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  • Gabriel García Márquez is one of my favorite writers,

  • for his storytelling,

  • but even more, I think,

  • for the beauty and precision of his prose.

  • And whether it's the opening line from "One Hundred Years of Solitude"

  • or the fantastical stream of consciousness

  • in "Autumn of the Patriarch,"

  • where the words rush by,

  • page after page of unpunctuated imagery

  • sweeping the reader along

  • like some wild river

  • twisting through a primal South American jungle,

  • readingrquez is a visceral experience.

  • Which struck me as particularly remarkable

  • during one session with the novel

  • when I realized that I was being swept along

  • on this remarkable, vivid journey

  • in translation.

  • Now I was a comparative literature major in college,

  • which is like an English major,

  • only instead of being stuck studying Chaucer for three months,

  • we got to read great literature in translation

  • from around the world.

  • And as great as these books were,

  • you could always tell

  • that you were getting close to the full effect.

  • But not so withrquez

  • who once praised his translator's versions

  • as being better than his own,

  • which is an astonishing compliment.

  • So when I heard that the translator, Gregory Rabassa,

  • had written his own book on the subject,

  • I couldn't wait to read it.

  • It's called apropos of the Italian adage

  • that I lifted from his forward,

  • "If This Be Treason."

  • And it's a charming read.

  • It's highly recommended for anyone who's interested

  • in the translator's art.

  • But the reason that I mention it

  • is that early on, Rabassa offers

  • this elegantly simple insight:

  • "Every act of communication

  • is an act of translation."

  • Now maybe that's been obvious to all of you for a long time,

  • but for me,

  • as often as I'd encountered

  • that exact difficulty on a daily basis,

  • I had never seen the inherent challenge of communication

  • in so crystalline a light.

  • Ever since I can remember

  • thinking consciously about such things,

  • communication has been my central passion.

  • Even as a child,

  • I remember thinking that what I really wanted most in life

  • was to be able to understand everything

  • and then to communicate it to everyone else.

  • So no ego problems.

  • It's funny, my wife, Daisy,

  • whose family is littered with schizophrenics --

  • and I mean littered with them --

  • once said to me, "Chris, I already have a brother who thinks he's God.

  • I don't need a husband who wants to be."

  • (Laughter)

  • Anyway, as I plunged through my 20s

  • ever more aware of how unobtainable

  • the first part of my childhood ambition was,

  • it was that second part,

  • being able to successfully communicate to others

  • whatever knowledge I was gaining,

  • where the futility of my quest really set in.

  • Time after time,

  • whenever I set out to share some great truth

  • with a soon-to-be grateful recipient,

  • it had the opposite effect.

  • Interestingly, when your opening line of communication is,

  • "Hey, listen up,

  • because I'm about to drop some serious knowledge on you,"

  • it's amazing how quickly you'll discover

  • both ice and the firing squad.

  • Finally, after about 10 years

  • of alienating friends and strangers alike,

  • I finally got it,

  • a new personal truth all my own,

  • that if I was going to ever communicate well with other people

  • the ideas that I was gaining,

  • I'd better find a different way of going about it.

  • And that's when I discovered comedy.

  • Now comedy travels along a distinct wavelength

  • from other forms of language.

  • If I had to place it on an arbitrary spectrum,

  • I'd say it falls somewhere

  • between poetry and lies.

  • And I'm not talking about all comedy here,

  • because, clearly, there's plenty of humor

  • that colors safely within the lines of what we already think and feel.

  • What I want to talk about

  • is the unique ability that the best comedy and satire has

  • at circumventing our ingrained perspectives --

  • comedy as the philosopher's stone.

  • It takes the base metal of our conventional wisdom

  • and transforms it through ridicule

  • into a different way of seeing

  • and ultimately being in the world.

  • Because that's what I take

  • from the theme of this conference: Gained in Translation.

  • That it's about communication

  • that doesn't just produce greater understanding

  • within the individual,

  • but leads to real change.

  • Which in my experience means communication

  • that manages to speak to and expand

  • our concept of self-interest.

  • Now I'm big on speaking to people's self-interest

  • because we're all wired for that.

  • It's part of our survival package,

  • and that's why it's become so important for us,

  • and that's why we're always listening at that level.

  • And also because that's where,

  • in terms of our own self-interest,

  • we finally begin to grasp

  • our ability to respond, our responsibility

  • to the rest of the world.

  • Now as to what I mean by the best comedy and satire,

  • I mean work that comes first and foremost

  • from a place of honesty and integrity.

  • Now if you think back

  • on Tina Fey's impersonations on Saturday Night Live

  • of the newly nominated vice presidential candidate

  • Sarah Palin,

  • they were devastating.

  • Fey demonstrated far more effectively than any political pundit

  • the candidate's fundamental lack of seriousness,

  • cementing an impression

  • that the majority of the American public still holds today.

  • And the key detail of this

  • is that Fey's scripts weren't written by her

  • and they weren't written by the SNL writers.

  • They were lifted verbatim

  • from Palin's own remarks.

  • (Laughter)

  • Here was a Palin impersonator

  • quoting Palin word for word.

  • Now that's honesty and integrity,

  • and it's also why Fey's performances

  • left such a lasting impression.

  • On the other side of the political spectrum,

  • the first time that I heard Rush Limbaugh

  • refer to presidential hopeful John Edwards as the Breck girl

  • I knew that he'd made a direct hit.

  • Now it's not often that I'm going to associate

  • the words honesty and integrity with Limbaugh,

  • but it's really hard to argue with that punchline.

  • The description perfectly captured

  • Edwards' personal vanity.

  • And guess what?

  • That ended up being the exact personality trait

  • that was at the core of the scandal that ended his political career.

  • Now The Daily Show with John Stewart

  • is by far the most --

  • (Applause)

  • (Laughter)

  • it's by far the most well-documented example

  • of the effectiveness of this kind of comedy.

  • Survey after survey,

  • from Pew Research to the Annenberg Center for Public Policy,

  • has found that Daily Show viewers are better informed about current events

  • than the viewers of all major network and cable news shows.

  • (Applause)

  • Now whether this says more

  • about the conflict between integrity and profitability

  • of corporate journalism

  • than it does about the attentiveness of Stewart's viewers,

  • the larger point remains

  • that Stewart's material

  • is always grounded in a commitment to the facts --

  • not because his intent is to inform. It's not.

  • His intent is to be funny.

  • It just so happens that Stewart's brand of funny