* Welcome to The Big Jewel, your New Yorker away from the New Yorker. This week please say a big friendly hello to Michael Wolman. This is his first piece for us.

Standup Comedy For New Yorker Subscribers

By: Michael Wolman

Bonsoir! It’s great to be back in New York. I love it here. It’s always nice to be in a place where people don’t think Wittgenstein is a type of beer mug.

Not that I have anything against Middle America, mind you. Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio…Great places to live. But just to give you an example, last week I was in Omaha, and M was playing. You know, the Fritz Lang classic…And the woman next to me, she says, “Oh, I love Judi Dench!” She thought it was the newest James Bond flick! Yeah, right. And Z starred Antonio Banderas. Corncob…

Speaking of movies, how about that Anthony Lane? What a great critic. Brilliant. I love it when they give him an absolute cream puff and then let him just go to town on it. I mean, the dude has reviewed The Da Vinci Code and Sex and the City. Seriously? Sex and the City? For A-Train Lane? That would have been like assigning Valley of the Dolls to Frank Kermode. Come on, Remnick, challenge the guy!

But seriously. Like I say, it’s great to be back in New York. I visited MOMA today to check out the new Murakami exhibit. Anyone see that yet? It’s great. Very Oldenburg-meets-Miyazaki…My problem with Murakami is that whenever my friends discuss him at parties, it takes me a moment to divine whether they’re talking about Haruki Murakami or Takashi Murakami. Don’t you hate that? I hate that. I’ll overhear something about “fantastical post-modernism,” and then I’ll go over and join the discussion, and I’ll make a total ass of myself by explaining how I found Kafka on the Shore too accessible — only to discover they were discussing Takashi, not Haruki! So humiliating.

It’s easy to embarrass yourself these days…. Like, have you noticed how many people mispronounce “Roethke?” Last month I was in Cincinnati — might as well be the South, by the way — and my wife’s cousin is discussing mid-century prosody, and she mentions Roethke and pronounces it “Roath-key.” Can you believe that? Not even close. So I correct her, right? And she calls me an elitist!…Right. I’m an “elitist” for actually knowing the pronunciation of a Pulitzer winner’s name. The same thing happens to me in Texas when I correct people on “Nabokov” or “Barthelme.” They should be embarrassed, not me.

Anyway, those are the kinds of things that never happen in New York, am I right? People here know the things people should know. Even on the subway, which I love…One thing I’ve noticed on the trains is the difference between black people and white people. See, black people read books like Beloved and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, while white folks prefer books like Darkness at Noon and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Ever notice that? Seriously, you know why Ellison called it Invisible Man? I’ll tell you why: ’cause all the white kids who are forced to read it in school have never looked at a single word of the text. It might as well be invisible to them! They’re too busy reading Proust, I suppose. At least, my kids are.

Anyway, that’s all the time I have tonight. You folks have been great. Merci! Merci beaucoup. Vous pouvez me retrouver ici, toute la semaine.