ISRAEL: The Nimrod Flip-Out by Etgar Keret

Etgar Keret is an award-winning Israeli author, who writes short, sharp, sometimes rude black comedy. He’s also a screenwriter, and both his written work and his films and TV focus on the absurdity of everyday life in Israel.

The Nimrod Flip-Out is a collection of short stories (some very short) that really hit at friendships, love, and isolation. The titular short story is a gem – a group of friends realize they’re taking turns going mad, until one “leaves” by going off to get married, messing up the cycle of madness. There’s more metaphorical stories, like “Pride and Joy”, of a son worried that his success is causing his doting parents to physically shrink, or the heavy, like “Surprise Egg”, a doctor struggling with an ethical dilemma over the autopsy findings of a suicide bomb victim.

Keret’s work feels a lot like an Israeli Vonnegut, and his work is unpretentious, funny, and shocking all at once.

UKRAINE: Stand-up comedy in a bomb shelter

Felix Redka in Sumy, March 21, 2022 – Source

The war in Ukraine has had some very incongruous moments, scenes that could be from WWII but with modern technology. One of these is stand-up comedy in bomb shelters, professionally edited and uploaded online, despite the bombardment outside. There’s several videos out there with subtitles, more without, but I really recommend this set by comedian Felix Redka in a bomb shelter in Sumy – he’s quite funny, with dark wartime gallows humour, and the English subtitles are excellent.

ECUADOR: Clowning around in office

A few years back in 2015, comedian John Oliver got into a ridiculous spat with the President of Ecuador at the time, Rafael Correa. Correa’s extended, personal state of the nation addresses were not unique – Hugo Chavez pioneered them, but Correa’s were noteable for the President doxxing individual trolls on Twitter.

“The President of Ecuador has been shit-talking me on Twitter all week long.”

However, what really ticked off most Ecuadorians was the trash talk around Tiko Tiko, a beloved children’s entertainer and clown.

“It can’t be that international TV makes fun of such a prominent person … poor Tiko Tiko!” – Ecuadorian Tweet

BBC News: “Ecuadorians leap to clown’s defence after John Oliver skit”

From the comments, it seems Tiko Tiko’s solar system song holds the same place in people’s hearts as the Animaniacs’ Country Song does in North America.

As time is a flat circle, Tiko Tiko, aka Ernesto Huertas Carrillo, unsuccessfully ran for office in 2016 for the Socialist Party. He did register sans makeup, but petitioned to run under his stage name. I can’t guarantee the auto-translated auto-captioned subtitles are even remotely correct, but there’s something to do with aliens.

NEW ZEALAND: What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

I know, at the start of this month, I said I was going to aim at “New Zealand-famous” artists rather than “famous artists who are New Zealanders”, but What We Do in the Shadows is one of the movies that really propelled Taika Waititi from the first category to the second. Unlike the later American tv show, the movie was filmed on location in Wellington and the cast is all Kiwi.

If you haven’t seen it yet (I hadn’t!), it’s a mockumentary following around a group of vampire roommates through their daily lives – divvying up chores, finding human victims, dealing with local werewolves or with those people who were initially slated for dinner but ended up vampires themselves. It’s wickedly funny, bloody, and reminds me of a vampire version of Peep Show.

I was hooked from the opening scene:

NEW ZEALAND: The McGillicuddy Serious Party

I love satirical political parties – were I not able to vote for my normal party in an election, I’d be tempted to vote for the Rhinoceros Party, whose platform supports repealing the law of gravity and supporting higher education by building taller schools. They’re an officially registered party here in Canada, and have been fielding candidates since the 70s. We’re not the only country with a party like that – I was delighted to learn about New Zealand’s McGillicuddy Serious Party:

Sadly the McGillicuddy Serious Party is now defunct, but it ran in elections in the 80s and 90s on different levels of government. It’s based on a faux-Stuart pretender, who initially challenged the military to trial by combat with a pillow fight – if the McGillicuddy forces won, he’d get to replace the Queen as head of state. A McGillicuddy candidate did successfully challenge a Green Party candidate to a paper sword fight – a draw, both sides treated for paper cuts.

Some of their best campaign promises over the years:

  • Free dung.
  • Sending out intelligence agents around the world to wipe New Zealand off published maps, thus ensuring that no-one could invade the country.
  • Restricting the vote to only minors.
  • Raising the school-leaving age to 65.
  • Standing a dog for parliament – her policies included the abolition of cars, and turning a meat-works into an organic flea-powder factory.
  • Good weather (but only if voters behaved).

This month: NEW ZEALAND

Happy new year, here’s to an upwards trajectory for 2022! This month, I get the first country that I’ve actually visited: New Zealand!

So, before we get into this month, what do I already know about New Zealand?

  • I’ve been there! It was a family vacation when I was 11 or so, but there’s only so much you can absorb at that age, but we went all through the North Island. We went to Bay of Islands, Auckland, Rotorua (I remember the sulphur smell through the whole town from all the geothermal vents), Napier (all Art Deco buildings), and Wellington. I have two particularly sharp memories – seeing cute Little Blue Penguins at an aquarium, and getting violently carsick off my parents’ attempt to drive a sharp mountain route on the opposite side of the road. Sadly, I don’t think I have any pictures left of that trip.
  • That trip came about because my dad had routine business trips to New Zealand when I was a kid in the 90s – he’d have to go for two weeks every other month when a major deal was happening and come back jet-lagged out of his gourd (worse because there were no direct flights from Canada in those days). He may be a good resource this month – he’s spent a lot of time in Auckland and Wellington and still has many friends and contacts from NZ.
  • Apart from my personal experience, New Zealand is probably the most “local” and least “foreign” for me as an anglophone Canadian – we share a lot of the same British colonial history, and in particular, we have a similar simmering inferiority complex to our larger neighbour – Australia and the US – and suffer the indignity of being mistaken for them. I don’t know a lot of the specifics of New Zealand history, however, so I want to learn more!
  • I’m really interested to also learn more both about Maori culture and about the relationship between the Maori and the Pakeha (non-Maori New Zealanders). The Maori seem to have a much stronger position constitutionally than Indigenous people have in Canada – I definitely want to learn more about Maori history, and more about the Treaty of Waitangi, which I know is the legal basis of Maori/Pakeha relations but not much more. I’m also aware that New Zealand had considered changing its flag away from the very colonial one it currently has, and the idea has been floated of changing the country’s name to Aotearoa, the Maori name for New Zealand – however I’ve lost track of where either decision has ended up.
  • NZ’s current PM, Jacinda Ardern, has made international media for being outspokenly progressive, but I don’t know much more about New Zealand’s politics – if they have even a fraction of the ridiculousness that comes up in fellow Westminster political systems like Australia and Canada, there’s going to be some good stories.
  • When I lived in Victoria, BC, the earthquake in Christchurch was a role model / cautionary tale for when/if the Big One was to hit the west coast of North America.
  • As for Kiwi cuisine, I know they’re major fruit exporters, and their lamb is particularly well regarded. They also have a penchant for Marmite / Vegemite, which did not appeal to me as a kid, but I’m willing to give the old college try now as an adult. I also would love to see what truly NZ-distinctive dishes are out there.
  • New Zealand’s most famous culinary export is their wines – I absolutely love Marlborough sauvignon blanc, with that very distinctive gooseberry/”cat’s pee” flavour. I think I’ll try out some other types of wine from NZ – apparently there’s some good red wines coming from there now.
  • I know very little about the South Island – I know it’s mountainous, so good hiking and skiing, and less populated, but not much more. How much cultural and political difference is there between the South and North Islands?
  • There’s plenty of internationally famous Kiwis, like Edmund Hillary, Lorde, Russell Crowe, Taika Waititi, and Peter Jackson (and Kiwis being sick of being connected with the Lord of the Rings movies), but I really want to learn more about “New Zealand famous” artists, comedians, and musicians – ones that are beloved at home but not really known abroad. Same goes for Kiwi movies and tv – I saw Whale Rider when it came out in theatres many years ago, but that’s about it.
  • New Zealand’s All Blacks are one of the best rugby teams in the world and is famous for the pre-game haka – I definitely want to learn more about that history.

And of course, a very serious look at the crucial differences between Canada and New Zealand:

UZBEKISTAN: Sherzod Ergashev’s cat duet

I remember seeing this delightful meme go viral a few months ago on TikTok – Uzbek musician Sherzod Ergashev dueting a cat video on the tar, and people adding more and more instruments as it went along.

Ergashev has a whole bunch more meme music played on classical Uzbek instruments – this version of the Coffin Dance on the oud and tanbur is actually really beautiful:

He also is a serious musician and singer, and a polymath when it comes to instruments, both Central Asian and Western. I also enjoyed this socially distanced tar duet with Iranian musician Naghmeh Moradabadi.