My Own Private Ulysses: Megalomania at Martello
"Solemnly he came forward and mounted the round gunrest. He faced about and blessed gravely thrice the tower, the surrounding land and the awaking mountains. Then, catching sight of Stephen Dedalus, he bent towards him and made rapid crosses in the air, gurgling in his throat and shaking his head."
Malachi “Buck” Mulligan, the rottenest roommate in Dublin, has kicked off the day, and the book, by profanely pantomiming the Catholic Mass. Page one, and Joyce has already sent the pious half of the crowd sprinting for the exits. Keep your skirts on folks, this silly sacrilege is only a teeny tiny taste of the screamer Joyce pulls 347 pages later in the Circe episode.
Before straight-man Stephen ever appears, blasphemous Buck solemnly marches around the parapet of Martello Tower at 8 AM bearing his shaving bowl chalice-like and intoning liturgical Latin in his ungirdled gown, weenie wagging in the wind.
A few decades ago, I worked on a late-night quiz show where contestants removed one article of clothing for each question they failed to answer. Seriously. The show briefly gurgled for life on the aptly named USA Network, the same tastemakers responsible for “Up All Night with Rhonda Shear.”
Some of the writers were always trying to be funny, always performing, always “on.” Especially when the executive producers mustered up the fortitude to venture the halls making certain their team wasn’t sleeping or shooting up.
What's different about Doctor Mulligan’s profane performance? He’s alone before Stephen arrives. All alone. Solipsism requires no audience.
If a joke falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, is it still funny?