Joseph Addison, a late 17th century–early 18th century English poet, playwright, and politician, categorized wit in three parts: true, false, and mixed.
[Stay with me here, I promise there is a point to bringing him up in a blog post about Jerry Springer the Opera]
“As true Wit consists in the Resemblance of Ideas, and false wit in the Resemblance of Words, according to the foregoing Instances; there is another kind of Wit which consists partly in the Resemblance of Ideas, and partly in the Resemblance of Words; which for distinction sake I shall call mixt wit.”
In other words, true wit came from solid concepts that were in their own right, deep and ambiguous. Ideas that captured the imagination of thinkers, not in one congruous form or shape but in many different realms of thought.
False wit, in its nature is much easier to understand. It is shallow and specific, something that would generate the same reaction from many different people. Think of fart jokes as false wit, yes they are funny to most, but they lack deeper meaning and thought (arguable, I know but bear with me).
Mixed wit is just as it sounds, the mix of the true and the false. It is the product of talent and skill. Addison explains it best: “The poet mixes the qualities of fire with those of love; and in the same sentence speaking it both as a passion, and as real fire, surprises the reader with those seeming resemblances or contradictions that make up all the wit in this kind of writing.”
I believe this is the kind of wit that makes good art great. It allows us to tie key words/ideas/moments to emotions in an eloquent, shocking, and brilliant way. Great stories bleed mixed wit, great theatre is no different. So now we come to Jerry Springer the Opera, which I personally believe thrives on mixed wit (even the title demonstrates this theory.) The surprising blend of low and high art creates a shocking, thought-provoking, and eloquent work of musical theatre.
Yes, the language/content would send a conservative nun into a homicidal rage, but the true wit buried deeply between stripper soliloquies and gay jokes is a contemporary hidden treasure. Jerry Springer the Opera holds a mirror to the world’s false wit, to our own toils, our vested interests in the lives of others, our constant need for validation through comparison. This beautifully written opera uses shock to provide its true wit; ideas you wouldn’t expect. It explores deep concepts of our social humanity, love of stories (the stranger the better), and most importantly how much we love to be offended.
I challenge everyone who sees this show to consider the ideas I have presented: to examine the false wit, explore the true wit, and fall deeply in love with the type of art that mixes them so well it makes it uncomfortable to sit still.
Alex Glow (the directing intern)