Jeff Suwak’s Book – No Punchline: Or, The Night Chale Thayer Blew his Head off at the Punch Drunk Comedy Club – Review and Discussion

You just never know who you might find on Twitter.  I started chatting with Jeff Suwak after tweeting this:

I was looking into songs that were influenced by William Blake and the Google bots retrieved this jem so I tweeted it.

Jeff replied back to me:

To be honest I have never been a Dylan fan and I think now it is just because I had not been exposed to all of his music, especially his Gospel years.  Lately, this has changed thanks to Jeff.

The other thing I found out about Jeff, besides that he lives near me, is that he is a writer and since I liked his taste in music I thought I might like his writing.

Isn’t that the beauty of what the art of music and writing can accomplish? –  It can strike a chord of resonance somewhere inside and allows us to passively communicate on a level deeper than just the present.

Camus famously wrote:

“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest — whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories — comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer.”

When I first heard this quote, at least the first part, it did sound like the punchline of a joke. I heard it first in a Jordan Peterson lecture and he joked that perhaps Camus could have benefited from some SSRI’s.

Well, that is the running joke of Jeff’s book ‘No Punchline: Or, The Night Chale Thayer Blew his Head off at the Punch Drunk Comedy Club’

It is story about a comedian, Chale (interesting name BTW), who is popular with the local crowd because of his, how should I say, pessimistic, possibly suicidal view of life.

One of the things I appreciated about this story is the bifurcation of the two types of nihilism.  For lack of better words lets call them constructive nihilism and destructive nihilism. (note: this story is heavy on the destructive kind)

“A comedian is someone who doesn’t think that anything in the world is funny, not a single damn thing, so he’s got to joke about it all or else he’ll kill himself.”

Even when things look up for Chale he can’t shake that non-loving feeling.

“You know, I’m the exact opposite of all those inspirational stories you always hear.” He dumped sugar into his coffee. “You know, the one’s where everybody keeps telling the underdog that he can’t make it. You’ll never make it, you’ll never make it, you know, and he keeps trying and then, bam, he makes it. Me, I’ve got everybody telling me I’m going to make it someday, and I couldn’t give a shit one way or the other. Now that’s comedy.”

One might imagine this is where many comedians (or famous people) end up. The irony of being able to make people laugh even when on the inside they want to die.

Another thought that I have had for awhile is that comedians have become the modern pastor or priest.

To hear his fans talk about him, you might believe that Thayer is not a comedian at all, but instead some kind of preacher prophesizing doom and hilarity from his dingy pulpit at the ‘Punch Drunk Comedy Club.’

I think that it just might be because to be a good comedian you have to be brutally honest – either about yourself or the thing you are poking fun at.

Goodness gracious, any one of us could get up on stage (if we had the courage) and talk about our sex life in every honest detail and leave the place in stitches, but for 99.9% of the population this would be their worst nightmare

CS Lewis wrote:

“I can hardly help regarding it as one of God’s jokes that a passion so soaring, so apparently transcendent, as Eros, should thus be linked in incongruous symbiosis with a bodily appetite which, like any other appetite, tactlessly reveals its connections with such mundane factors as weather, health, diet, circulation, and digestion…It is a continual demonstration of the truth that we are composite creatures, rational animals, akin on one side to the angels, on the other to tom-cats. It is a bad thing not to be able to take a joke. Worse, not to take a divine joke; made, I grant you, at our expense, but also (who doubts it?) for our endless benefit.”

Everyone laughs because they are saying what everyone is thinking or doing.  They are exposing reality, and for whatever reason, reality is humorous.  It is almost like God gave us the ability to laugh to soften the blow of honesty.

Or maybe it is just the irony of cognitive dissonance between what we wish others to see us as (or see ourselves as) and what we actually are – Or what we say we believe and what we actually do.

“I never asked you to be anyone other than who you are, don’t ask it of me.”

We all know we will die and that everything we do will not amount to anything that time won’t destroy. The humor is that in the face of this reality we care that anything matters.

Or as I call it constructive nihilism…

“Hopefully, but if not I’m just happy to have a place with my name on it. Even if it’s just for a little while.”

Those that have a passion that motivates them to carry on and make some sense or meaning out of their blip of an existence in the face of certain damnatio memoriae by the heat death of the universe.

“I don’t like everything I have to do to make a living. Do you like everything you have to do?”

Jeff injects a little religion into the mix to see if that will solve Chale’s existential crisis, but unfortunately, it wasn’t quite potent enough to create a spiritual epiphany in him.  No blind eyes were opened as Chale commiserated on the age old question of why bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people.

“If you’re convinced that all that matters is finding the end, then it’s going to be a long journey, and it’s going to feel cruel. But if you can recognize the beauty in it, and let go of your need to get to the end, then you just might be able to answer the answerless mystery.”

Maybe it was intended, but I thought that as a pastor Cal could have given better arguments than what he gave Chale.  Cal seemed more like a Chaplin Tappman than a Reverend Keller.  The least he could have done was point Chale to Psalm 73 and say he wasn’t the only one in history to have felt that way.





The ending was intriguing and I am still wondering if Chale planned the whole thing as a joke or that the joke was on him in that God wouldn’t let him die even if he wanted to.

It also speaks to the dangers of being too honest and what might happen if you let everyone see the demons inside even if it is just for a laugh at your expense. Just ask Louise CK.

This is a pretty dark story and doesn’t leave you with much hope but it has a paradoxical ending that might leave you thinking about it for awhile.  I know it did for me.