David Foster Wallace and the Comedy Nerd | Splitsider
Jared Sperli stashed this in life
Mike Schur, showrunner of Parks and Recreation, is obsessed with David Foster Wallace. At Harvard, he made Wallace an honorary member of the Lampoon and wrote his thesis about Infinite Jest. He directed a music video depicting a scene from IJ. His wife banned him from discussing the book at social gatherings.
It’s not just Schur — a ton of comedians share David Foster Wallace enthusiasm. Adam Scott, Nick Offerman, Rob Delaney and a bunch more comedians read monologues from Pale King after its 2011 release. Tina Fey mentions Wallace in Bossypants. Anecdotally, a lot of my comedy friends are into Wallace. I read Infinite Jest while interning at Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and even though they clearly had a million better things to be doing, staff members would talk to me about the wheelchair assassins and what Wallace essays I should read.
Why is Wallace so popular with comedy people? He’s funny, but a lot of authors are funny. His work is accomplishes what he saw as fiction’s ultimate task: it considers “what it is to be a fucking human being.” But again, a lot of authors do this. What makes Wallace specifically appealing to people who spend a lot of time thinking about comedy and entertainment, is that Wallace spent a lot of his time thinking about comedy and entertainment. In his essays and through his fiction, he explores comedy theory. David Foster Wallace was a comedy nerd.
My favorite Wallace quote, and his most succinct statement of what makes a joke good, comes in his essay “Laughing with Kafka.” Thinking about the relation of comedy to prose fiction, he says that the best jokes and the best short stories both leave out important information but evoke it “in such a way as to cause a kind of explosion of associative connections.” It’s a thoughtful exploration of a theory held by Kant and Kierkegaard. (And by Ali Farahnakian, who once told my class “Laughter is the sound of surprise.”) And it’s worth it to Wallace to think about comedy, because as he writes, “jokes are a kind of art.”