Humour in Dark Times

Last night, after a long semi-stressful day–one of the craziest that I can recall in recent memory–my wife and I decided we needed to wind down with a movie.  Even though Erin, no doubt, would fall asleep within a few minutes, she rebuffed my suggestion of The Blob. Too scary. Night of the Living Dead was a no-go for her, too.  I perused my selection of (mostly) classic films. (Yes, I still buy physical discs. I’m just like that, okay). Alright, well, what sort of film might be appropriate? The Seventh Seal, the Bergman film about a knight coming home from the crusades during the Black Plague and facing off with Death in a game of chess? Maybe not tonight. Eventually I pulled out a couple selections: Dr. Strangelove and The Big Lebowski.

Erin pondered the options and chose the supremely funny and quotable The Big Lebowski.  As predicted, she fell asleep pretty quick, even before the nihilists threaten to cut off the Dude’s “Johnson.” But while she was awake she laughed till there were tears in her eyes and, later, when she fell asleep, I carried on laughing without her. And, you know what? For two solid hours I didn’t think once about the coronavirus. I didn’t even grab my phone to see the latest death tally. I just watched…and laughed.

We need humour in dark times. It’s not the only thing we need, of course, but it’s something. It’s healthy.

Back in February I spoke about “Humour in Dark Times” at the Ottawa Mennonite Church. Of course, for us in Canada, the coronavirus wasn’t really on our radar yet at the time, but I was reminded of that lecture title again last night.

There are a lot of things we need right now. Community. Faith. Science. Leadership. Level-headedness. And, no, not toilet paper. However, maybe, we also need some humour once in a while. As long as I can, and as long as I think it’s helpful, I will try to provide that on the Daily Bonnet.

And tonight I’ll probably throw on Dr. Strangelove while my wife sleeps in my arms.

Highlights of 2019 by Daily Bonnet Author Andrew Unger

I started the Daily Bonnet on a whim, really. Back in 2016, I wrote one article about Steinbach city council moving the entire community to the Mennonite Heritage Village and posted it on my website. After a few days I noticed that thousands of people had read it and I figured, “hey, people seem to like this stuff. I could write more of that.” And so I did, and a few months later, I launched the Daily Bonnet.

Thanks, everyone, for reading, commenting, and sharing my posts over the last year. Writing the Daily Bonnet is a lot of fun and I plan to continue to write posts as long as it remains so.

2019 was quite an interesting year, with some unexpected highlights. When I started the Daily Bonnet, I never would have predicted that it would be mentioned in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and the Canadian House of Commons. I’m still a little stunned about all that. I also had a number of speaking opportunities and even filmed an episode of a local food TV show, which was a lot of fun. All of this from a few schmaunt fat jokes!

You know what else happened this year? I turned 40, the Bombers finally won a Grey Cup, and my father retired from many decades as a pastor. I’m not sure of the implications of all this on my psyche, but I guess the fact that I’m no longer a pastor’s son means I can move beyond the schmaunt fat jokes, right? Haha.

I’m really looking forward to 2020 and will have some very exciting news coming up in the next few months.

Thanks again for reading my work.

Happy New Year!

Andrew Unger

Brian Mulroney Cartoons: My First Attempt at Satire

In the spring of 1992, my father accepted a pastoral position in Calgary and our family moved from Manitoba to Alberta, heart of Reform Party country. I think I had an interest in politics before then, but it really ramped up when I arrived in Calgary at the height of Preston Manning mania. Ahh, yes, those were the days…

It was about this time when I started to dabble in political cartooning. I had always been a writer. As a young child I wrote poetry and short stories. However, there was a period, say 1992 and 1993, when I churned out literally hundreds of political cartoons, most of them focused on my arch enemy at the time: Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Recently, I discovered six notebooks full of these cartoons in an old desk. I honestly have not looked at them in decades. Examining them now I can see that most of them were not that funny and the artwork was not very good, but, hey, I was 12 and I’m quite certain this was my very first foray into satire.

These cartoons have remained unseen for twenty-seven years, but I present a few of them here for your perusal now. Enjoy!

A good Mennonite kid always has to weave in Biblical analogies:

“This time, though, God didn’t provide the ram.”

Well, that’s quite a trio!

“House of horrors”

He did have a  big chin….

“Mulroney slides”

This one is about as sophisticated as it gets….

“Stop. Time out!”

I actually think this one is kind of funny. Do you remember those “Tax this, Brian!” bumper stickers?

“Tax this, Brian!”

Ahh, yes, the classic angel and devil on the shoulder!

“Mulroney’s peer pressure.”

And then, as I page through these notebooks, I notice that they just stop, literally right in the middle of an unfinished Kim Campbell cartoon. My interest had waned or moved on to other things….

Teaching Satire: Resources for Educators

From about the age of twelve to fourteen, I filled Hillroy notebooks with poorly-drawn, occasionally funny, political cartoons. Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister at the time and it was fun to exaggerate the length of his chin while offering my Junior High critique of his tax plan. I can’t say this type of writing was ever encouraged in any classes I took in school. It was just this thing I did on my own. My cartoons were never shown to anyone.

Later I became an educator myself and have been teaching high school English Language Arts for fifteen years. I taught a unit on satire for about twelve years before I started The Daily Bonnet, a satirical news website that focuses on my own Mennonite cultural and religious background.

Satire is a powerful communication tool and a form of writing that is increasingly common today. However, it’s not often understood very well. My intention here is not to provide lesson plans (those, I assume, you can put together yourself), but rather to draw attention to a few concepts that are essential if you want to give your students a better understanding of satire. I highly recommend that you have your students write their own satires as well. It’s challenging, but a lot of fun and quite rewarding when they see the finished product.

There is no “fake news” crisis. If there’s a problem, the problem is lack of literacy. I firmly believe that if people are being “fooled” by “fake news” (whether satire or deceptive fake news) it is not the fault of “the Russians” or anyone else who might be churning out misleading memes in a basement somewhere. Failure to understand or “get” satire, and failure to be able to differentiate between real and fake news, is entirely a literacy issue and the solution lies, then, not with politicians, but with teachers and parents.

By reading and writing satire, students should develop critical thinking skills and creative writing skills. Beyond that, it’s actually a lot of fun! Whether you’re a teacher, student, or just someone interested in learning more about satire, I hope you’ll find these resources helpful.

Click on the links below to learn more:

Understanding satire: What makes people laugh?

Understanding satire: What is satire?

Understanding satire: What is “fake news”?

Understanding satire: How to detect satire

Understanding satire: Examples of satire

Understanding satire: Cognitive biases and satire

Writing satire: Tone in satire

Writing satire: Types of exaggeration

Writing satire: Are you punching up or punching down?

So Who Writes The Daily Bonnet Anyway?

Hello. I’m  Andrew Unger, a church-going Mennonite pastor’s son from Steinbach. Surprised? Well, some of you know me as Andrew J. Bergman, the pen name I used from 2014 until now.

I used the pen name for two years before starting the Daily Bonnet, the name selected as a tribute to my grandfather, an amateur poet. However, as the Daily Bonnet gained more notoriety and I was invited to speak in public and write for other publications it became a bit of a hassle. How do I introduce myself? etc. etc. It is a family name, my mother’s maiden name, but I’ve decided to make it simple. Andrew Unger it is. That’s my real name. Besides, a pen name doesn’t seem very Menno now does it?

This will also make it much easier for you to find me on the Grandma’s Window genealogy website. We’re all frintschoft now aren’t we anyway?

On my new website, andrewunger.com, you’ll find information about speaking events, blog postings, and upcoming book releases! If you haven’t already, you can follow Andrew Unger on Facebook and Twitter.