Humor versus Terror: Lord Buckley’s H-Bomb

Soon after the terror attacks in Paris of Nov. 13, 2015, I wanted to share with Charlie Hebdo (and now with all) the inspiring reflection of Lord Buckley on the role of humor in confronting terror. In H-Bomb, Buckley suggested how we could learn to stop worrying, and just laugh at The Bomb.

Dear Charlie: 

Regarding the perils of recent times, I wanted to share with you a wonderful quotation from the great American humorist Richard “Lord” Buckley, taken from his monologue “H-Bomb” of the late 1950s.  Against the background of the terror of that epoch, Buckley propounded his view of the role of humor: 

“And I, in humility, say:  it is the duty of the humor of any given nation, in times of high crisis, to at-tack the ca-tastrophe that faces it, in such a manner as to cause the people to laugh at it, in such a manner that they do not die, before they get killed.”

I thought of this when I read Charb’s words about how he’d prefer to live or die. *

At the conclusion of the monologue, Buckley gives us Nikita Khrushchev saying, “If we cannot scare them to death, we cannot beat them”.  This underlines the point of the quotation, but from the point of view of the one inseminating the terror.  (Never mind for now that the US has inseminated its own share of terror.) 

Although my French is a disgrace, I buy Charlie Hebdo whenever I’m in Paris, or France, and read what I can.  (I regret that I can’t write to you in French.)  I just happened to visit Paris recently with my wife, with Le Mois de la Photo as our main objective.  We arrived the afternoon of Friday Nov. 13th, and went to stay in a place in Rue de Montreuil just two blocks from the Comptoire Voltaire.  We walked past the Voltaire a couple of times during a little neighborhood stroll, just two hours before the shit hit the fan.  (I fully realize that this story can’t impress the staff of Charlie very much.)

Well, we didn’t retreat to Turin on the first available TGV – we stayed and enjoyed ourselves as well as possible, despite the strangeness.  A few museums, some dear friends, some good food and wine – perhaps somewhat in the spirit of your cover of November 18. 

Thanks for reading, and thank you for your courage, and for your insolence too. 

Allen Schill, Torino, Italy 

P-S.: If you want to know more about Lord Buckley, my blog article, linked below, is a good place to start – or the first place after Wiki, and after the official Buckley site:

Listening is better, of course: go to “H-Bomb” on YouTube:

I include below a transcript, which picks up the monologue at about 3:00, when it gets into the heart of the subject.  The rest of H-Bomb is a lot of fun – we get to see Khrushchev on a hangover (vodka and Russian benzedrine).

H-Bomb, by Richard “Lord” Buckley, 1906-1960 

Lord Boothby, the eminent British philosopher made this statement. He came along with a big, strong line.  He said, “Humor is the only solvent of terror and tension.” 

Another great humorist Thurber, the beloved Thurber, came along and said that we as Americans must realize “that humor is one of our greatest allies.” 

And I, in humility, say, “It is the duty of the humor of any given nation in times of high crisis to at-tack the ca-tastrophe that faces it in such a manner as to cause the people to laugh at it in such a manner that they do not die before they get killed.” 

So I figure I’m going down to the bank tomorrow with a couple of trucks, and take out a few bales of fifties – maybe a billion dollars – and I’m going to start a gigantic program over the television, over the radio, in the newspapers, in the funny papers, call the people who have anything to do with humor and I’m going to start a big, elongated eight-month campaign against the mother gasser of all time:  THE BOMB. 

A great spear of humor against the Bomb – rippity-tib zib zib and a ring ding ding against The Bomb. All kinds, all ways, all slides, all sides against The Bomb.  A great, big elongated program through the air, by the billboards by little ones by big ones till eventually, you mention H-Bomb to someone say: “H-Bomb! Ha ha ha ho hooo hee heee – heard a story about an H-Bomb the other day – Ha ha ha – there was a couple of H-Bombs – ha ha heee – Missiles! – ha ha ha ho ho hee heeee – it’s only a thistle, here comes a missile! Ha ha ha heee … 

And you hear songs like (to the tune of “Summertime”): “Way down deep in the Ural Mountains, far behind the I-ron curtain, I-van and the lads are flirtin’, with U-ran-i-um! U-ran-i-um is not geranium! I’m hip that you know, that when you lose your a-plomb, when the a-tomic bomb, comes your way – ba-ba be-bop – do you think you’ll be gassed, when you hear that big blast on the highway – Pom pom de bom bom – when everything goes up – eeeeee booooo – and then comes down, and Fifty-Second Street just can’t be found, and Symphony Mother Sid is history?” 

Now the next scene is the Kremlin. 

Khrushchev has just returned from a very big visit, shaking everyone up, rattling the rockets and one thing and another.  And they give him a big party in the Kremlin, and what with Russian benzedrine and vodka and one thing and another, he’s smashed out – he’s in the silk, sacked out with a concrete wig – he’s in bad shape. 

And Moly comes in.  He says; “Khrusky!” 

“Not now Moly! Some other time, please, not now! I’m a very sick man and I cannot talk now.” 

“But Khrusky, something terrible has happened.” 

“Vat vat vat vat vat terrible could happen?! Vat terrible?! 

“But the Americans–”

“The Americans VAT?!?!?!” 

“The Americans are in the streets, laughing at the Bomb.” 

“Vat!?!?  This is terrible news!  If we cannot scare them to death, we cannot beat them.  Give me a double shot of vodka right away.  Ve give them back Poland, see vat happens …” 

From The Bad Rapping of the Marquis de Sade, World Pacific, 1969 Transcribed by EARL RIVERS   

I got this photo from Michael Monteleone, who is a great devotee of Lord Buckley, and the maker of a wonderful documentary on him, “Too Hip for the Room:  The Righteous Reign of Lord Buckley”.  Look for the film, although I was unable to find the very fine trailer I saw a few years ago.  (But don’t confuse it with “Too Hip for the Room”, the feature film of 2015 directed by Oktay Ortabasi.  How they happened to choose this title for their film, when Monteleone’s film was already around, I’d be curious to know.  I hope there weren’t any lawyers involved.)  

This blog item has been a pleasure for me to prepare, and a welcome chance to plug Lord Buckley.

Allen Schill

January 2016

* “I’d rather die standing than live on my knees”, which paraphrases the legendary declaration of a century ago by Emiliano Zapata.

© Copyright Allen Schill

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