Clevinger’s Trial from Catch-22 is probably one of the most brilliantly written comedic scenes in literature ever. And inspite of many authors trying to replicate Heller’s brilliance, no one was ever able to, including Heller. Here’s a small excerpt to pique your curiosity.
‘There were members of the Action Board, the bloated colonel with the big fat mustache, Lieutenant Scheisskopf and Major Metcalf, who was trying to develop a steely gaze. As a member of the Action Board, Lieutenant Scheisskopf was one of the judges who would weigh the merits of the case against Clevinger as presented by the prosecutor. Lieutenant Scheisskopf was also the prosecutor. Clevinger had an officer defending him. The officer defending him was Lieutenant Scheisskopf.’
The colonel sat down and settled back, calm and cagey suddenly, and ingratiatingly polite.
“What did you mean,” he inquired slowly, “when you said we couldn’t punish you?”
“I’m asking the questions. You’re answering them.”
“Yes, sir. I–”
“Did you think we brought you here to ask questions and for me to answer them?”
“No, sir. I–”
“What did we bring you here for?”
“To answer questions.”
“You’re goddam right,” roared the colonel. “Now suppose you start answering some before I break your goddam head. Just what the hell did you mean, you bastard, when you said we couldn’t punish you?”
“I don’t think I ever made that statement, sir.”
“Will you speak up, please? I couldn’t hear you.”
“Yes, sir. I–”
“Will you speak up, please? He couldn’t hear you.”
“Yes, sir. I–”
“Didn’t I tell you to keep your stupid mouth shut?”
“Then keep your stupid mouth shut when I tell you to keep your stupid mouth shut. Do you understand? Will you speak up, please? I couldn’t hear you.”
“Yes, sir. I–”
“Metcalf, is that your foot I’m stepping on?”
“No, sir. It must be Lieutenant Scheisskopf’s foot.”
“It isn’t my foot,” said Lieutenant Scheisskopf.
“Them maybe it is my foot after all,” said Major Metcalf.
“Yes, sir. You’ll have to move your foot first, colonel. It’s on top of mine.”
“Are you telling me to move my foot?”
“No, sir. Oh, no, sir.”
“Then move your foot and keep your stupid mouth shut. Will you speak up, please? I still couldn’t hear you.
Trust me, it gets funnier.
With Clevinger lost, the board clueless, and the bloated Colonel belligerent, the way Heller captures the comic tragedy of the trial in a mind-numbing yet intensely funny way. And Clevinger’s trial isn’t the only thing. Right from Yossarian’s paranoia, to Milo’s war profiteering, every single bit of that novel oozes humor and satire.
I’m not writing a book review, but the reason I brought this up here is because a lot of situations in life are comedic, however only with the benefit of hindsight. I’m sure none of the characters in Catch-22 ever found the situations they were in even remotely funny. Work going up? Confused leadership? Directionless colleagues? Isn’t it strikingly similar to our lives, with assignments, teachers, classmates, all quirky enough to write Catch-22 all over again?
Life’s funny, in a very ironical way. After all, haven’t all of us got a story where we’ve been stood up while being fully suited? Had a bad hair day on the day we really cannot afford to? Submitted the wrong assignment? Texted the ex, complimenting her on her ‘hot purple sweater’? All of us have a funny story to tell. And a life to talk about.
We’ve all had unfulfilled childhoods, wishing our parents had done something differently, bad relationships, wishing our ex’s would have been a little more considerate and bad days at college, hoping our teachers would be a little more forgiving. But even if they weren’t, shouldn’t we take it as a sad joke and move on, instead building a wall around ourselves, and getting buried under the weight of the collapsing bricks?
Since I’m talking about humor, lets talk about how its rooted in reality.
For instance, there’s the last entrant to our class, and his struggles at making it to TISS is the topic for another blogpost. Almost everyone, apart from the Union HRD Minister knew about how he was being wrongfully denied admission into the institute of his dreams. Rumors are that he even sent out a Plea Tweet to Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Ratan Tata to ensure he wasn’t kept out of the seat he deserved! If there’s someone who blew down doors, knocked down houses, and charted his own way into TISS, its him. The story is greeted with peals of laughter whenever told to anyone in class, but the trials this poor fellow went through was not even remotely close to what we define as funny in our conventional, ‘Will Ferrell’ way.
Comic tragedies happen in life to all of us, right from screwed up days at work to a comedy of errors in presentations, we’ve seen it all with growing dread, and laughed at it with total insanity, in the same day. Life’s a divine comedy, with a lot of coincidence, fate, luck all thrown in together for good measure. Even in my class, right from ‘Escalator Baba’s Curvy Tummy’ to the CR’s ‘Ambarrr-llaa’, there are unforgettable stories attached to each and every one of us.
An eclectic mix of people is what makes every situation in class worth a hearty laugh. At the end of the day, we all need to hit our beds with a smile, reminiscing about that one moment of uncontrollable insanity in the day.
And as long as we’re getting that laugh, even the most painful flashback to it can be reduced to a stupid event, not an interruption in the way we live our lives. We are the masters of our own fates, our own sorrows, our own joys and our own jokes.
All of us have an Edmund Blackadder or a Jim Hacker within us. Its just upto to us to let them out for the world to see.
‘C’mon Kage, now it’s time to blow doors down
I hear you Jables, now it’s time to blow doors down
Light up the stage ’cause it’s time for a showdown
We’ll bend you over then we’ll take you to Brown Town
Now we’ve got to blow this fucker down’