Comedian Michael Roemer to speak at Westport Playhouse

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MichaelRoemer As a young boy attending boarding school in England in the 1940s, Michael Roemer (right) and his classmates were no strangers to the kind of riotous laughter that could be brought on by the most serious of assemblies.

Inopportune and inappropriate, it was a giggling that tended to feed on itself, leaving its practitioners nearly devoid of the control to make it stop.

“At the time, I would take my handkerchief … and I would stuff it in my mouth,” said Roemer, a filmmaker, author and Yale professor, as he chuckled at the thought of it. “I still remember what that handkerchief tasted like.”

It is not likely such a drastic solution will be carried out on Tuesday, June 18, when Roemer is expected to participate in “Books Worth Talking About” a literary salon held at the Lucille Lortel White Barn Center at the Westport Country Playhouse. As the author of “Shocked but Connected: Notes on Laughter,” Roemer will be called upon to talk about comedy and what spurs humans to laugh.

“I have a rather heady view of laughter, and by that I mean it is a serious one,” he said.

Still, he hopes not to create a stuffy, clinical look at what spurs the guffaws, giggles and chortles. If anything, he said laughter is full of surprise, shock and the unexpected.

“What we are really responding to is the shock,” he said. “There are a lot of jokes where the truth of the joke is hidden.”

“They question assumptions that we need to live by,” he added.

An ongoing series, the salons bring authors to the playhouse whose work is in line with the shows presented on stage. The talk, which will include radio host and Broadway scenic designer Leo B. Meyer (left) as moderator, will begin at 6:30 p.m., and is open to anyone with a ticket to that night’s 8 p.m. performance of George Kelly’s “The Show-Off,” which is directed by Nicholas Martin. (Ticket exchanges may be possible for subscribers,by calling the playhouse, 203-227-4177.)

Leo B. Meyer photoThis 1924 classic comedy throws together a first-rate blowhard with a reserved American family and lets the drama, and laughter, unfold.

Meyer, who for nearly 40 years owned and operated Bridgeport-based Atlas Scenic Studio, said he was looking forward to seeing the show staged, since he had only had a chance to read it. Meyer, who designed and produced sets for hundreds of productions, including many at the Westport Country Playhouse, said he also was looking forward to sharing the evening with Roemer.

Meyer’s voice might be familiar to those who attend the salon, as he also hosts a show with Dolly Curtis, “Backstage Buzz,” for WPKN-FM Public Radio, which is based in Bridgeport.

“It is amazing how humor has changed over the years, and that is what I am hoping to speak with him about,” said Meyer, who lives in Milford.

Roemer is well aware of the concept of shifting sentiments. For instance his 1969 comedy, “The Plot Against Harry,” has a funny story in and of itself.

“There are many people who didn’t find it funny,” he said, laughing. It had followed another independent film, “Nothing But a Man (1965),” that he wrote and directed.

It wasn’t until 20 years after “Harry” was finished that Roemer discovered that perhaps it was funnier than he had been led to believe. While working to put his films on videotape so his children could see his work, he noticed the technician laughing hysterically as he watched the film.

“I asked him, ‘do you think that’s funny,’ and he said, ‘Yes, I think it is very funny.’ “

On a whim, Roemer sent off a copy to the New York Film Festival where this tale of a small-time crook trying to get his life together after a brief stint in prison was accepted and received a great response when it was shown in 1989. It also made an appearance at the Toronto Film Festival. The next year it made its theatrical release.

He said after its screening at the Cannes movie festival in France in 1990, he happened to cross paths with one of the actors in the film.

“She told me: “I wish you had told us it was a comedy. I didn’t play it for laughs.”

To reserve a spot for the evening, email marketing@westportplayhouse.org or call 203-227-4177.

Christina Hennessy

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