On Sundays I go to Brooklyn and rehearse with “Hybrid Vigor,” a performance group led by a good friend, Henry Kandel. We open this Tuesday with Henry’s one-act play New Human. It’s the story of a teen-age boy, the single mother who needs his love, and the brilliant scientist who needs his genetic material to create a master race. I play the scientist: Dr. Hilda Garrfle. But lately, I’ve been thinking that what makes Dr. Garrfle really evil isn’t her plan to lure an innocent 15-year-old into an Evolution Machine, thus creating a superior New Human ready to enslave or simply consume the rest of us. It’s that she “mmmmmmms” as she sucks primordial ooze off her fingers. “Mmmmmmmm,” she says. It hints at a lurid sexuality that I just can’t condone. I get the feeling that Dr. Garrfle doesn’t want to destroy human life as we know it for its own sake; she wants to do it because it’s some kind of a sick turn-on. And I can’t get behind that; it grosses me out. I’ve noticed that whenever I work on playing Dr. Garrfle, I refer to the world domination and heartless genetic manipulation portions of the script as “the easy parts.” Sucking the primordial ooze and calling the teen-age boy my “mate” are the hard parts. It’s a little troubling.
Actually, genetics has come up a lot recently. Yesterday, my friend Eva told me she would never marry an identical twin. I loved hearing about this, because it’s fun to write jokes about an unlikely and absurd prejudice. In our office, probably the most often invoked Simpsons quote is Grandpa Simpson’s defense of his 49-star flag, “I’ll be in the cold, cold ground before I recognize Missouri.” On the show about a month ago, when Ann Bancroft and Liv Arneson crossed Antarctica on skis, we referred to Arneson in passing once as “a filthy Norwegian,” a fun throwaway. And my friend Jim’s stand-up act includes his father’s tirades against the Syro-Hittites and the Etruscans. Of course, the trick with these is finding the right target: a group that elicits no reaction. It is not currently thought of as a victimizer or as the victimized. It’s “Missouri.” With nationalities, you pretty much have to limit your search for “Missouri” to northern Europe; an aversion to the people of Monaco would work, though. And Canada and New Zealand are fine. With religions, your “Missouri” could be one of the non-excitable Christian denominations. A prejudice against Lutherans is pretty funny. And a prejudice against identical twins is perfect. Apparently, Eva wouldn’t marry one just because she thinks it would be sort of weird. But I like to think that it’s because twins are such notoriously poor providers.
The last genetics-related incident I’ll relate happened Thursday at the show. I was trying to write jokes about Clonaid, the biotech company spearheading human cloning efforts. Clonaid was founded by Raël, the leader of the Raëlian religious sect that believes that humans are the result of genetic experimentation by a race of extraterrestrials. When they’re not working to create the first human clone, the Raëlians maintain their theme park, UFOland. At the same time, my writing partner Kent was busy researching Puff Daddy’s recent decision to become P. Diddy (according to Puffy, “You can call me P.; you can call me Diddy. Or you can call me P. Diddy”). We were both up to our ears in crazy. Then, all of a sudden, it was announced that The Daily Show’s Indecision 2000 coverage won a Peabody Award, thanks in no small part to the bizarre presidential election and post-election fracas. We celebrated for a couple of minutes; it was mostly hugging and disbelief. Then we hurried back to finish our jokes. But when I sat down to write again, everything melded together: Raël, P. Diddy, the election, the reality of my job. I figured I owe my daily bread to the ridiculous events of the last 14 months. Perversity pays my bills.