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EYE ON THE PIE: Idea may be worth more than a few laughs

June 23, 2008

After many years, my good friend the Rev. Bob arrived in Indiana. He's been busy tending his flock at St. Lucifer's in Kansas.

After some traditional words of greeting and invocation, the Rev. Bob tore right into me. "How come you never write about positive ideas for helping Indiana get out of its economic doldrums? All you do is elaborate on the well-known truth that the Hoosier economy is a long-term mess."

"What would you suggest?" I asked.

"Something no one else has," he said. "Something that attracts people to Indiana from all over the nation. Something that's distinctive. Something based in Indiana's past, but that creates a new future."

"Wonderful," I said. "And what would that something be?"

"Something you suggested about four years ago in Vincennes, but it could work anywhere in the state," the Rev. Bob replied.

"How do you know what I said in Vincennes?" I asked.

"I have my sources," he said. "Don't you recall putting forth the idea of a community where humor is featured? You said that the Red Skelton collection could be extended to include much more. The idea was to create in Indiana a national museum of humor, performance venues for comedy and a school to train humorists."

"I said that?" I was surprised by my innovative thinking.

"Yes," Rev. Bob assured me. "You wanted to create a comedy industry center similar to Branson, Mo., where country music dominates. The idea was to collect radio and TV shows, movies, cartoons, scripts, books and other items in a comedy library. Teach the writing and performance of humor to aspiring comics. Set up stages where new materials could be tried and old standards could be revived. Hold seminars on topics related to humor and humorists. Have a movie festival devoted to funny films. All this was what you envisioned for Vincennes."

"You're kidding," I said.

"No," he said. "The idea has Hoosier roots. Think of George Ade, Kin Hubbard, Herb Shriner, Red Skelton, David Letterman, Marjorie Main, Carole Lombard, Sidney Pollack, Cole Porter, Jean Shepherd, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., and of course Dan Quayle. All of them were people who made people laugh."

"But there must be a national humor museum," I said.

"Nothing of consequence," the Rev. Bob said. "Humor has no shrine in this country. It does have a place on many Web sites and in several museums. For example, you can find humor about mustard, neckties, candy wrappers, tombstones, accordions, food, suction cups, as well as matches and matchboxes. If your taste goes in those directions, there are museums and sites offering humor about toilets, toilet paper, menstruation, Nordic heritage and Spam."

"It is an idea worth considering, but who would fund it?" I pondered.

"If there is money to be made," the Rev. Bob answered, "the private sector should be interested. Or it could be one of those 'publicprivate partnerships' Indiana loves to talk about. How about a joint effort of entrepreneurs, the Indiana State Museum and one of the state universities? Just putting faculty meetings on stage could be riotously funny, and most university presidents are unintentional stand-up comics."

"That's cruel," I said. "But I do know many legislative committees that could rival Chicago's Second City for improvisational hilarity. Then too, there are some very funny business and labor leaders in our state."

"Now you're in the swing of it," he said. Then we knelt together, as of old, and played marbles.



Marcus taught economics for more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU's Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at mmarcus@ibj.com.
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