10.2 x 10: Interview with comedian, author, activist Charles Demers

by on January 17, 2014

I am delighted to bring you the second edition of our Paltry Sapien interview series, 10×10, this time with the multi-talented Charles Demers.

When I was about 18 I got a tattoo of Charlie Chaplin down the length of my right bicep. There’s probably no ‘meeting-of-worlds’ that I’ve spent more time thinking about than I have the space where politics meets comedy.

1)    You wear three distinct hats as comedian, author, and activist; at the same time, your comedic sensibilities infuse your writing, your activism colors your comedic material, etc. Are there differing drives and motivations underlying your pursuit of these outlets, or is it all of a piece?

That’s a really good question.  My friend Max Fawcett has, written in his ‘something about yourself’ box on Facebook, a variation on Whitman: “I contain multitudes, but they’re all pretty much the same.”  While the work often feels very different, and certainly lets me change up the emphasis – here trying primarily to be funny, there being primarily political or historical, here being very personal – it does, for me, seem to be coming from mostly the same wellspring.  What I’m sort of working on is trying to make the disparate works make sense to people, the audience, as part of a whole.  But at the beginning, it was hard to get people interested in both the books and the comedy.

The worlds of literary writing and stand-up comedy exist in almost complete isolation from each other, which to me is insane, given the overlap – attention to language, ideas, observation.

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Jerry Jerry ~ Mayor of Smart City

by on January 14, 2014


My ongoing efforts to broaden the Youtubular footprint of Mr. Jerry Jerry have yielded further strange fruit in the form of this video for Smart (I’m Smart) from the stripped-down solo effort The Sound and the Jerry (1997). I had thought to go with the Marx Brothers, or maybe mad scientists (saving the immortal Herbert West for when I tackle Wierd), but for reasons that surpass my own understanding, I settled on a mishmash of Daniel Day-Lewis characters. If Jerry ever releases an extended dance remix, I’ll cut the video again with some ripe footage from Nine spliced in.

Jerry Jerry ~ Smart (I’m Smart)

Intelligence is force, insight is violence, wit is aggressive display.

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You Are Here, and Now

by on December 31, 2013

The Orloj Astrolabe

More than just your average timepiece, the Old Town Clock of Prague, or Orloj, can tell you what time it is and what date. It also tells you what the heavens should look like from where it stands. It tells you what time to expect sun rise and set, what lunar phase the moon should appear in, and even which Zodiacal sign is in ascendence. Elsewhere on the tower, there is an Apostle Walk. In the way it combines Christian characters, knowledge of astronomy, and elements of the mystic, all powered by, then, state of the art engineering, the Orloj offers a fascinating window on the Renaissance mind.

Orloj Schema

The 600th anniversary of the tower’s founding was celebrated this year in suitably exceptional fashion as the whole of its history (and the history of Prague) as well as it’s construction and workings was depicted against it in light and sound. The tower itself serves in the show as canvas, setting, recurrent theme, anatomy subject, main character and witness.

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Woody Guthrie’s New Year’s Resolutions (1942)

by on December 31, 2013

Change socks… Don’t get lonesome… Dream good… Wake up and fight. (Yes, these are his doodles, too)

Originally posted, Dec. 31, 2011

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A Look Back With Mr. Doo-Dah

by on December 31, 2013

Ring in the New Year with Vivian Stanshall, of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and the man who says “Grand Piano” at the 19:48 point (save that for later in the night).

Of Pomp and Circumcision

Assuming that that clip has only whetted your appetite for Doo-Dah Da-Da, below is Crank, broadcast in 1995 as an obituary salute and touchingly introduced by John Peel.

I have to admit that I was always slightly alarmed by Viv in the flesh, not only because of his sometimes unusual behavior, but by the feeling that I was face to face with someone whose thought processes were not only very different to mine but vastly superior.

Part 1: Absurd Rather Than Fatuous

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Merry Christmas (On Acid)

by on December 24, 2013

If you are dreaming of a brown Christmas, this post is for you. First, a Christmas card from Cyriak, none of his usual fractal madness, just a fairly standard-issue nightmare Noel. Nevertheless, we bid you view with caution.

Second, a seasonal song originally from Radio Free Vestibule, a loon trio from Montreal now going by the more wield-friendly the Vestibules.

Christmas on Acid

And now that things are kicking in nicely, we return to Cyriak. Please, sir, we need a nativity scene with these critters.


¡Feliz Navidad, Compañeros
And, finally, some Catalonian spice for your nog.


Tió de Nadal

The Tió de Nadal, meaning in English “Christmas Log”), also known simply as Tió (“trunk” or “log”, a big piece of cut wood) or Tronca (“log”) and popularly called Caga tió (“shitting log”), is a character in Catalan mythology relating to a Christmas tradition widespread in Catalonia. A similar tradition exists in other places such as the Cachafuòc or Soc de Nadal in Occitania, or the Tizón de Nadal or Tronca de Nabidá in Aragon, regions with a common history.

The form of the Tió de Nadal found in many Catalan homes during the holiday season is a hollow log of about thirty centimetres length. Recently, the tió has come to stand up on two or four little stick legs with a broad smiling face painted on the higher of the two ends, enhanced by a little red sock hat (a miniature of the traditional Catalan barretina) and often a three-dimensional nose. Those accessories have been added only in recent times, altering the more traditional and rough natural appearance of a dead piece of wood.

Beginning with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8), one gives the tió a little bit to “eat” every night and usually covers him with a little blanket so that he will not be cold at night.

On Christmas day or, depending on the particular household, on Christmas Eve, one puts the tió partly into the fireplace and orders it to “shit” (the fire part of this tradition is no longer as widespread as it once was, since many modern homes do not have a fireplace). To make him “shit”, one beats him with sticks, while singing various songs of Tió de Nadal.

The tió does not drop larger objects, as those are considered to be brought by the Three Wise Men. It does leave candies, nuts and torrons. Depending on the part of Catalonia, it may also give out dried figs. When nothing is left to “shit”, it drops a salt herring, a head of garlic, an onion or “urinates”. What comes out of the tió is a communal rather than individual gift, shared by everyone present.

In addition to the names listed in the opening paragraph, the additional nickname Caga tió, “shitting log”) derives from the many songs of Tió de Nadal that begin with this phrase, which was originally (in the context of the songs) an imperative (“shit log!”). The use of this expression as a name is not believed to be part of the ancient tradition.

Shit log,

shit nougats (turrón),
hazelnuts and cottage cheese,
if you don’t shit well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
shit log!

An alternate version goes something like this:

Shit log,

log of Christmas,
don’t shit herrings,
which are too salty,
shit nougats (turrón)
which are much better!

After hitting it softly with a stick during the song, it is hit harder on the words Caga tió!. Then somebody puts their hand under the blanket and takes a gift. The gift is opened and then the song begins again.


Santa’s coming and coming and coming to town

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NFB’s Vérité Christmas of 1958: toujours la même

by on December 23, 2013

The National Film Board has an incredible online presence. Check out this 30 minute direct cinema film exploring “The Days Before Christmas” in Montreal in 1958. Children chat awkwardly with Santa; direct their own jangly bands; and you can cruise the streets of Montreal in a cab, among other time-travelling treats.

A poetic observational piece, it may instill in you a craving for more black and white images in daily life.

Originally posted Dec. 19, 2011

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Three Prickly Carolers

by on December 18, 2013

Via Dangerous Minds

More fun, simple animations from Bird Box after the break.

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Shopping By The Stars: New Year’s Edition

by on December 16, 2013

It adjusts for shrinkage!

In this new installment in what future generations will one day refer to as ‘Paltry Wisdom,’ we provide helpful shopping tips for you, the consumer. Many of us will soon be awash in the drunken, regretful spectacle that is New Year’s Eve. Maybe you’ve been invited to attend a New Year’s party. Maybe you’re the kind of conscientious party guest who plans ahead and brings a gift for the host. Maybe you’ve got the fore-thought to buy an apology gift, knowing you will do something embarrassing, vulgar, and possibly even criminal to tarnish the host’s party.

Either way, most politeness experts would agree (politely) that the proper gift should always be determined by the astrological sign of the recipient. It shows you’ve put thought, effort, and a little touch of centuries-old superstition into your present. So here, courtesy of eBay, are a dozen quality gift suggestions that could be yours in time for New Year’s Eve… or New Year’s Day, accompanied by a promissory note to pay for damages.

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Slim Cessna ~ Hold My Head

by on December 13, 2013

Here’s a sinister Pied Piper epic from Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, a gothabilly ensemble out of Denver (still lonesome for her heroes) with a shared ancestry with 16 Horsepower. The clip is not your standard low-grade gig video; The song is killer, and you can feel the crowd-sweat, the ticky-tack dance floor under foot, and even smell the yeasty beer mats. This would have been the kicker at one Hell of a concert.

Originally posted Feb 8, 2011

Have A Great Great October

by on November 9, 2013

Whoops, Great October whizzed right by with nary a mention. Have a great belated GO, everyone and enjoy the New New Model Red Army Choir as they lay down some lucky. h/t Jackie Hutter

(According to the comments, these are Ministry of the Interior uniforms)

Not much celebrated in Putin’s Russia, nonetheless it is the Day of the Great October Revolution (November 7), so storm and occupy the Winter Palace nearest you.

Spitting Image ~ Atop the Mausoleum

Matching hats, herring aplenty and a tank in every garage!

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Shale Gas in New Brunswick: We need your Leadership — An Open Letter to Premier David Alward

by on October 22, 2013

Dear Hon. David Alward,

I have been closely following the protests and blockade near Rexton, NB. It has been heartening to see members of the Elsipogtog First Nation, Acadian, and Anglo communities collaborate over the common goal of protecting the natural resources of our beautiful province. It has been shocking to see the RCMP act violently against the citizens of this province to protect the assets of a foreign company. [ Video: Showdown at Highway 134]

I was born and raised in Fredericton, and cherish having the St. John River in my backyard. I understand the frustration the local community must feel at the prospect of shale gas exploration and fracking causing the contamination of their wells, rivers, tributaries, and farm fields.

You must acknowledge the widespread dissension in NB over shale gas in a meaningful way: you must declare a moratorium, and consult with the community. Pay SWN Resources Canada whatever penalty they demand for stalling their business: it is worth it.

SWN is a foreign company; their interest is singularly profit-based. They have no stake in the lives of New Brunswickers. This is to be expected. What is shocking is that you are their biggest advocate, stating they are “abiding by all regulations”, etc. No one is claiming SWN are engaged in illegal activities. Rather, they are doing something destructive and immoral, and you are enabling the process.

There must be a way to move through the recession in New Brunswick without decimating the health of the people, and the land itself, in exchange for cash. We need your leadership now to dive into all options, and value what is best for the people of this province above what is best for the owners of SWN.

I’ve compiled a list of resources for you and Minister of Energy Craig Leonard to review to further inform your stance on shale gas (included below). I am confident you cannot in good conscience move forward once you know the facts.

Map of blocks of land David Alward licensed to SWN for exploration.


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