Wednesday, March 18, 2020

A British sense of humor is entertaining, engaging at this time in history

A British sense of humor is entertaining, engaging at this time in history

by Dan Bloom
special to the San Diego Jewish World newspaper

The more I work at this column-writing gig, the more I realize how true the motto of the San Diego Jewish World is that "there's a Jewish story everywhere."

Case in point: I was writing a draft about a hilarious new cli-fi novel from a Canadian humorist named David Millar when during one of our casual online chats about his book “The Ministry For Ignoring Climate Change” he told me a great little anecdote about his connection to Jewish people and Jewish culture.

Millar was born in Britain and now lives in Canada. He was kind enough to send me a preview copy of his comic novel, and I will tell you more about it later in this column.

But first the anecdote.

"You asked if I had a Jewish connection, and although I'm not Jewish I did remember after we spoke that I do have a connection," Millar told me in a recent email. "When I was a student at the University of Bristol in the UK as a young man, I was a member (and eventually the club treasurer) of the Jewish & Israeli Society there. The reason for my interest in joining was that my mother had grown up next door to a Jewish family and was always very sympathetic to Jewish culture and encouraged me to learn more about it. So for a couple of years a lot of my university friends were Jewish. I remember being quite useful at Oneg Shabbat meals as I learned to turn lights off at the end, which my Orthodox hosts were unable to do because of certain rules they had to follow during Sabbath."

You see? There is indeed a Jewish story everywhere, if you keep your eyes and ears open, and thanks to David Millar for telling me his story. It's a keeper.

There is a growing group of cli-fi novels that are comic satires meant to tickle the reader's funny bone. That was the mission behind Millar’s humorous cli-fi debut. As I was reading it the other day, I felt that there was a nice echo in the political humor he used that was also seen (and heard) in the 1980s BBC TV comedy series titled “Yes Minister.”
When  I told David that I loved his novel and the way he used to humor to drive home his theme, and that many of the dialogues between the characters reminded me that BBC show, he replied: “Great to hear you are a ‘Yes Minister’ fan. I could never live up to its humor but of course I was definitely inspired by it. My characters of Eddington and Hawthorne are actually the names of the actors who played Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey in the original British comedy series.”

As readers of the San Diego Jewish World can guess from the title of his book, Millar wrote some funny dialogues about climate change issues in Canada and political shenanigans going on behind the scenes among the characters he created. If you need a break from the sad news of the global pandemic we are all now experiencing, this comic romp is a good (and entertaining) escape.

When I asked Millar where his wicked sense of humor comes from, he told me that a large part of it came from his upbringing in England.

 ''I don't have any comedians in my family tree, but being English I was brought up on a national diet of dry humor," he said. "'Yes Minster' and 'Fawlty Towers' were particular favorites of mine. So when I decided to write a story that explored the reasons governments are clearly so reluctant to take the action needed to combat climate change, the techniques of obfuscation, delay and diversion made famous by 'Yes Minister' was an obvious plot choice.''

He added: "I believe that climate change is going to be the dominant issue that societies face for the rest of my life and I think more needs to be done if we are to avoid its worst effects. I happen to understand the science quite well because I studied atmospheric chemistry and polar climate for my PhD (a long time ago), and I think the process of cutting carbon emissions is not as straightforward as most people realize. The response by all governments has also been slow and bureaucratic and we are clearly not going to meet the reduction targets that countries have signed up to. So I wanted to write about the contradictions and pitfalls that clearly exist yet which don't get talked about much -- but to do so in an accessible way that people will actually read it also has to be done with humor. Hence my attempt to write a satire with a bureaucratic government department which ends up in conflict with a community which is actually doing something constructive.''  

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