I went to see the new Amazon film Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, the other week. The film explores the life of the late John Callahan, the morbidly devout cartoonist. I came away with a sense of indifference — the Gus Van Sant project felt stale and overworked — not even Joaquin Phoenix could salvage the stilted narrative.
While I was let down by the film, it didn’t kill my curiousity which led me to a retrospective interview with the Oregonian cartoonist on NPR's Fresh Air. I soon found myself laughing out loud at his irreverence and charm. His ability to take the mickey out of his former sins was really refreshing. Callahan was once a healthy young man with a tormented interior. He was also a full-blown alcoholic. Overloaded on liquid courage, he rammed his Volkswagon into a telegraph pole at ninety-miles an hour, rendering himself a quadriplegic at the age of twenty-one years of age.
I took to Callahan’s morbid sense humour — a sensibility more easily found in English culture. I loved how his work could equally inspire intense vitriol as well as laugh-out-loud joy; as evidenced in one cartoon of an emaciated Jesus Christ nailed to the cross; a thought bubble above his head with the acronym "TGIF" floating inside.
It takes a lot of work to laugh at yourself and more importantly to do it with a healthy sense of sincerity. While I can appreciate the value of our P.C. times, it’s important to remember that comedy has the power to bring people together. It offers a gateway to overcoming prejudice and helps us to appreciate that our collective differences are what bind us.
If Callahan’s darkness speaks to you, be sure to check out his kooky little short from the early nineties. Once upon a time Mr. Callahan’s liver would have given the late Charles Bukowski a run for his money.