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Aural Report

Matt Groening and Lynda Barry at the Schnitzer
Bringing the funny pages to life
by Kurt Dahlke

he cheap seats in Portland's awesome Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall start filling up pretty early for Matt Groening and Lynda Barry, towering giants in the world of the funny pages.

This is no Phish concert or new Star Wars movie (more on that later), but let's just say that our "twin hams" are already pretty tired of their general admission seats by the time the two take the stage at 7:30.

Groening: taking delight in skewering his masters. [photo: www.animaart.com/events/gallery.htm]

A pair of wing chairs is quickly swept aside by the headliners, quashing for a while our hopes of an intimate fireside chat with the pair, as they swagger onto the stage – Groening all in black with floppy hair and Barry in casual jeans and white blouse.

Barry is up first, sweating and pacing, forthright in nervousness. She is likely best known for her preternaturally in-touch-with-the-young-mind Ernie Pook's Comeek and the adolescent character Marlys, but she is clearly dwarfed by Groening's stature. This is not an issue to either of the longtime friends (a friendship stretching back to their time at ultra-liberal Evergreen College in Washington), which allows us to relax into Barry's witty, well-thought-out presentation.

Barry's thesis of the need for "play" in our lives is nothing much new, though she frames "play" as "creative concentration" for adults. With a smattering of funny stories from her life and plenty of room-shaking laughs she makes a number of points about how people can – and indeed already do – engage in creative play daily, most notably as we endlessly create dialogues in our heads of those "things we should have said."

Barry in the middle: do just a little bit every day. [photo by www.darryl.com]

Barry's other main point – do just a little bit every day – is well taken. Hopefully we can all live up to such simple advice and avoid the stress we seem to need to feel.

Something many folks in the audience likely do daily is watch "The Simpsons" – seemingly in 24-hour-a-day reruns. If not, Groening gives us our dose tonight.

Yes, we have to give Barry the significant edge in Public Speaking, as Groening rests on his considerable laurels with rather unenlightening lists of concerts he's seen, crowd-pleasing mentions of local landmarks (Groening was born and raised in Portland) and, most importantly, 17 minutes of Simpsons clips that had the crowd laughing uproariously.

All in the family: Groening and his clan. [photo by Aaron Mayes]

It is Simpsons-fan nirvana when Groening cues up a preview of an upcoming, never-before-seen episode that skewers George Lucas and the Star Wars franchise. One of the things we take from Groening's talk is his delight in a continued ability to kick his masters (including Fox, notably and repeatedly) in the shorts and get away with it.

Doubtless no one feels ripped off, but a nearly hour-long Q&A session that severely tests our hams truly gives us our money's worth. Barry graciously reads plenty of questions directed at Groening, while fielding a healthy number herself. The esteem that the two have for each other is revealed, and the esteem they have for their fans is, too.

For starters, Groening definitively answers the ultimate question: In what state is The Simpsons' fictional Springfield located? I won't reveal the contents of Groening's stage-whisper, because the real Springfield is in our hearts, isn't it? The night's capper (literally and figuratively) is Barry's bizarre closed-mouth rendition of "You Are My Sunshine."

Lynda and Matt, you are our sunshine as well.

E-mail Kurt at orangeandorange@msn.com, and don't miss his previous reports.

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