Earlier this week I received an unsolicited email from an anonymous email address with no text in the body, only the subject like "For Steamroller" and a text file attached. I cautiously opened the text file and have copied + pasted its contents below. What follows appears to be an account from an Arkham, MA-based scholar about his experiences with and attempts to understand The People's Temple of Comedy, which begins a residency at the Laugh Factory this Sunday.
Those who are poorly acquainted with reality often believe that everything of interest to history has been documented to build up the knowledge base of future generations. Those unfortunate souls, such as myself, who are offered a terrible glimpse behind the veil, know all too well that sometimes secrets are kept secret for nameless eons, never meant to be peered upon by public awareness.
My dreaded brush with the decadent People’s Temple of Comedy began as a fateful result of my studies into ancient humor at Miskatonic University under the capable tutelage of Dr. Ferdinand Ashley. I had become entirely consumed, to a point which I can now admit bordered on a dangerous obsession, by the question of who performed the first pratfall. What manner of ape-man took the initial step into toppling over, pretending to be hurt, for the amusement of others?
It was to be my thesis and would undoubtedly vault me to the highest and most esteemed circles of comedic scholarship. With thoughts of my certain impending celebrity in head, I dug into every source I could find in our school’s library. Quintillian’s De Magnis Ridet, Albert Foundsmith’s The Origin of Mirth, Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour; I was reading it all.
Of all that I’ve learned in these studies, I’m certain of only one thing: that the universe has a cruel sense of humor. How else could I explain what materialized on the table next to me, as if out of thin air? How else would you make sense of the fact that right before me stood a copy of The Necronomicon of the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, suspiciously open to the page containing the much-discussed couplet:
“Blessed is he who lives not on air but laughs,
Who can survive with only jokes and beer on draft.”
Some scholars interpret the passage to be a warning against taking life too seriously, but other antiquarians of a more mystical variety insist that it is a coded reference to an ageless cult who believed that the only good thing in this life, the only thing even worth living for, was humor and Comedy. They were said to respect neither cultural more nor social taboo, and were prone to use humor as a rhetorical device to poke holes in the very construct of civilization. If these wild tales were to be believed, the cult has always existed, and always will exist, laughing the maniacal laugh of Bacchus, laughing at you for doing anything else with your life other than laughing.
But certainly, these were the ravings of men of weak constitutions. My scholarly mind couldn’t allow me to accept these lunatic theories, but I was driven, as if a magnet toward another magnet, to investigate further. If I could uncover the existence of a cult that predates recorded history, that would certainly make for a better dissertation than a history of pratfalls.
I pressed onward and consulted Albert Wilmarth, a local folklorist of much repute. Initially, when I brought up the direction of my studies, Wilmarth fell silent and professed ignorance, but there was something about his aspect that indicated to me a level of restraint, a secret lingering beneath the surface of his skin like scabies. After some gentle prodding, and a glass of moon-wine, he leaned in and spoke in a conspiratorial tone,
“I know nothing of this group you speak of, but if my aged memory doesn’t fail me, fragment 13 of the Pnakotic Manuscripts deals heavily with humor.”
That was all I needed to hear, so I graciously bid my host a good evening and raced back to the library. It was after hours, but luckily the head librarian Dr. Armitage was still there, burning the midnight oil poring over tombs full of strange runes and incantations. I left him to his studies and made haste to Fragment 13, and you can imagine my horror when I saw that not only did the words before me involve humor, but they all but confirmed the existence of the ageless cult, existing since time immemorial, called The People’s Temple of Comedy.
Seeing these words contained in this inconceivably old text, I could respond only by laughing. But it wasn’t a laugh I was accustomed to laughing; it was freer, more meaningful somehow. It felt like a comfortable madness, as welcoming as a warm bath. The laughter washed over me and turned into a cacophony when I realized that a text older than Beowulf contained the following prophecy:
“The ageless and all-laughing family, The People’s Temple of Comedy, will exist in the shadows until such a time and place when the stars are right for them to make their existence known to humanity. That time is Sunday, September 28th, 2014 at 6 PM and that place is The Laugh Factory in Chicago. Herald their arrival, for they will teach you new ways to laugh.”
My hands shook as I realized that this prophesied date was this weekend, and I fell to the ground in convulsive laughter. I blacked out, and when I came to, I was in a hospital, being attended to by all manner of alienists. When they weren’t paying attention, I snuck out a window and caught the first bus out of town toward Chicago.
I write this to you from that bus, partially as a recruitment tool, but partially as a warning. This new appreciation of laughter has set me free, but I fear it is at the cost of my sanity. But it has also made me question whether my original conception of sanity was ever really sanity at all. If it was, I choose insanity.
I’ll be there for the first show, and every show after. Praise be to Comedy!