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Deleuze & Dougy

By Will Johnson.

Reading the late French philosopher Gilles Deleuze feels like the first styrofoamy sip of Disney World hotel room coffee. The Central Florida early morning sun pierces the blinds like rays from Heaven itself and we are off to a fresh start! Regardless of one’s age, such mornings evoke a sticky-sweet feeling, an erotic and sentimental blend of pubescent longing and G-rated wholesomeness. Gilles gives me those butterflies in my tummy! Like Nietzsche and Heidegger, Deleuze is as thrilling as Space Mountain, as knowing and uncomfortable as the carousel of progress, and ultimately as fun, optimistic, and unpretentious as the whole of Tomorrowland.

Yes, I recently finished “Nietzsche & Philosophy” and I took Deleuze’s exegesis of good ol’ Freddy’s work as an exuberant battle cry against “wet mops” and “wet mop” ways of thinking/feeling/being. A salvo against all traces of nihilism. Down with mopeyness!

Quite the surgeon, Deleuze vivisects Nietzsche’s vivisections and exposes three unhealthy diseases to the disinfectant of fresh air and sunshine:

1.) Bad Conscience (I am “bad” because of the superior qualities I possess.)

2.) Ressentiment (you are “bad” because of the qualities you possess, i.e. you won against me.)

3.) Ascetic Ideal (I am meek and pathetic in life and on earth, but Jesus loves me and I’m going to build imaginary castles to be worthy of him.)

As something of a philosophical stand-up comedian who has performed in every corner of hipster New York, I am as well-acquainted with the forces of pessimism as anyone. I too operate as a diagnostician and vivisectionist of moldy sickness. And, like Nietzsche, I am expert because I too have suffered from the above three afflictions (haven’t we all?)

Stand-up comedians tend to be an especially cynical bunch and I can call out several dozen by name whose act consists of the following:

“Oh, life sucks… All I want to do is get drunk… My job sucks… My family sucks… My friends suck… I suck… The world sucks… Before Tinder I only got laid every six months and that sucked but sex is overrated anyway… And relationships suck… There is no God/meaning/purpose. Anybody who disagrees is dumb or a d*ck… Richard Dawkins and Neil Degrasse Tyson are really smart but everyone else is dumb…. Blah… Blah… Blah…”

A famous comedian who generally takes this stance, this “comportment toward Being”, is the sorta famous Doug Stanhope. Doug imitates the late Bill Hicks just as many open-mic comics imitate Doug, so there is nothing new, original, or shocking to this sort of world-weariness, a tiredness punctuated with F-bombs, a collection of fatigued sex stories full of graphic details, the gory encounters told with all the innocent wonder of a seasoned gynecologist.

Like Zarathustra’s donkey, cynical comedians choose to carry weight they are no longer required to carry, even if that weight is just the ruins of institutional Christianity or any other grand narrative. Maybe they don’t have a choice and their slimy, miserable Will to Power makes it impossible for them to appreciate or show reverence for anything. Either way they are – unlike Christians and others who subscribe to grand narratives – doubly condemned to both freedom and the inability to enjoy that freedom. Of the three sicknesses mentioned above they are only free (largely) of the ascetic ideal – and that might be the one that would do them some good (its benign form is imagination.) These mildewy characters are Nietzsche’s “Last Men” and they reek of booze, pot, and cigarettes. It’s all they have left.

The only way out for them (and for all of us) is to affirm and then affirm the affirmation. A sad sack comedian should say “Hey! Things aren’t so bad! I’m performing tonight in the greatest city in the world. I even have a chance to make people laugh!”

From there they should use their powers of evaluation and selection to affirm whatever they can affirm. And if they can’t find anything they consider worthy of affirmation they should celebrate and joyfully wallow in their many failures and shortcomings. Affirm even poverty and involuntary celibacy. Affirm themselves as drunken zilches. And then affirm those affirmations. That may be the first step out of the muck for them. For they may never be Ubermenschen but they can at least affirm themselves as eagles, spiders, hedgehogs, sparrows, cuckoos, puppies, kittycats, goldfish or whatever other animals lived in Zarathustra’s wacky menagerie.

Remember, according to Deleuze’s interpretation, the Ubermensch is not necessarily the great intellect, the perfect athlete, the blonde Aryan god, or Aristotle’s great-souled man. Rather, the Ubermensch is the man who is free of Bad Conscience, Ressentiment, and the Ascetic Ideal. Free of those lead weights, he dances through life joyfully and with a light touch. He is the genius who never holds a grudge. A man who doesn’t fall in the sand traps of revenge. A being who may have the mind to take us to another galaxy, but who doesn’t feel a compulsive need to change himself or the world. I see the Ubermensch as a Zen trickster who collapses from way too much laughter (as if there could ever be too much laughter.)


Will Johnson is an edgy yet upbeat stand-up comedian and a former weekly columnist for Metro U.S. (New York/Boston/Philadelphia). He loves to correspond with his readers (chillywillyj@hotmail.com).

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, February 16th, 2017.