Rude Talk in Athens – Greek City Times


“Rude Talk in Athens” is the latest non-fiction from author Mark Haskell Smith to create waves (of laughter) this season.

The book offers a very entertaining look at the warring comic playwrights of ancient Athens and an exploration of how some writers gain notoriety, remembered for thousands of years, while others do. not.

“Rude Talk in Athens is brave, brilliant and incredibly funny. There are loads of very specific characters, including Mark himself. It’s Mark Haskell Smith’s version of hanging out with Stanley Tucci and Anthony Bourdain, but in present and ancient Greece. I agree with everything he says about comedy and have never read anything like it.

―Barry Sonnenfeld, director and writer of Barry Sonnenfeld, Call Your Mother: Memoirs of a Neurotic Filmmaker

In ancient Athens, thousands of people attended theater festivals that turned writing into a fierce battle for fame, money, and ridiculously large trophies.

While tragedies have gained artistic respect, it was the comedies – the scorching jokes, vulgar innuendos, outrageous invention and barbed wire political commentary – that captured the city’s imagination.

The authors of these comic plays argued openly, insulting each other from the scene, each production being more inventive and eccentric than the next.

Of these writers, only the work of Aristophanes has survived and it is only through his plays that we know his peers: Cratinus, the great luxuriant; Eupolis, the copier; and Ariphrades, the sexual deviant.

This period may have been the golden age of democracy, but for comedy playwrights it was the age of Rude Talk.

Fast forward to 2019, while watching a production of an Aristophanes play and seeing the audience laughing with every joke, Mark Haskell Smith began to wonder: what does this tell us about the company. and the humanity that those old punchlines still land? When the insults and jokes made thousands of years ago continue to be both offensive and still make us laugh?

So, “what are these examples of insults and jokes made thousands of years ago that continue to be both offensive and still make us laugh?” one may be tempted to ask.

“Ah! There are so many relevant things in Aristophanes’ plays! Mark responds. “Not just the scorching, scatological humor – the fart jokes and the sexual innuendos – but the ridicule of the powerful, the pretentious and the corrupt.” Mainly in politics and the army, but also in philosophy and education.

“One of my favorite jokes is in ‘Clouds’ where he makes fun of philosophers and intellectuals. While the main character in debt goes to the Thought of Socrates to learn how to get out of his debts.

“There he meets men with their faces pressed to the ground and their bare buttocks pointing skyward.

“They study,” he told her, “things underground while independently studying astronomy with their buttocks. Which is a smart way for Aristophanes to say they have their heads held high.

“Later, in the same play, two characters, ‘Right Argument’ and ‘Wrong Argument’, discuss the sudden popularity of frivolous lawsuits and litigation in Athens. As Right Argument says, “New ideas are all the rage” [He gestures to the audience] “Thanks to those morons here.

“In what might be an excerpt from today’s discussion of ‘fake news’ and’ alternative facts’ in ‘Knights he takes on the very Trump-like demagogue, Cleon, in a shameless political battle between Cleon and a sausage vendor for control of the city.

“And in ‘Women of the Assembly, ‘Mark continues, “After women take over Athens, they pass a law requiring handsome young men to sexually serve older, unattractive women.”

“The play pokes fun at gender norms and the roles women play in society (although gender roles were very different back then, toxic masculinity hasn’t changed much).

“Young men are worried about who is going to cook their breakfast and one character replies that it shouldn’t be a problem,” you’ll just have to find a way to continue. [working] while you eat your breakfast.

“The most sophisticated book you’ll read about writers insulting the people they hate… If there were any mean girls living in ancient Greece, I’m sure Mark would have written a brilliant analysis of the shadows that they were throwing themselves and their historical impact. “

―Al Madrigal, comedian, actor and former correspondent for the daily show

Through conversations with historians, politicians and other writers, the ever-witty and effusive Smith embarks on a personal mission (bordering on obsession) exploring the life of one of these unknown writers and how the comedy challenged the patriarchy, the army and the powers. whatever, both yesterday and today.

A comic book author himself and the author of numerous books and screenplays, in “ Rude Talk in Athens, ” Smith also reflects on his own career, his love for the unique vibrant city of Athens and what that means for a writer. to leave a legacy.

“Mark Haskell Smith is a writer whose books I am always grateful to have read.”

―Viet Thanh Nguyen

“I started working on this book in 2017,” says Mark.

“I wanted to write about the history of hedonism, especially the writings of Epicurus and his philosophy of pleasure as the pinnacle of human achievement and the purpose of life.

“But during my research I discovered this strange character in Aristophanes’ plays, someone the playwright attacked repeatedly over a period of over thirty years – I knew it was a story. that had never been told, so I descended the rabbit hole, exploring the birth of comedy and how the sexual habits of a forgotten playwright may have affected world history.

Mark explains how he conducted all the research necessary to be able to paint the scenes in his book with the intricate detail he did.

“It’s funny because there is a lot of information about ancient Athens,” says Mark. “We can assume that some of them are true, as they are based on legal documents and official proclamations, and then there are various poems, plays, philosophical and scientific writings that have survived.

“But much of what we think we know is the speculation of academics and historians over the past two millennia. They are just guessing.

“I think it helps that I’m a novelist. I’m used to imagining life, ”he adds.

“I read as much as I could, especially about the politics and civic life surrounding comedy theater, but the best part for me was spending time walking around the Kerameikos and the Agora trying to imagine what this world was like, ”says Mark, explaining that he made several trips to Athens while writing this book.

“Your readers will laugh because I once spent August in Athens, which means I had the place to myself,” Mark recalls.

“But I love the city. Much like Los Angeles or New York, once you escape the tourist industry, you will find one of the most vibrant and friendly cities in the world.

“I mainly stayed in Metaxourgeio and the Kerameikos neighborhoods, and my wife and I are trying to find a way to move there.

“It helps to think that Greek cuisine could be the best in the world.”


As much as Mark adores Athens, he has also sailed quite extensively through the Sporades and Cyclades.

“I love Naxos and Kofounisia, they are just beautiful,” he says.

“The best restaurant in the world, at least in my top ten, is Taverna Mesogia on Skiathos as well.”

Recommendation noted and much appreciated, thank you Mark!

Rude Talk in Athens Mark Haskill Smith
Taverna Mesogia, Skiathos, “the best restaurant in the world”, according to Mark – or at least in his “top ten”.

“If you haven’t read Mark Haskell Smith, collect your shit.”

-Lisa Lutz

Dr. Emma Southon, author of “A Fatal Thing Happened to the Forum Path: Murder in Ancient Rome,” says, “Rude Talk in Athens is as political and punk, as chaotic and exuberant as the city itself. Emotional and fun, Mark Haskell Smith’s book really made me feel like I was in Athens!

The book also just received its first review, from “Publishers Weekly”: “Smith takes an immersive and irreverent plunge into ancient Greece to uncover the origins of transgressive humor. Blending history, literary criticism and dirty jokes, Smith pays homage to a slew of forgotten Greek writers… This erudite but refreshing non-academic work will nourish the intellect and tickle the funny bone.

Basically, as American author Lisa Lutz so delicately puts it, “If you haven’t read Mark Haskell Smith, come together.”

Rude Talk in Athens Mark Haskill Smith

PRE-ORDER your copy of ‘Rude Talk in Athens’

Mark Haskell Smith is the author of six novels: “Moist”, “Delicious”, “Salty”, “Baked”, “Raw: A Love Story” and “Blown”. He has also written the non-fiction books ‘Heart of Dankness: Underground Botanists, Outlaw Farmers, and the Race for the Cannabis Cup’ and ‘Naked At Lunch: A Reluctant Nudist’s Adventures in a Clothing-Optional World’. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, Salon, and Vulture. Smith is an Assistant Professor in the MFA Program for Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts at the University of California, Riverside, Palm Desert Graduate Center. He lives in Los Angeles.

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Age of Democracy, Agora, Ancient Athens and the Cannabis Cup Race, Ariphrades, Athens, Baked, Puffed, Cratinus, Cyclades, Delicious, Eupolis, Heart of Dankness: Underground Botanists, Hedonism, Kerameikos, Kofounisia, Mark Haskill Smith, Wet, Naked at Lunch: Adventures of a Reluctant Nudist in a Dress Option World, Naked at Lunch: Adventures of a Reluctant Nudist in a Dress Option World, Natalie Martin, Naxos, Outlaw Farmers, Playwright, Editors Weekly , Raw: A Love Story, Rude Speech in Athens, Salty, Skiathos, Socrates, Sporades, The Clouds, University of California, Assembly Women

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