, and went down, and back up.

"Hing hindera. Hing hindera" was the jumpers' principal chant, but the grounded man would usually weave in longer lyrics: "Aya nanaro, wawa wimmido ..."

"What are they singing about?" I asked Barsula.

"About what they have been doing since their circumcision. Whether they have been brave."

"What do they say they've been doing?"

"Being with camels, and fifteen whites."

CHAPTER 2

Man Chewed by Many Animals


"I VIVIDLY REMEMBER HIS left-hand tusks through my leg and my foot jammed between his molars. I could feel all the whiskers of his chin on the back of my thigh."

How's that for a lead? Alan Root on being bitten by a hippopotamus, which isn't the half of it.

In my own travels, I have been bitten by a spring lizard, a piranha and (in the Memphis zoo) a rhea, which is a kind of ostrich. I know a plastic surgeon in London, Dr. Peter Davis, who once made a new nose for a man who'd had his bitten off by a hyena as he slept (or, more precisely, woke) in a tent in the wilds of Zaire. Worth mentioning that hyenas are said to have, literally, the worst breath in the world.

"Was he in shock?" I asked Dr. Davis.

"Oh, no no. He was a real colonial. He didn't mind. Said, after it was over, he thought I'd given him a better nose. That's all."

Dr. Davis also maintains that English youths put ferrets in their pants, competitively, to see who can stand them in there the longest. "One wrote in to the newspaper that he'd been bitten on the left testicle. He wanted to know, 'Is that all right?'"

Far and away, however, the person I've met who knows the most, firsthand, about being chomped is Alan Root.

"Came chomping through the water chomp chomp chomp. Shook me around like a puppy with a stick. Banged me on the bottom several times. I wasn't aware at the time but people on the side said I appeared out of the water several times."

Root on the hippo incident again. Root may well be the only person in the world who has been bitten not only by a hippo but also by a leopard, a gorilla and a puff adder, and lived to tell about it with relish.

Root is a lean, fifty-two-year-old Kenyan bush pilot and balloonist who makes distinguished documentary films on East African wildlife. The Great Migration: Year of the Wildebeest. Serengeti Shall Not Die. Mysterious Castles of Clay (about termites and their mounds). He's won an Oscar and a Peabody Award. And no one can accuse him of having done all this from safe removes. When the hippo got him, he and a cameraman were underwater filming a hippopotamus fight.

"All the commotion had stirred up so much mud I couldn't see anything. I sat there waiting for the water to clear. The guy who had lost the fight was fifteen feet away. He probably saw all the bubbles coming from our breathing gear and thought the other male was coming after him. He got more and more uptight about the bubbles."

That's when he came chomping. "I remember sickening crunching feelings. What bothered me was the idea he was going to go up my body, going to do a job on me. But he let me go—he wasn't after me, just felt threatened, and that was bad for his image."

Root was in the hospital for weeks recovering from that one. The vegetable debris that a hippo's bite transmits kept working its way out of the wound. The infection was terrible. "I sweated through not only sets of sheets but whole mattresses." But it was clear to Root that a prudent person's being set upon by a hippopotamus was unusual, so as soon as humanly possible he was back in the water amongst those huge purple blimps with maws like watermelons' nightmares.

"You always have a monkey, always get bitten by them—or you get bitten by your friend's monkey. That's part of growing up in East Africa," reminisced Root as we dined on inoffensive, indeed delicious, small sea creatures at Nairobi's Norfolk Hotel. Root is craggy, clay-colored and calm, the very picture of a man who moved from London to Kenya at the age of seven and has spent few daytime hours indoors since. As a boy he collected snakes and was bitten by them from time to time, and he knew that exploratory naturalism was the life for him. Nor did he doubt it years later when the leopard got his bottom.

"That was just a silly accident. I'd had a picnic lunch. Shouted and clapped my hands to frighten away any cats. Saw an owl fly out over the top of a rock nearby. Thought I'd see whether anything was there. Got to a ledge and looked down, and a few feet below was a dead jackal. Should've put two and two together. But I went down to investigate. Under the overhang, a leopard was crouched out of sight. I jumped down right in front of him and presented him with an offer he couldn't refuse. He grabbed my left buttock and chomped on it a couple of times. I reached back with my arm and hit him. Probably more frightened than I was. Almost always it's that you've violated their space, they feel threatened. Give you a quick bite to send you on your way.

"Blood was streaming down my leg and squelching in my shoes. I drove to the warden's office and squelched in. The warden was Miles Turner, a dry character. I told him, 'One of your leopards has just bitten me in the arse.'

"He said, 'You've been around here long enough to know you can't feed the animals.' Cleaned it out with hydrogen peroxide. Just fang punctures, she bit and let go, wasn't ripping around."

The puff adder was a nastier matter. "There was an American guy who wanted to do business with Joy Adamson, so I flew him up to her camp. My wife, Joan, and I went for a walk along the river. Saw a very big female puff adder, and I caught it to show the guy; he had only forty-eight hours there, I thought I'd show him something exciting. Grabbed it by the back of the neck, got its mouth open, made it squirt venom, showed the teeth—did the whole Cook's tour of a puff adder, then let it go. Joy said, 'Oh, no, I didn't have film in my camera, could you do it again?'

"By this time it was a bit fed up with being shown to tourists. Not as sleepy as before. When I tried to grab it again, it just turned and got me.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Camels Are Easy, Comedy's Hard by Roy Blount Jr.. Copyright © 1991 Roy Blount Jr.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Roy Blount Jr. is the author of twenty-three books. The first, About Three Bricks Shy of a Load, was expanded into About Three Bricks Shy . . . and the Load Filled Up. It is often called one of the best sports books of all time. His subsequent works have taken on a range of subjects, from Duck Soup, to Robert E. Lee, to what cats are thinking, to how to savor New Orleans, to what it’s like being married to the first woman president of the United States. 

Blount is a panelist on NPR’s Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!, an ex-president of the Authors Guild, a usage consultant for the American Heritage Dictionary, a New York Public Library Literary Lion, and a member of both the Fellowship of Southern Writers and the band the Rock Bottom Remainders. 

In 2009, Blount received the University of North Carolina’s Thomas Wolfe Prize. The university cited “his voracious appetite for the way words sound and for what they really mean.” Time places Blount “in the tradition of the great curmudgeons like H. L. Mencken and W. C. Fields.” Norman Mailer has said, “Page for page, Roy Blount is as funny as anyone I’ve read in a long time.” Garrison Keillor told the Paris Review, “Blount is the best. He can be literate, uncouth, and soulful all in one sentence.” 

Blount’s essays, articles, stories, and verses have appeared in over one hundred and fifty publications, including the New Yorker, the New York TimesEsquire, the AtlanticSports Illustrated, the Oxford American, and Garden & Gun. He comes from Decatur, Georgia, and lives in western Massachusetts.
Roy Blount Jr. is the author of twenty-three books. The first, About Three Bricks Shy of a Load,was expanded into About Three Bricks Shy . . . and the Load Filled Up. It is often called one of the best sports books of all time. His subsequent works have taken on a range of subjects, from Duck Soup, to Robert E. Lee, to what cats are thinking, to how to savor New Orleans, to what it’s like being married to the first woman president of the United States. 

Blount is a panelist on NPR’s Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!, an ex-president of the Authors Guild, a usage consultant for the American Heritage Dictionary, a New York Public Library Literary Lion, and a member of both the Fellowship of Southern Writers and the band the Rock Bottom Remainders. 

In 2009, Blount received the University of North Carolina’s Thomas Wolfe Prize. The university cited “his voracious appetite for the way words sound and for what they really mean.” Time places Blount “in the tradition of the great curmudgeons like H. L. Mencken and W. C. Fields.” Norman Mailer has said, “Page for page, Roy Blount is as funny as anyone I’ve read in a long time.” Garrison Keillor told the Paris Review, “Blount is the best. He can be literate, uncouth, and soulful all in one sentence.” 

Blount’s essays, articles, stories, and verses have appeared in over one hundred and fifty publications, including the New Yorker, the New York TimesEsquire, theAtlanticSports Illustrated, the Oxford American, and Garden & Gun. He comes from Decatur, Georgia, and lives in western Massachusetts.

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