laughHumor is defined as the experience of

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playful incongruity. When something is incongruous it is described as odd, strange, absurd, inappropriate, unsuitable, inconsistent, or bizarre. It is anything that doesn’t fit our logical expectations of things.

It is incongruous to equate the Catholic Faith with bonsai. It is incongruous for cats to step on heads of popes. It is incongruous for cows to act as protectors of women against sexual attacks. It is incongruous for priests to be chased by naked women, or vice versa. It is incongruous for a bonsai papaya to take the shape and form of a naked woman, and it is double the incongruity if you give this as gift to the apostolic nuncio.

I’ve been tasked to discuss the humor of Renato Madrid. But if so far I’ve miserably failed to do so, it’s because there’s more to the incongruity of the things Madrid writes about. And I’m afraid what I might find under the layers of dark humor trapped in each sentence. Nick Joaquin was not joking when he said, “Renato Madrid may look oh so prim and proper but he has got a maniac under his skin.” Now, that’s scary.

Besides, defining humor kills the spontaneous character of the experience. E. B. White said, “Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.”

I’m no Renato Madrid expert. I’m just a fan, a big one. But even so, I haven’t read all his works, don’t tell him. I couldn’t go beyond five pages of his novels without returning to the opening paragraph to check if I started out right. I’m still trying. Even if he stops writing, Renato Madrid will forever be an ongoing experience for me.

But this I am proud to say, that I’ve been privileged to experience the incongruity of Renato Madrid as ‘Nyor Rudy, the person, the seminary formator, the genius musician, the “terror,” the man who brought out the best in many us, and the worst in some-–the walking contradiction.

The years I spent in the seminary were made memorable by the experience of listening to the monsignor curse in his homilies; of sitting in the professor’s class perfecting the rules of grammar so I could break them later in my writing career; of being told by the man to quit seminary and shift to journalism, don’t worry about the tuition-–and of telling him flatly, “No thanks, Nyor, I’m going to be a priest;” of beer-guzzling with the drinker during weekends; of touring the countryside with the musician’s Super Special Choir; of seeing my classmates tremble at the sight of the tormentor; of the beloved bully cutting short our meals and our sleep so we could have more time to polish “Te Deum;” of watching the nature-tripper tend to his bonsai collection; of wondering if he had “real friends” other than his dogs?

In one of our drinking sessions, I told him: “Nyor, you’re lonely at the top. Am I right or am I right?”

The man answered, “Do I have a choice?” while handing me my next beer, laughing.

Cheers, ‘Nyor.

(Last of three parts of the talk I gave last Aug. 15 in San Carlos Seminary College as part of the Special Lecture Series on Literature in celebration of Year of Madrid, on the occasion of the 70th birthday of Renato E. Madrid)

( SUN.STAR CEBU, AUG. 24, 2010 )