It takes someone really, really intelligent to pull off stupid.
I don’t mean your ordinary, garden-variety stupid — the kind of stupid I encounter like this:
Me, to my dog, Tucker: “Arrêt. Assieds. Viens ici.” (Meaning, in informal French, “Stop. Sit down. Come here.” More about this later.*)
Onlooker (or is it “onlistener?”): “Your dog speaks French?”
Me: (struggling to restrain myself from flicking their head with my thumb and forefinger) “Well, he’s really terrible at correcting my French, I’ll say that much. But mostly he’s a good listener.”
Because dogs don’t speak ANYTHING, DUH.
So I don’t mean THAT kind of stupid. We’re all immersed in THAT kind of stupid everyday, and actually we can view it positively.
We can feel like geniuses, especially when we do something that makes us feel developmentally disabled, like struggle for an embarrassingly long time pushing on a door you’re supposed to pull, when you tuck your skirt into your pantyhose, or when some joker at the party ruins your joke by saying something annoying like “What do you mean you don’t remember the binomial theorem?”
Or worse, when you’re wasting time online and get sucked into those horrid IQ tests, and realize that you really aren’t even dull normal. (Why don’t I know the capital of Greenland? Did I ever? Do I need to? Does anyone else? Do they even, in Greenland?)
Still worse is when your nine-year-old comes to you with her math homework, and you — you, who began your own college career as a math major before you realized you didn’t have the imagination for it and became a writer instead — goggle at it, desperately turn the workbook upside-down in the hopes that perhaps that will help, and then feign a casual shrug, rationalize that you are encouraging their independence and say: “We learned math a different way when I was in fifth grade. I suggest you ask your teacher.”
Okay. So now that we’ve ruled out the kind of stupid I don’t mean, let’s talk about the kind of stupid I do mean.
I have enormous admiration for actors like Brenda Song, Suzanne Somers, and Ashton Kutcher, all of whom play, or have played, characters who are so dim they border on nearly retarded, were they to inhabit real life. It takes an extremely intelligent actor to pull that off.
You can tell, because less intelligent actors try to do it and it just doesn’t work. They actually ARE stupid, and it shows. The jokes aren’t funny, the timing is off, the whole thing falls flat.
Two days ago, my older daughter, who is 12 going on 22, and I, were having a very funny exchange, making fun of each other because she is a golden blonde who dyes her hair red, and I am a redhead who dyes her hair blonde.
(I do this, not for the blonde thing, but because my naturally auburn hair grows in dark – but the very second I step into the sunlight – winter or summer – my hair lightens considerably, making it LOOK as if I color my hair. So I figured, what the heck, why not play?)
Hence, blonde jokes are inevitable. Now: my oldest has developed a rapier wit that leaves you bleeding before you even feel the knife. I’m funny, but her dad is funny too – in a very dry way. She’s gotten the best of both. She’s a colossus of brainy humor, and you NEVER see it coming.
I am at the stove, obediently cooking bacon for the girl, who is growing like a beanstalk and already towering like a willow over me. She is sitting on the kitchen island, swinging her long legs, sitting bolt upright, hands crossed over her chest, lips pursed.
“I don’t know if I can eat that,” she says, in a too-sweet voice. “Is bacon a meat?
Not quite catching on yet, I turn a head. “Boy, you really ARE blonde.”
“Well,” she continues, à la Valley Girl, “I’m re-evaluating my commitment to meatatarianism.”
I hop onto the stupid train with her. “Well, it’s a spiritual thing, you know. A real commitment has to last, you know, like, at least, like, a few hours, at least – you know?”
“Are you a vegetarian?” she asks, big blue eyes wide.
“I don’t know,” I respond helplessly.
She tilts a sympathetic head. “It’s Oh-Kay…” she says, extending the vowels, “everyone experiments sexually.”
I was gone after that. Not only was I flabbergasted that my 12-year-old could make such a clever joke, but I was delighted that she was intelligent enough to play stupid so very well.
* I speak French to my dog for two reasons: one, he is more intelligent than most humans, and once I taught him all the commands in English, he got bored, so I decided to reteach him everything in French. The other reason is that I don’t have anyone else to speak French to, so I speak French to him.