2.15 April Fool's Day
April Fool’s Day is thought to originate from Chaucer's Cantebury Tales, specifically in ‘The Nun's Priest's Tale’, where the events played out "Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two”. So, the jokes started on ‘March 32nd', but really, on April 1st. Or so says my old friend the Internet – Chaucer was always a mystery to me. In the tale, the vain cock Chauntecleer is tricked by a fox. April Fool’s Day is actually held on a date based on misinterpretation. Fitting. If you are traveling abroad, keep this in mind: Officially, you only have until noon on April 1st for your jokes and pranks in New Zealand, the UK, Australia and South Africa. After noon, you are considered a jerk.
Some well know pranks:
In 1957, the BBC program Panorama showed Swiss farmers harvesting spaghetti from trees. They claimed the despised pest, the spaghetti weevil, had been eradicated. A large number of people contacted the BBC wanting to know how to cultivate their own spaghetti trees.
In 1976, British astronomer Sir Patrick Moore said a unique alignment of two planets would result in an upward gravitational pull making people lighter at precisely 9:47 am on April 1st. He invited people to jump in the air and experience "a strange floating sensation". Many people claimed the experiment worked.
In 1980, the BBC reported a proposed change to the famous clock tower Big Ben. The proposal was that the clock would go digital.
In 1998, Burger King advertised 'Left Handed Whoppers'. They were a big hit but left others having to order the old 'Right Handed Whoppers’.
In 2004, an Italian station reported that NASA discovered crude oil on Mars.
In 2008, CBC radio program As it Happens interviewed a Royal Canadian Mint spokesperson who broke news of plans to replace the five dollar bill with a three dollar coin. He dubbed the coin a 'threenie'. Loonie, toonie, threenie.
This is all very fun but I believe there has been a larger misinterpretation than just March 32nd. The very notion of the 'fool' is something that needs to be re-imagined and brought back to older times. Shut up with your bad jokes and put the whoppee cushions away and shut the lids on the pretend peanut brittle. April Fool’s Day should be a celebration of a very different kind of fool.
In Shakespeare's plays, many times there was a 'fool' or 'clown'. Sometimes they were exactly that: A clown. At other times, for example the character of Falstaff from the Henry plays, the fools brought a depth of challenge to the leaders and pushed these Princes and Kings in ways lost on fellow nobility-minded individuals. The fools were aware of the situations around them and reacted with a level of truth and wisdom. Before he was King Henry V, Prince Hal was led into trouble from his companion Falstaff. But I would argue it was this connection that enabled Hal, when he became King, to connect to his soldiers and make them feel like his equal, like they were kings. Gravediggers in Shakespeare’s most famous play represent another dimension to the fool, philosophizing about death in ways that confounded and surprised even Hamlet.
Fools are no longer full of wisdom. Just fools. I could say that Glenn Beck is a fool and you would probably agree with me. But I could also say the comedian Lewis Black is a fool and perhaps that's a bit more confusing. Black often refers to himself as 'Schmucky the Clown' and he is exactly right, in the Shakespearean sense of the word ‘Schmucky’. He is an example of the old style fool, a complicated and layered clown. Someone right in the middle of the action with his ear to the ground but also reporting from the sidelines. And someone that, whether you agree with him or not, you must admit is telling the truth. Black peppers his act with lines like, “I had a breakthrough. I was home alone watching the president [Bush] speak on television. So, it was just really the two of us. As I listened to him, I realized, that one of us was nuts. And for the first time ever, I went, ‘Wow! It’s not me.’”
I am just a plain, earnest surface-fool. There are no layers. I always thought my clownishness was subversive, raconteurish, clever in a way where I hoped to travel down the same type of road that Lewis Black and other Schmucky's have paved. But things have a way of catching up to you, of not turning out the way you hoped, of disappointing you.
This is all getting very serious. I guess what I'm trying to say is that it takes guts to be a clown, a real one. It not only takes wisdom, but the vision of how to use it, figure out a way to communicate that wisdom. You risk being unpopular. You risk focus. You risk taking on and confronting fear.
Fear. This is what keeps me from attaining my position as a fool. The musician, poet, writer and spoken word artist Henry Rollins refers to it as finding the Ember of Rage. Rollins is a fool. He would probably agree if I had the time to explain before he pummeled me. "Where I come from, I use my anger to go out and get shit done. You must find your anger and your rage and your dissatisfaction lurking somewhere in you. It's going through the ashes trying to find the ember. It's in there. You have to dig down deep inside, find it and extract that jewel of rage and use it for civic good."
Another clown, someone I have referred to before, is Marc Maron from the WTF podcast. Naturally, as these things happen, he talked about similar ideas in the latest episode: "There was a time before when the great philosophical question used to be: What is the meaning of life? But now it's: How am I being used and am I okay with that? What am I willing to sacrifice my sense of self for? My sense of well-being? My sense of integrity? When did everything become a level playing field in terms of what has integrity and what doesn't? At some point you have to make a stand for yourself. When one snaps for whatever reason, there is a freedom in that snapping. There is an explosive expression of poetry, rage and insanity that is probably the most honest anyone is going to be in their life. When are you going to have your explosive rage and poetry about the condition of your life? Where is that moment of freedom for you?"
It might take anger, it might take looking far deep into myself, but I do believe there is an inner fool inside me. An ember of rage, an explosive expression of poetry. So, I will celebrate April 1st, not with a joke or a prank, but lift a glass to those that have taken up and carried on the tradition of the Shakespearean Fool. Cheers.