Thursday, November 16, 2006


It is all the question of story.
We are in trouble just now
because we are in between stories
--Thomas Berry.

BuildingSpiritual Community
(It’s the story that counts)
Delivered at a clergy conference
Louisville, June, 2000
Paschal Baute

One of our problems today is that our theology has become so focussed on words, that it has largely betrayed the power of the Word (in its original Aramaic, dabbar, meaning creative energy), as Matthew Fox noted. In our attempts to reach a rational understanding of mystery, we have often lost sight of the story which sustains and nourishes theological discourse. We have neglected the story as story with the result that over centuries we have turned stories into ideological statements, giving literal meaning to something that was never meant to be taken literally. We have forgotten that story is the most dynamic and versatile tool available to us humans for the discovery of meaning and mystery. *

Norman O. Brown once claimed that meaning is not in things but in between, It’s not in the events, nor in objects, nor even in proven discoveries that ultimate truth lies, but in the process of searching, seeking, experimenting, and discovering.

Over time, teachings taken from stories, parables and lives have assumed the ideological proportions of dogma. Then stories that invited wonder and awe and insight, initally offering hope, new life and liberation became millstones, burdens that no longer inspire but instead stifle and stultify. All the major religions today, --and theology in general -- suffer from narrative starvation and privation. Even when the orginal myths are still narrated, they are so couched in rationalisitic, legalistic or devotional framings that inhibit and even prevent the story from being dynamically retold in today’s context.

The entire bible , as well as the sacred texts of other wisdom traditions, is primarily a story, and not a record of facts and events. In a faith context, what brings meaning and integration to experience, facts are secondary, always secondary. . “It is the story (and not the facts) tha grips the imagination, impregnates the heart, and animates the spirit from within, empowering. O.Murchu says it well here:

“Whether or not there was an empty tomb, whether or not any body actually saw the Risen Jesus, is not of primary significance. If through modern archaeological research we were to rediscover the remains of Jesus, thus establishing that he never rose physically from the grave, that discovery would not undermine th faith of a genuine believer. It would create immense doubt and confusion for millions who follow a dogmatic creed rather than a spirituality of the heart. (But It could also be the catalyst for a profound conversion experience.)” p. 114.

Jesus did not preach in any formal sense, nor did he theologize, nor attempt to establish anything like what we have today as church. Jesus told stories, the best remembered of these being parables. These have an archetypal, primordial significance: They are not just ordinary stories. In fact, there is no such thing as an “ordinary” story, because none of us are ordinary. The parables belong to a vein of prophetic discourse aiming to disturb and challenge the hearers, and to motivate them to move into a very different way of envisioning the world and themselves.

Bausch (1984) delineates the marks of the New Testament parables. They uncover:
our competitiveness and envy & invite us to brotherhood and sisterhood instead.
our wrong centering and invite us to a right centering
our need to hoard and exclude and invite us to share and include.
our assumptions and challenge us to turn them around
our timidity and invite us to risk all for the sake of God’s Reign
our self-centered despair and distrust and invite us to hope.

What is the role of Church in all of this? Jesus showed little concern for church and no concern whatever for its organization, as “church” is mentioned only once in the four Gospels, in a single text whose historicity is doubtful. Church is meant, we suggest, to be the community that continues the stories, both the servant and the herald of the exciting news of the New Reign of God in the world now. The main function of church is to gather the people and tell the stories that proclaim the Good News. All else is secondary. That includes ritual, tradition, orthodoxy, and canon law.

But Christian churches today have betrayed the reason for their existence. The major crisis facing the churches is not the drop in numbers, failure to organize, insufficient programs, shortage of ordained clergy, or lack of financial support. The major problem is that they have lost touch with the Reign of God agenda, that is, they no longer tell the stories in a way that speaks to the modern heart and mind. Churches, I suggest, have lost their souls. They have forgotten that the Spirit calls each one from within, singularly, usually by a story or sharing often through some personal crisis. The institutional churches instead try to fit people into ideologies, rituals, programs, traditions, or literal interpretations with no understanding that context influences everything. Most all churches today are inward looking, concerned with what is deemed necessary for their survival, and sometimes or too frequently what is necessary for the survival of the current power structures.

So far astray are most churches that any group that meets in order to tell the stories, even to tell their own stories, in a setting where personal faith is valued, is likely to be more engaged spiritually, more encouraged, more accepted, more deeply moved, with more incentive to personal change than in an hour of preaching or Eucharistic celebration. For example, there is usually far more spirituality in a 12th step meeting than occurs in most religious services. Without vulnerability, personal change is unlikely. “Church” or the realization of the Reign of God already amongst us, happens whenever there is this kind of vulnerable sharing, this kind of listening to the uniqueness of Another’s journey. Whenever we respond to each other in a caring way, “ministry” happens, inadvertent ministry, the priestliness of us all is affirmed, and the Story of this mystery we call Emmanuel is implicitly recognized and welcomed. And we are continuing the stories...Note here that hospitality to the Stranger is one of the most common threads of all Wisdom traditions.

*Note: Most of these comments find their origin or inspiration in a new book by Diarmuid O’Murchu, entitled Quantum Theology, (Spiritual implications of the New Physics) New York, Crossroads, 1997. This brief paper is only for your personal use and permission is not given for reproduction for anyone else. Thank you! Paschal Baute. By the way, what we have done simply for seventeen years in the Spiritual Growth Network of Kentucky is to gather the people and tell the stories, and listen well to the amazing diversities and graces of the journeys..

Stories are designed to force us to consider possibilities
Stories hint that our taken-for-granted daily realities may,
in fact, be fraught with surprise. --William J. Bausch

Whenever the hierarchy decides to trust the laity,
to recognize its true purpose
as the empowering of the laity,
the church will experience a second Springtime
that will dwarf the first Pentecost.
--Yves Congar

Now I will tell you a story......

Sunday, November 12, 2006

On Bullying and Bravery: a true story in sports and coaching

Sports of The Times
Amid Rascals and Ruffians, Acts of Faith and Courage

"Hotheads on Parade" begins this weekend when teams from college basketball’s repository for bullies — the Big 12 Conference, or the Notorious B.I.G. 12 — tip off with the habitually ticked off.

You will see endless footage of Texas Tech Coach Bob Knight in pursuit of Dean Smith’s career victory record (879) for men’s basketball. Knight was perched at 869 victories, 869 tantrums — and counting — before last night’s opener.

You will see lots of Kansas State's new hire, Bob Huggins, as a transplanted bad boy in pursuit of career validation, a journey that will include a drive down the New Jersey Turnpike to play Rutgers on Wednesday. You will see the coaches rant and intimidate. The camera loves a creep. But amid the crass montages from the vaults of Huggins and Knight are abrupt breaks in the film clips. Wardrobe changes.

Knight, forever in a Hoosiers sweater. Huggins, forever a fixture in Cincinnati. Then forever ended for both. The legacies of Knight and Huggins have been perpetuated by university presidents at Texas Tech and Kansas State who knuckled under when seduced by brute-force winning, as did many enablers before them.

Who had the might to push back? A Cincinnati president named Nancy Zimpher and a pacifist freshman named Kent Harvey. Zimpher and Harvey are as important to the history lesson of Huggins and Knight as any victory because they represent two people with the courage to say enough is enough. It can be done. It can be survived.

Zimpher endured a backlash last year from the Bearcats’ faithful when she bought out the contract of Huggins, a coach defined as a renegade. She was done with his combative sideline presence, low graduation rates and an arrest on a charge of driving under the influence in 2004.

"She took an unmerciful beating, and I understood why," Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese said at a news media day two weeks ago. "I’m one of her big fans because she’s tough and she stands up to people, and if people don’t like it, that’s O.K."

Zimpher still has her job and her dignity.

Harvey outlasted the scrutiny, too. In his case, it actually led to a spiritual liberation that has changed his life — for the better.

In September 2000, Harvey, a 19-year-old whistleblower, was introduced to Jesus after greeting Knight.

Near a doorway at Assembly Hall, on the campus of Indiana University, Knight crossed paths with Harvey on a random Thursday. Somewhat startled by the big star on campus, Harvey simply uttered a teenage salutation: "Hey, what’s up, Knight?"

By Sunday, Knight was fired for his compilation of tyranny, of chair throwing and name calling, of allegations that he had choked a player and had thrown a vase at a secretary. He had broken a zero-tolerance policy because Harvey reported his reply — an angry grab of his arm, a profane demand to be referred to respectfully as Coach or Mr. Knight — to officials.

By Monday night, Harvey was sitting alone in his father’s bedroom in Indianapolis — emotionally spent, forced to flee campus because of death threats — when he turned on the news.

A campus riot was raging in the name of Kent Harvey. An effigy with his name on it was hanged from a tree. A flag with his name on it was burned on the ground. T-shirts printed with "Wanted: Dead or Alive" also bore his face and name.

"I was in tears," Harvey said Friday. "I was beside myself. I couldn’t think. For the first time in my life, I got on my knees and said, 'God help me; save me from this mess.' "

He felt peace. In that instant, Harvey was saved from bitterness, from living his life as a victim of Knight's volatility. Imagine that: Knight emerged as the accidental broker of Harvey’s faith.

Harvey transferred colleges and completed a business degree. He lives in Indiana. He is happy, eager to start a new job, better from the perspective of his unforgettable brush with Knight.

"I think it was good for me," Harvey said. "I felt what I did was the right thing to do and the right choice, even though it was hard for me at first because of the consequences. With that said, I have nothing bad to say about him."

"Obviously, his track record is amazing; he's a great coach. I’d have to say there are different managing styles and different coaching styles. His way is his choice."

This is not diplomacy as much as reflection. Harvey isn't afraid of honest introspection, even in parsing his greeting to Knight that day at Assembly Hall.

"It’s an informal greeting that kids use, but it wasn't very discerning on my part," Harvey said. "And I'd be the first person to say that."

Career bullies are not so self-aware. It is difficult to experience an epiphany when it is considered a threat. Changing may mean losing — and that is intolerable.

Huggins is the same. So is Knight. He had no use for David Smith, the Texas Tech chancellor, after they had a confrontation at a salad bar in 2004. Knight never let it go. Two weeks ago, Knight took a jab at Smith — who exited to oversee the State University of New York Upstate Medical University — when he reportedly said that the incoming president, Kent Hance, "replaces a chancellor that had only one thing on his mind, and that was self-promotion."

Nothing says self-promotion like a reality show. In February, "Knight School," starring Bob Knight, had its premiere on ESPN.

Infamy gets plenty of air time. You'll see tons of Knight and Huggins this season as they stomp, and, very likely, win in the Big 12.

Out of camera range, two people exist as proof that not everyone has enabled their notorious streaks. Amid the montage odes to Knight and Huggins, there are wardrobe changes — and this is the reminder of those who stood up under intimidating circumstances.

Neither Zimpher nor Harvey would be bullied.


TIPS ON PERFORMING: how to be funny.

How to Be Funny
Compiled by JOHN HODGMAN

How to Direct a Comedy Legend
By Paul Feig, director of the upcoming “Unaccompanied Minors"

When approaching the task of directing a comedy legend, the utmost care and skill must be applied. The reasons for this are threefold:

1. You do not want to make the legend come off badly onscreen by giving him or her poor direction.

2. You do not want to be so specific in your direction that you restrict the legend’s comedic and improvisational skills and, most important. . . .

3. You do not want to look like a talentless idiot in front of the legend.

Especially when that legend is Teri Garr.

I have directed a few legends in my career. I am proud of the fact that I have directed both the Oscar nominee Joan Plowright and the ultraconservative rocker Ted Nugent in acting roles. (Sadly, they did not perform together. Perhaps a future production of “Love Letters” could prove the proper forum to unite their talents.) But the thought of directing Teri Garr put me in a panic.

For you see, I spent most of my teenage and young-adult years in love with her. Ever since I saw her in "Young Frankenstein," she has been my dream girl. She was funny, she was pretty, she was quirky. I thought she was the perfect woman. In fact, every woman I ever dated, including my wife, all bear a striking resemblance to Ms. Garr.

So how could I now stand on a movie set and tell her what to do? I mean, I had seen the woman naked in "One From the Heart," for crying out loud.

The minute I got to the set and met her, I realized that my angst had been misplaced. She was a wonderfully warm person, just the way I had always hoped and imagined she would be. As soon as the cameras started rolling, Teri Garr was funny. She ad-libbed, taking jokes I had written and making them funnier. In one scene, in which Teri was supposed to wake up out of a peppermint-schnapps-fueled haze, she sat up and revealed that she had a candy cane stuck in her bangs, which almost made me ruin the take by bursting into laughter. And I was suddenly a teenager sitting in a Michigan multiplex, in love with her all over again.

And that’s why directors work with legends — because they do not make us look like talentless idiots. They actually make us look good.

How to Be Directed by a Comedy Nonlegend
By Teri Garr, actress, "Unaccompanied Minors"

I’m going to try to be as gentle about this as possible, but for me it was not that easy working with a nonlegend. At this point in my life I try to surround myself with as many legends as possible. For example, the guy who reads my gas meter — a legend. My housekeeper — a legend. My dog — a legend (though only in our neighborhood). So to put myself in harm’s way like this was risky.

I had done this before, though. I risked doing “Young Frankenstein” because after seeing “The Producers,” I believed that Mel Brooks could be funny if only someone would let him cut loose. I agreed to do “Tootsie” with Dustin Hoffman even though he had done little else besides “The Graduate,” “Midnight Cowboy” and “Kramer vs. Kramer,” because I saw something there. But lately I seem to be running into more and more young people who in their own way are good, even great, but who are certainly not legends.

Whenever I’m asked to participate in a project, I ask myself three questions: 1) Does the character speak to me? 2) Does the film present a message the world needs to hear? 3) Is the check going to clear?

Often, to save time, I go right to the third question, and if the answer is yes, I’m in.

Working with Paul Feig, though it had its pitfalls, was a delight. He seemed to have a full knowledge of my oeuvre. This put me at ease and made me forget for a moment that he is not a legend. He directs actors on the “give them enough rope and they’ll hang themselves” theory. In other words, at the end of a take he doesn’t say, “Cut”; he just stares at you and hopes you’ll come up with something usable. Very clever, really. After a while I got used to this and prepared myself by thinking up dialogue in advance or just saying things backward.

In the end, I was glad I took a chance with this whippersnapper. They say, “Be nice to the people you meet as you’re climbing up the ladder of success because you’ll meet the same people coming down that ladder.” Not true, really.

I find that as I gently descend the ladder of fame (the same one I viciously clawed my way up), I’m meeting an entirely different set of people.

How to Write Your First Hollywood Comedy
By Garrison Keillor, star and screenwriter, "Prairie Home Companion"

1. Don’t start writing yet. (Very important.) Postpone writing. Too many writers make the mistake of plunging right in — Scene 1. Ext: the home of the zany holmberg clan. The camera pans slowly across toward the driveway, where the young couple are necking in the back seat of the white Buick, and we see the three figures approaching with the water hose don’t do this. Writing the screenplay will only tangle you up in a lot of minutiae and inevitably lead to discouragement. Get the money first, then write.

2. Find a director. A famous one who is older than you and who is famous for improvised dialogue. This takes so much pressure off the screenwriter. Let’s say you choose Robert Altman. Call up your friend who knows a guy who went to college with a guy who is now Robert Altman’s attorney and wangle a dinner date with Mr. Altman. A threecourse meal in a place with ficus plants and white tablecloths. Mr. Altman has just finished shooting a new picture and he is in a grand mood. He regales you with stories about his famous movies, and then, polite man that he is (he is from the Midwest), he asks if there was something you wished to talk about. “Yes, sir,” you say, “there is.”

3. Do not lead with your best idea. Your first idea is going to get shot down. Do not lead the ace. Lead the two of clubs.

You say: "Mr. Altman, I want to make a movie about a family named Boblett whose grandpa dies, and they have to bring his ashes to South Dakota and scatter them at Mount Rushmore — Gramps was a crusty old Republican and wanted his remains to be put up Jefferson’s left nostril. Anyway, it’s all about this family — one is into heavy metal and one is obsessive-compulsive about nasal cleanliness and one is a Wiccan covered with tattoos — and they have various misadventures and car breakdowns and then must try to climb up to the nostril. And there’s a lady park ranger named Chloe who accidentally takes a love potion.”"

Mr. Altman looks off into the distance, pauses a decent interval and says: “It’s not for me. But keep in touch. Maybe we could come up with something else.”

4. Start writing Something Else. You set Mr. Altman up with the “Looking for Jefferson” idea, a weak one, and now he will read your new screenplay and say, “I can’t believe this came from the same bozo who tried to sell me the nostril picture.”

5. And here’s how you write the thing. You rewrite it, that’s how you write it. You rewrite the rewrite, then prune that and add other stuff. Your wife reads it and does not laugh at any of the hilarious parts, so you replace them with funny stuff. You turn the script over to Mr. Altman, and as he reads it, you reach over his shoulder and cross out lines.

Then Mr. Altman directs in his own inimitable style, encouraging improvisation, so in the end nobody quite understands it, and critics hail it as “one of his better pictures, if not among the very best,” which is not bad for you, and they offer you a nice deal to write your second picture. But that’s another problem. I can’t help you there.

How to Be Funny When You Are Incredibly Good-Looking
By Paul Rudd, actor, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin"

Comedy has always imperiled the attractive. Don’t think I don’t know it. Yet what rarefied air! To go where eagles soar. The greats: Grant. Beatty. Redford. The master classes: “Bringing Up Baby.” “Shampoo.” “Barefoot in the Park.” Still, lest you fly too close to the sun, mind the wing-melting failures: “Operation Petticoat.” “Ishtar.” “Legal Eagles.”

Alphas, I give you reason to rejoice! After years of study, I have come up with a near-foolproof guide for those, like me, who bear the unwished-for burden of physical near-perfection.

1. Do a silly dance every once in a while so people think you don’t take yourself too seriously. (Once, in an audition, I threw caution to the wind and danced an impromptu “Macarena.” Yes, I lost the role of Oskar Schindler, but I gained the respect of an industry.)

2. One thing you can control is how to wear your hair. A funny haircut can make a gorgeous person look almost average. Example: George Clooney on “Roseanne.”

3. Fight the urge to dress in tight clothing. We know we look good, but remember: sleeveless T-shirts = not funny. M.C. Hammer pants = funny.

4. Here’s one for the boys: Let yourself get kicked in the groin. If Zeppo Marx had taken one to the groin just once, it would have been a completely different story, believe me.

5. Don’t be afraid to manufacture a flaw. Hugh Grant’s affected stammer, for example. Or the famed pratfalls of Chevy Chase, which led a nation to wonder, Yes, he is a hottie — but does he have some horrible inner-ear problem?

6. In the same vein, spit takes and flatulence are always funny, regardless of how chiseled your chin or glutes.

7. Try alcohol to break down those inhibitions and see where that takes you. Who’s better looking, Jerry Lewis or Dean Martin? Got it? O.K., now who was more drunk? Exactly.

8. Finally, if all else fails, just be ugly inside. You’ll be surprised at the results!

To be extremely good-looking and funny may be hard, but it can be done. Look at me. In some circles I’m referred to as the “seventh Friend,” and I’m way better-looking than anyone on that show. If you’re ugly, pay no heed to these chestnuts and relish your unfair natural advantage. But to all you foxes out there, study closely, and who knows? With a little luck you just might be the next Alan Thicke.

How to Draw Funny Pictures
By Brad Bird, creator of "The Incredibles"

Because animation is a relatively complicated process, and because it is not spontaneous, it is often mischaracterized as purely mechanical. In reality, and at its best, the art of character animation exists somewhere between silent comedy and dance. Its success depends on finding a physical expression that is recognizable yet beyond what occurs in real life.

Fred Astaire had unusually large hands and learned how to use them in a way that made his dance more dynamic; he’d fold his hands for most of a routine, then flash them out for accents at key points. Their sudden increase in size made those moves pop in a way that other dancers couldn’t match. Animators use tricks like this all the time in ways that the audience never sees but always feels. Bugs Bunny, imitating the conductor Leopold Stokowski in concert, will violently raise his arms in onetwelfth of a second (two frames of film). Every part of his body will be rock-still — save for Bugs’s quivering hand.

It is impossible for a living being to do this, but not for Bugs. He is truly Stokowski, more Stokowski than Stokowski was himself, because Bugs is the impression of Stokowski: his power, his arrogance, his supreme control over his musicians, perfectly boiled down to its essence. We laugh because it is completely unreal and utterly truthful in the same moment.

How to Punch It Up
By Patton Oswalt, actor and screenwriter

I do a lot of punch-up in Hollywood. Punchup is where they get a bunch of screenwriters and comedians together to sit around a table and add jokes to a yet-to-be-filmed script. It’s fun. They usually have it at a nice hotel, and there’s coffee and bagels, and later they bring in lunch. Then snacks.

The only people who get asked to do punchup are people who have already written some very decent original scripts of their own. The kind of scripts where you racked your brain coming up with an original concept, ground your teeth making sure the characters and their dialogue were alive and funny and, finally, drank a lot of Red Bull to finish the thing on the last night of the eight-week period you had to write it. These scripts then make the rounds of the studios, where studio people read them, roll them into a tube, put the tube in a rocket and then shoot it into the ocean.

But the studio people remember your script. And they remember your name when they give some other writer a tugboat full of heroin and diamonds for his first draft. That’s when they realize they need you and all your friends (whose names are on the same list as yours because of their scripts that have been shot into the ocean) to punch it up. So what’s really going on is this: A mediocre writer is being punished with a huge paycheck and a produced movie while a bunch of funny, talented writers are being rewarded by getting to punch up his horrible script.

Lately I’ve been doing punch-up on computer-animated films, but the trick with doing punch-up on these movies is that unlike the live-action script, which hasn’t been filmed yet, the computer-animated film is usually 80 percent complete by the time we see it. And when I say 80 percent complete, I mean, “We’ve spent $120 million on this, so we really can’t change anything.”

“Uh, well then,” you’ll ask, through a mouthful of takeout Chinese, “what exactly do you want us to do?”

“What we need is for you guys to come up with funny off-screen voices yelling funny things over the unfunny action.”

I didn’t know you could make comedies that way! This is comforting news. Can I take old super-8 footage of a kid’s birthday party, where none of the other kids showed up? And he’s sitting at the kitchen table, and he’s got his little birthday hat on, and a lonely little cake, and he’s crying, and just when you’re about to kill yourself from the pathos, someone offscreen yells:

“I just fell on my fanny in some butterscotch!”

Wow, you’ll think, suddenly cheerful. Someone I can’t see, or will ever see, just fell into some butterscotch and is now talking about it out loud the way no one does or has, ever!

Did I mention there’s lunch?

How to Do a Deadpan
By Bob Balaban, actor

Deadpan: a vaudeville term coined in the 1920s to describe a comic with an expressionless face, pan being slang for face, and dead being dead. Think Jack Benny. Buster Keaton. Christopher Guest. Deadpan is the double take without the take, the mysterious, hysterically funny nothing.

In “Steamboat Bill Jr.,” Buster Keaton walks into a neighborhood that has been devastated by a cyclone. He stops in front of a house. The house begins to fall. Keaton, of course, is unaware of it. The shot is wide enough for you to know that Keaton is really there and that the house is really falling. Audiences reportedly shouted: “Look out! Look out!” at the movie screen during this sequence. The house falls, the audience gasps, the dust rises, and when it clears, there is Keaton, expressionless, standing in the safety of an open attic window that has fallen around him. He walks away as if nothing has happened to him. That’s major deadpan.

Here are some rules for deadpan:

1. This thing works better the less you do. You could actually be dead and get pretty good results. Lowercase yourself — clear your mind, silence your inner voices, disappear, be nothing. Don’t forget, nothing can be really something. An accomplished deadpan can create a force field akin to a black hole.

2. Don’t act. Deadpan is, by definition, the antithesis of acting. Deadpan allows the audience to imagine your reaction. You are the ultimate Rorschach test. You are Peter Sellers in “Being There.”

3. Like the proverbial dark gray suit, deadpan is appropriate for almost every occasion. It’s the way to go whether you are on the receiving end of spoonfuls of baby food thrown by a peckish infant, or in a speedboat and the female bass player to whom you have just proposed takes off her wig and tells you she’s a man, or if you are about to have a house fall on you.

4. And this is an absolute absolute — do not comment on the deadpan. The audience must never know that you know a house has fallen on you. You are not in on the joke, and the audience will love you for it. They will feel superior. Let them.

Doing nothing is not for everyone. A great deadpan is a rara avis. But who knows? In the brave new world of Botox and Restalane, today’s Jim Carrey may become tomorrow’s master of the expressionless expression.

How to Dress Funny
By Jerusha Hess, co-writer and costume designer, “Napoleon Dynamite”

I had a whopping $1,500 to spend on the entire wardrobe for “Napoleon Dynamite.” Everything was bought secondhand, borrowed or handed down. I made Napoleon’s “Vote for Pedro” shirt in 15 minutes from a handful of iron-on letters and an old ringer T. The iconoclastic moon boots were donated by my uncle Wally, already stinking. Napoleon’s Hammer pants were a direct fashion theft from my beefcake brother circa 1992. When I dressed Jon Heder for the first day of shooting, his hair still reeking from the home perm my cousin and I gave him the night before, I put him in an “Endurance” T-shirt tucked into a pair of gray acid-washed jeans, which in turn were tucked into the boots. I thought, Now this looks good. Though his wardrobe was basically a collection of superworn T-shirts with various Dungeons and Dragons paraphernalia screen-printed on them, he worked them.

There are many other movies whose costumes make me laugh: the hockey players’ stormtrooper-like outfits in “Strange Brew,” any clothes worn in “Logan’s Run,” the Reynolds twins in the dance scene from the BMX movie “Rad” and the Kryptonian bad guys in “Superman II.” I guess I just really like poly-blend spacesuits.

Want to dress funny yourself? For warm weather, begin with a pair of pastel culottes and then don an oversize polo of coordinating color. Layer two pairs of different colored socks so they match your shorts and shirt. And finally throw on your favorite pair of Tevas. If it’s cold out, grab your old Girbaud jeans, the ones with all of those comfort pleats in front. Perhaps moon boots have come and gone (for the second time), but here are a few things I think will never go out of style: flesh-colored eye-patches, large Mormon families at Disneyland in matching neon green T-shirts, capes, Ace bandages, families with matching perms, orthodonture on adults and anything you wore eight years ago. Now put those culottes back on, you look great.

How to Play the Straight Man
By Luke Wilson, actor

Three days ago I watched a documentary about Tom Dowd, the longtime Atlantic Records producer and engineer, who worked with musicians ranging from Otis Redding to Booker T. and the MGs to Eric Clapton, turning the dials, encouraging and coaxing great musicians during legendary recordings. I think Tom Dowd’s role was similar to the straight man’s: you are there while someone else shines. And if you play your part well, the other person shines even brighter.

I think I’ve been playing the straight man ever since I first realized I was in over my head academically. Math in particular. And science, come to think of it. Not to overlook foreign languages. Not really knowing what was going on in class — and not really caring to understand or actually taking the time to study — I put a great deal of effort into my expression. Earnest yet vacant. Yearning yet lost. I had one simple goal for the teachers. I wanted them to think: This Wilson kid might not be that bright, but damn it, he’s trying. The poor bastard.

How to Be Funny While Going Very Fast
By Adam McKay, director, "Anchorman" and "Talladega Nights"

From what I’ve seen, there are basically three jokes you can make in vehicles that are going superfast. There’s the one when the usually well-spoken and wise-cracking main character is reduced to saying simply “Holy [expletive]!” as the alien spacecraft he has hijacked rockets out of the mother ship or his Humvee falls from a skyscraper (before he realizes that it has a parachute). This can also be just “[Explet-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-ve]!” without the “Holy.” That’s a creative call. But this line or joke always works. Always.

The second joke is the one when the incredibly tricked-out vehicle goes on some amazing chase before crashing or stopping in some end-over-end way, and the main character suddenly remembers what country he’s in and becomes a proper consumer and says, “I gotta get me one of these.”

The third joke for vehicles going superfast is the “You thought I knew what I was doing, but I don’t” joke. This involves the confident main character taking the wheel of the imposing vehicle (starship, tank, ghost ship, submarine, W.W.I. dirigible with side-mounted Gatling guns) and starting it up.

The sidekick then says, “You can drive this, can’t you?”

The confident main character then says:

"No. Can’t you?" or “I think so,” or “I saw it in

a movie once,” or “Define ‘drive.’ ”

And then we’re off. Halfway through the chase, you can also have the sidekick say,

“So were you ever going to tell me you didn’t know how to fly one of these?” And the main character can say, simply, “Nope,” and then crash into something. Once again, this never fails.

Writer John Hodgman is a contributing writer for the magazine and the author of “The Areas of My Expertise.”

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company