July 2, 2005


A ‘Pearl’ of a Strip: Stephan Pastis has one of the sickest, funniest comics going. And he can't even draw. (Brad Stone, 7/01/05, Newsweek)

Some believe that the key to humor is timing. Others think it lies in a slightly distorted presentation of the familiar. E. B. White thought that humor ceased to exist upon close examination.

But if anyone has humor figured out, it's Stephan Pastis. His philosophy is written in black felt pen on the bulletin board in his home office in Santa Rosa, Calif., an hour north of San Francisco. It reads: “When in doubt, kill cute things.”

Pastis is a 37-year-old former lawyer and the cartoonist behind the morbidly hilarious daily comic strip “Pearls Before Swine,” which appears in 225 papers nationwide and has been collected in four briskly selling books. Pastis lives by those six sinister words. “Pearls” is dark, outrageously blunt and sparingly drawn—because, well, Pastis can’t draw. It’s pretty darn funny too, a pearl on the newspaper comics page, wedged among the many unfunny strips of artists who died or retired years ago but somehow remain surprisingly prolific.

Pastis populates Pearls with a quartet of generically named characters. Rat, the gravitational center of the "Pearls" universe, is a callous megalomaniac. Pig, Rat’s roommate and comic foil, is sweet and misguided. Goat—visually identical to Pig, but with antlers—is intelligent and detached. Zebra (Goat with stripes and a mohawk) seeks to protect his herd from predators and avoid the hungry but stupid local crocodiles ... who live along with everyone else in American suburbia.

“Death is funny,” Pastis tells NEWSWEEK, explaining the philosophy of his strip.

Which, of course, is one of the key reasons that all humor is conservative--if you're a secular materialist there's nothing funny about death.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 2, 2005 10:18 AM

Sure there is. Compare the crucifixion scene from "Life of Brian" to "Passion of the Christ".

Posted by: Robert Duquette at July 2, 2005 3:42 PM

Yes, Life of Brian is just The Passion with a laugh track.

Posted by: oj at July 2, 2005 3:45 PM

"The Life Of Brian" wasn't about Christ.

Posted by: cjm at July 2, 2005 10:55 PM

of course it was. What's the central message of the film?

Posted by: oj at July 2, 2005 11:03 PM

I'd never heard of "Pearls Before Swine" before. That has to be the funniest new comic I've seen in years. Those collections are going on my Amazon wish list right now.

Posted by: Kyle Haight at July 2, 2005 11:49 PM

Life of Brian could have been written by Trey Stone and Matt Parker. The cowardly Judean terrorists, stonings as entertainment, "but what have the Romans ever done for us?", Biggus Dickus. It's all proto-South Park.

The real Jesus is giving his sermon on the mount and the people in the back can't hear it quite clearly. "What was that? Blessed are the cheesemakers?" "Well, obviously, this is not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products." Python wasn't making fun of Jesus; they were making fun of people who misinterpreted his message.

Posted by: Gideon at July 3, 2005 12:14 AM

"...if you're a secular materialist there's nothing funny about death." This doesn't make sense to me. I'm guessing the assumption is that "secular materialists" are supposed to be too afraid of death to laugh?

Posted by: pkd at July 3, 2005 3:55 AM


The central message of the film is the tendency of people to slavishly follow a messiah.

Review the scene where Brian is talking to the crowd from his bedroom window as just one of many for instances.


I have come to agree with OJ that most humor is conservative (although the logic tends to circularity--Harry Shearer's "Le Show" is both liberal and funny, but OJ would say it is conservative because the humor techniques are). However, this particular assertion is silly.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at July 3, 2005 7:16 AM


Nope. It's the opposite.

Posted by: oj at July 3, 2005 7:41 AM


Nope. It's the opposite. Where are the Brianists?

Posted by: oj at July 3, 2005 7:42 AM

i always took the film as a historical comedy, ala Holy Grail, or Jabberwocky. if it were meant to be about Christ wouldn't they have included many more such scenes ? they make fun of jews and romans, there not being any christians at that point in history. the pythons were not into deep topics.

Posted by: cjm at July 3, 2005 10:34 AM


Christ was a Jewish citizen of Rome.

Posted by: oj at July 3, 2005 10:57 AM

The argument itself is silly. As with any of OJ's linear pronouncements, he can bend any evidence to the contrary to support his point of view. Humor is neither conservative or liberal, it just is. If you really want to draw a parallel between comedy and a political viewpoint, you would have to say that comedy is a moderate. It turns self-importance on its head. Self importance exists at either pole of the political spectrum, there is much fodder for ridicule among serious right-wingers and left-wingers.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at July 3, 2005 12:19 PM

oj: just as an aside, is there any writings about Christ going to Rome itself; i.e. did he ever travel outside of Israel ?

rd: small-c conservatives, and small-l liberals are the true moderates. you have to have extreme behavior for humor or drama, just to draw a contrast with the droning of everyday life.

Posted by: cjm at July 3, 2005 2:57 PM


Self-importance is secular and materialist.

Posted by: oj at July 3, 2005 3:40 PM


There's apocryphal evidence of Him going to India even, but none of it would have anything to do with His being Roman.

Posted by: oj at July 3, 2005 3:41 PM


You must not have seen the film, in which there were "Brianists."

Out of the entire movie, two scenes involved Jesus, and the humor in neither scene involved Christianity.

But it did rather beat up on humanity's tendency to fanatical religiosity--so it is only about Christianity to the extent Christians are prone to baseless, fanatical, religious belief.

Actually, since virtually all non-ribald humor is anti-authority, then humor is actually libertarian. The techniques themselves, though, have to be "conservative" since they only work with respect to human nature.

As for the assertion that secular humanists find nothing funny about death, then you haven't seen Monty Python's Meaning of Life.

And as for assuming all humor is conservative, then you haven't heard the song "Every Sperm is Sacred" from the same movie.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at July 3, 2005 7:13 PM

Wrong. Self importance is human. Just admitting you're fallen doesn't stop you from acting fallen.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at July 3, 2005 7:35 PM

No, if you're secular the self is all important. Only if you're religious is it not. Because we're Fallen we all act is if it were.

Posted by: oj at July 3, 2005 8:27 PM


Yes, where are the Brianists now?

Posted by: oj at July 3, 2005 8:29 PM

Like I said, it's because we're human. I'm glad you agree.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at July 3, 2005 10:29 PM


Everytime you see a fanatical religious zealot, of whatever stripe, you are looking at a Brianist.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at July 4, 2005 7:22 AM


Bingo! Christianity is the dominant force in human affairs. There is no Brianism. The Truth, no matter how hilarious, prevails.

Posted by: oj at July 4, 2005 8:26 AM


Yes, that's the human condition. But only the religious recognize such selfishness as disorder.

Posted by: oj at July 4, 2005 8:27 AM

How do you defend such a catalog of generalities without daily being bombarded with contrary evidence which will blow them away? Is that why you never leave the basement?

Posted by: Robert Duquette at July 4, 2005 10:34 AM

That's the beauty of being a conservative--everything confirms your philosophy. The newspaper is one long "told you so."

Posted by: oj at July 4, 2005 11:36 AM

Well, as long as you get your information from newspapers, I guess you're on solid ground. Carry on.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at July 4, 2005 3:07 PM

"Every Sperm is Sacred" is actually in Meaning of Life .

Posted by: joe shropshire at July 4, 2005 3:10 PM

Whoops, sorry.

Posted by: joe shropshire at July 4, 2005 3:12 PM


You need to work on your reading comprehension.

To repeat: The movie satirizes, among other things, fanatical religious zealots. The particular religion is irrelevant--a fanatical Catholic is just as ridiculous as a fanatical Muslim, Buddhist, etc.

Fanatical religiosity is a very unfortunate concimitiant of human nature, and is what makes organized religion a pox on humanity.

Your continued insistence the movie is, even peripherally, about Christianity rather belies an unfortunate sense of self-importance.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at July 4, 2005 4:56 PM

Jeff, stop that. Self-importance is a particular scourge of this century just past; fanaticism extends to all creeds; and he reads perfectly well.

Posted by: joe shropshire at July 4, 2005 7:18 PM


Yes, but only true fanaticism survives. It's very Darwinian. There are 2 billion Christians and more every day. There are fewer and fewer seculars. There are no Brianists. Only the true fanaticisms survive. That's the sublime point of the movie.

Posted by: oj at July 4, 2005 7:49 PM

'Stiff' by Mary Roach. Secular materialist corpse humor.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at July 4, 2005 8:49 PM



So you are saying that every Christian is so spiritually impressionable they will fanatically follow anyone even giving the appearance of proclaiming to be a savior?

Further, your presumed point reveals a true lack of understanding the point of much of Monty Python's humor. They were anti-authority, and, consistent with that, anti-organized religion.

In other words, their humor was libertarian, not conservative.


Presuming self importance is a particular fault of areligionists doesn't bear up very well under examination.

Religions have always been self important; by extension, religionists gain self importance through their religion.

That's why the terms "religious" and "hatred" are joined at the dipthong.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at July 5, 2005 4:22 AM


Everyone follows someone. A few of the people men have followed turn out to have revealed truth--Moses, Jesus, Mohammed--many lies--Marx, Darwin, Freud, Brian, etc..

That the Pythons are also a butt of their own joke merely reinforces the point that all humor is conservative.

Posted by: oj at July 5, 2005 6:25 AM