critics + community

John Oliver: As a comedian, you should not be in rooms where the people you're making fun of also are, because you'll realize at the end of the day, they're just people. You can't risk having that kind of compassion infect your mission to attack. So no, yeah - so my solution to that is not to curb my jokes. It's to not put myself in the same room as the consequences of those jokes.

Terry Gross: But that means with every year that you're doing satirical comedy, there are fewer rooms you can enter.

John Oliver: Yeah, but that's what you're supposed to be. A comedian is supposed to be an outsider. You're supposed to be outside, looking in. I don't want to be at parties in D.C. with politicians. The comedians shouldn't be there. If you feel comfortable in a room like that, there's a big problem.

That's what's so concerning about when you see journalists so comfortable around politicians. That's a red flag. There should be a kind of awkward tension whenever a journalist walks into a room that politicians are in, 'cause you should have done things that have annoyed them in the past. And the same as a comedian - you're no one's friend. You should be no one's friend, other than other comedians.

- Comedian John Oliver, in coversation with Terry Gross on Fresh Air. You can read the whole transcript here.

Jason Guriel: I was never much for readings and launches. To the extent I take part in a “literary community,” it’s usually in the manner of the catapult: fiery, I hope, but from afar.

The very first book I ever received to review felt like an affront. Before I realized it, I’d filed some pretty tough prose. Was this a choice? I’m pretty sure I couldn’t help myself; I’m pretty sure I still can’t. Chris Wiman, who used to edit Poetry, said somewhere that young reviewers will shoot blindly from the hip for awhile, before they realize the damage they’re doing to themselves professionally. “[S]weet’s the air with curling smoke/ From all my burning bridges,” is how Dorothy Parker put it. But “damage” is probably an overstatement. Unless they have their sights set on tenure or some other prize, poetry reviewers hardly need worry about a track record; they’re not Supreme Court nominees, whose least opinion might come back to haunt them.

They should be worried about being unduly influenced. Once, at a launch, I met a guy whose book I was set to review. The guy was alright. Turns out the book wasn’t. Needless to say, that was a hard review to write.

Don’t get me wrong; I have a few friends who happen to be writers, and I do make it to the odd reading. But I’m not sure I understand what people hope to get from participating in a “literary community.” I’m not sure “community” is even an inherently positive goal. Like the buzz word “dialogue,” it’s often an excuse for groupthink. Writers should be focused on their work, on impressing editors and netting readers—not networking with their peers.

- Poet and Critic Jason Guriel, in conversation with Jess Taylor over at The Town Crier. You can read the whole thing here.


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