I went to one panel yesterday: “Humanism and Humor: Funny Ladies Discuss”, with Margaret Downey as moderator and featuring comedian and author Julia Sweeney and comedian and activist Leighann Lord (she also co-hosted Star Talk with Neil deGrasse Tyson). I thought it might be a rather serious discussion of comedy and its implications for nonbelievers, but it turned out to be hilarious: both comedians cracked us up many times with spontaneous quips. I suppose I should have realized that, but what I realized only during the panel was that comedians have brains different from the rest of us. I, for one, couldn’t emit bon mot after bon mot, and on the spot. It’s a great talent. Julia told some stories about her SNL days, and added that she can’t watch Al Franken as a politician, because she knows what he’s really thinking when he’s speaking as a senator from Minnesota, and she cracks up when thinking of what’s going through Franken’s mind. He was, she said, the funniest person she ever met.
She was also asked what kind of sketch her most famous character, the androgynous Pat, would do in these days of the transgender bathroom fracas: she responded that it would probably be along the lines of people hanging around outside the bathrooms to see which one Pat entered. She also told some stories about SNL regular Victoria Jackson (a believer): one involved Jackson saying offstage that we really shouldn’t help poor people, because they’re going to heaven anyway and their miserable lives shouldn’t be prolonged, for that just delays their receiving their ultimate reward. According to Julia, she and Al Franken said, “You’re kidding, aren’t you, Victoria?”, and Jackson said, “No, I really mean it!”
Star Trek fans may know John De Lancie, an actor and director who is best known for playing the role of Q in the Star Trek series (I never saw it, but Q was apparently an omnipotent and nasty character—much like Donald Trump). De Lancie has done a lot of other work, including Shakespearian acting and playing the role of Clarence Darrow in a traveling play that (unlike Inherit the Wind), was based on the real Scopes Trial.
Accepting the Isaac Asimov award for Humanist Arts, De Lancie gave a really lovely talk (well emoted, since he’s an actor!) on how he became an atheist when only about 8 years old, how he was thought to be stupid because he couldn’t read till he was about ten, and how he found himself (and his ability to read) by being cast in a school production of Shakespeare. His speech will be on YouTube in about a month, as will all the others, so I won’t recount some of his anecdotes, including his meeting with another atheist (and previous Isaac Asimov awardee), Gene Rodenberry. He did say that his favorite Shakespeare plays were Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2.
Elizabeth Loftus got the Isaac Asimov award for Science, and gave a nice talk on her work on faulty memory and the fallacy of recovered memories. She also discussed the persecution she faced from social workers and psychologists opposed to her assertion that there is little evidence for long-term repression of traumatic memories, including those involving sexual abuse. She was, in fact, sued by a “recovered memory” patient for investigating her case and finding that the evidence for a recovered memory of abuse was bogus. At one point in the five-year lawsuit, which went to the California Supreme Court (she won, although the lawyers were the real winner!), Elizabeth said she spent hours trying to feel better by watching Lifetime T.V., which often has shows about beleaguered women who triumph over adversity. She said she was embarrassed to be a professional psychologist who found solace in such dreck, but that it worked. In the Q&A session afterwards, a guy got up and confessed that, he too, watched Lifetime T.V. and it was even worse, for he skipped the NFL playoffs to watch it.
I had my picture taken with Dr. Loftus afterwards; she’s a lovely person, and a very tough woman:
The banquet food continued to be good, with a nice piece of salmon over lentils for dinner:
. . . followed by a chocolate tart with whipped cream. (There was a salad an a nice bread basket beforehand.)
And, in my room, “hydrate” yourself: only $3.50 for a 16-ounce bottle of water. How dare they? Needless to say, I drank tap water.
I give my talk in about an hour, so it’s time to shower and put on the nice clothes.