I have a confession to make. I love nonsense. But you probably already knew that or figured it out by now. Here are two excerpts from pieces of nonsense that make a lot of sense to me. The first is from the play “The Philadelphia” from All in the Timing by David Ives, one of my favorite playwrights. The second is from an essay by the American master of nonsense Robert Benchley:
MARK: What is it? What’s happening to me?
AL: Don’t panic. You’re in a Philadelphia.
MARK: I’m in a what?
AL: You’re in a Philadelphia. That’s all.
MARK: But I’m in—
AL: Yes, physically you’re in New York. But metaphysically you’re in a Philadelphia.
MARK: I’ve never heard of this!
AL: You see, inside of what we know as reality there are these pockets, these black holes called Philadelphias. If you fall into one, you run up against exactly the kinda shit that’s been happening to you all day.
AL: Because in a Philadelphia, no matter what you ask for, you can’t get it. You ask for something, they’re not gonna have it. You want to do something, it ain’t gonna get done. You want to go somewhere, you can’t get there from here.
MARK: Good God. So this is very serious.
AL: Just remember, Marcus. This is a condition named for the town that invented the cheese steak. Something that nobody in his right mind would willingly ask for.
And now for a bit of context from Ives’ own notes about his idea for “The Philadelphia”:
“The Philadelphia was my affectionate revenge on the City of Brotherly Love after I’d spent many miserable months … such as the morning when I tried to get a cheese omelette for breakfast:
Me: I’ll have a cheese omelette, please.
Waitress: Sure, what kinda cheese you want?
Me: What kind do you have?
Waitress: Any kinda cheese. You name it.
Me: Okay. I’ll have Swiss.
Waitress: Sorry. We don’t have any Swiss.
Me: Oh. Cheddar, then.
Waitress: No cheddar.
Me: Monterey Jack?
Waitress: Just ran out.
Me: Jarlsberg …?
Waitress: What’s that?”
Here’s a second serving of nonsense–and this one comes from the The Benchley Roundup by Robert Benchley, my hero. It’s a passage from his essay “Carnival Week in Sunny Las Los”:
You have all doubtless wanted to know, at one time or another, a few of the quaint customs which residents of the continent of Europe seem to feel called upon to perpetuate from one century to another. You may know about a few of them already, such as child-bearing (which has been taken up on this continent to such an alarming extent) and others of the more common variety of folk mannerisms, but I am very proud and happy to be able to tell you today of some of the less generally known customs of the inhabitants of that medieval Spanish province Las Los (or Los Las, as it was formerly called, either way meaning “The The” pl.) where I have had the extremely bad fortune to be spending the summer.
Humorist Robert Benchley (1889 –1945) is often credited with creating the form known as the short humorous essay. He titled one collection of his columns Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea or David Copperfield. If you’re interested in writing humor, study Benchley. Some of his columns are dated but his flights of fancy still work and, imo, he’s still very, very funny.