The in­vis­i­ble au­di­ence heck­les

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - Opinion - John Bre­unig is ed­i­to­rial page ed­i­tor. Jbre­[email protected]; 203-964-2281; twit­ter.com/john­bre­unig. JOHN BRE­UNIG

A few years ago, Jerry Se­in­feld lis­tened at­ten­tively to fel­low standup Robert Klein un­til Klein com­pli­mented Art Buch­wald and Rus­sell Baker, half of the quar­tet on the Mount Rush­more of news­pa­per hu­mor colum­nists.

Dur­ing the ex­change on “Co­me­di­ans in Cars Get­ting Cof­fee,” Se­in­feld pumps the brakes to es­sen­tially ex­plain that print hu­morists are to co­me­di­ans what draft dodgers with “bone spurs” are to Navy Seals.

“Let’s not put these guys out on too high a plain, Mis­ter Klein.” Se­in­feld says. “... No­body hears the ma­te­rial that’s bomb­ing when you write a ‘funny’ (he uses “funny” air quotes) col­umn . ... What is that com­pared to get­ting a real laugh in a dark night­club in front of a bunch of drunken strangers?”

Of course, comics par­rot bits un­til they are bat­tle-tested, while colum­nists are rou­tinely tor­mented by blank screens. I’m no hu­mor colum­nist (you al­ready knew that), but I bet Se­in­feld wouldn’t hit dead­line chew­ing news­room java while try­ing to bang out chuck­les be­tween bursts of po­lice scan­ner static.

But he’s right. Colum­nists thirst for any re­ac­tion. When we get it, we some­times wish we knew whether the com­men­ta­tor was sober (e.g., “I find the Green­wich Time ed­i­to­rial page of­ten even wiser than that of the New York Times”). Here’s other feed­back I got in 2018:

Feed­ing the ego: Yes, the in­vis­i­ble au­di­ence ap­plauds. The high­est com­pli­ment I got was sev­eral read­ers’ use of “bal­anced” to char­ac­ter­ize my ob­ser­va­tions about Har­bor Point. My fa­vored cups of flat­tery are served with a spoon­ful of ar­senic:

“It was a fair-minded ar­ti­cle, a rar­ity in Stam­ford.”

One reader en­cour­aged me to con­tinue the quest for truth in a fol­low-up piece about church abuse but con­fessed “I won’t see it since I have can­celed my sub­scrip­tion.”

The snipers: Sup­port­ive read­ers iden­tify them­selves. Those who dis­agree take cover in the shad­ows of the web. Anony­mous on­line ob­jec­tions to crit­i­cism of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump al­ways seem to in­clude fa­mil­iar ad­jec­tives such as “sad!” and “pa­thetic!” which has left me to con­clude the com­man­derin-chief is the one trolling our sites.

Colum­nists are all the same: When I re­ferred to Hearst writer Dan Haar as a “sea­soned fi­nan­cial colum­nist,” a reader from Fair­field called me a “smug yup­pie.” Given that the “y” in the an­cient term stands for “young” I took that as a com­pli­ment.

On an­other oc­ca­sion, fel­low colum­nist Kevin McKeever took a crack at the Stam­ford Town Cen­ter, draw­ing a re- sponse from a mall of­fi­cial who gra­ciously coun­tered that “I al­ways en­joy your ar­ti­cles, read­ing about The Kid.”

The Kid, alas, is my son. As much as he likes to wan­der, I’ve never found him hid­ing in Kevin’s col­umn (whose off­spring are Thing 1 and Thing 2).

Speak­ing of whom ...: Ev­ery time I give The Kid a break, read­ers com­plain they haven’t heard from him in a while.

Even when he’s not on the ed­i­to­rial page, he some­times in­ter­feres with it. Af­ter the re­cent death of for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush, The Kid was watch­ing tele­vised fu­neral ser­vices.

After­ward, we were driv­ing on an er­rand when my phone rang.

“This is John Bre­unig’s phone,” The Kid, 7, an­swered.

I couldn’t make out who it was, but my ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tant stalled.

“I saw on TV that a pres­i­dent died,” The Kid con­tin­ued. “There was a flag on a box and peo­ple were cry­ing. I’m sad.”

“Yes, I’m sad too,” the caller replied. “He was a nice man. He gave me my first job.”

The caller turned out to be Green­wich res­i­dent Patrick Durkin, who had just left the Wash­ing­ton, D.C., ser­vices and was call­ing to check on an op-ed he had writ­ten about his for­mer boss.

A cer­tain non-reader: I have yet to win over The Kid him­self even though he likes to ride news cy­cles. The clos­est I came was in Oc­to­ber, af­ter I wrote that his fa­vorite jour­nal­ist was CNN’s Carl Azuz, who an­chors news re­ports for stu­dents.

While wait­ing for the school bus, I no­ticed a Tweet about my col­umn.

“Hey, we got a mes­sage from Carl Azuz,” I told him.

“What!” he shouted, as though I had just told him he was in­vited to tour with Kidz Bop. “What did he say?”

He wrote, “While I may be his fa­vorite jour­nal­ist for the mo­ment, you’ll be his fa­vorite dad for LIFE.”

Now he doesn’t trust Azuz’s news judg­ment ei­ther.

Hail Mary pass: I wasn’t sur­prised my col­umn about the thread of Catholi­cism in Bruce Spring­steen’s work drew thought­ful re­sponses from read­ers of all faiths.

I was sur­prised to get a shout-out from a comic.

Green­wich stand-up co­me­dian Jane Con­don emailed “My de­fault prayer is the ‘Hail Mary.’ But how in­ter­est­ing that Spring­steen weaves the ‘Our Fa­ther’ through his work.”

I waited in vain for the punch­line (though “de­fault prayer” has pos­si­bil­i­ties).

Maybe she’s just hold­ing back. Maybe she’ll try it out in a dark room full of drunks un­til she’s ready to de­liver the per­fect joke to Se­in­feld from the pas­sen­ger seat of a 1959 Buick In­victa con­vert­ible as they re­mind me to stay in my lane.

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