Turn on the TV. Better yet, don’t watch TV for six months and then turn it on. What happened? When did everyone turn into such a pile of sarcastic jackals?
Of course people crack jokes to make light of difficult or scary situations, but look at something like “Seinfeld,” and ponder the current state of American humor: Anything is fair game for a laugh—cancer, having a large head, smelling like soup—but the only acceptable approach is ironic detachment. That’s how lacquered over with cynicism we’ve gotten—to betray a genuine enthusiasm for something is to risk ridicule for liking anything.
Whinnying snidery isn’t Steve Garnaas-Holmes’ bag. Or his brother Tim Holmes’. Or Bob Fitzgerald’s or Rusty Harper’s. The four of them together, as the Montana Logging and Ballet Company, have been doing humorous political commentary, side-splitting musical send-ups and ingenious physical comedy for almost 25 years—and hardly ever, it should be noted, resorting to base sarcasm and easy putdowns to get the point across.
“We don’t like cheap shots,” says Garnaas-Holmes. “We don’t like slamming people just because it’s easy to get laughs.”
This was even the case last year, when so much of the nation’s comedic attention was given over to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. According to Garnaas-Holmes, the Company steered clear of the affair purely because there was no way to out-goof it.
“We couldn’t have written a script that was any stupider than Clinton’s,” Garnaas-Holmes explains. “We couldn’t have topped that. There was nowhere we could go that would have given anyone any dignity. We cracked a few Monica Lewinsky jokes and moved on. Audiences were relieved.”
Humor with dignity? Surely you’re joking, Mr. Garnaas-Holmes!
“We’re the ones who get to dance around and shout, ‘The emperor has no clothes!’ and put it to music,” he continues, noting that, yes, of course, there are people out there abusing power and trust and generally behaving badly.
“But the point,” he emphasizes, “is not to make fun of the emperor.”
The four members of the Montana Logging and Ballet Company have been perfecting their gentle—but pointed—blend of humor and social commentary since they were students doing PR stunts for Rocky Mountain College in Billings. Garnaas-Holmes agrees that 25 years is a pretty good run for a bunch of guys getting together to play music and do comedy improv with no particular plans to be famous, dryly comparing his compadres to both lichen (“we started to grow on each other”) and family (“those are the people you’re stuck with”), but also talking about hope and good energy, and particularly how audiences are affected by a surfeit of both when the Company takes the stage.
“We understand ourselves to be in the service of something bigger than ourselves,” Garnaas-Holmes concludes. “And that’s what keeps us together. People come to our shows as individuals and leave as groups. We have sort of a trust that hope is infectious. We’re a musical virus of hope, how about that?”
The Montana Logging and Ballet Company will be performing at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 15 at the Wilma Theatre. Proceeds to benefit area human rights groups. Tickets are $15 advance.