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'In Character' Conversation

Why Bugs? Simple ...

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When word spread about In Character a while back, I knew instantly which character I wanted to do, and I ran down the hall to Elizabeth Blair's office. I was afraid someone else might get there first and steal the best character going: Bugs Bunny.

Trouble on two paws: Bugs Bunny, American wiseguy Warner Bros. hide caption

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Warner Bros.

Because one of the things that makes working for NPR the best job ever is that I've just gotten paid — paid real money, mind you — to watch Bugs Bunny cartoons.

Bugs has always been my favorite character in the Looney Tunes pantheon. He's so clever, so quick, so smart. I've always wished that I could be more like him — that when faced with a raging bull, I'd have the quick-wittedness to slap him across the nose and tell him to stop steaming up my tail.

Bugs, to me, is an embodiment of an ideal: The person who breaks all the rules, who mocks the strictures of society, and yet does good at the same time.

He's not a character rooted in the past, but a character almost more relevant today than he was in the '40s. His razor-sharp wit in perilous situations, his ability to never lose his cool — we can all rattle off other characters who owe something to Bugs Bunny's panache, whether they're characters from a Will Smith movie, or a Bill Murray film, or even Bruce Willis's Die Hard flicks. The list goes on, but Bugs is the original, the one that began it all.

And yet he isn't: As Bob Thompson pointed out in my on-air story, Bugs is an American expression of an ancient folkloric archetype, the Trickster. Think of Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream, or Coyote in Native American mythology, or Loki in the Norse, or the Monkey King in Chinese tales.

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There's something deeply human about the Trickster god, who stands outside any rules, who is slightly frightening, slightly foolish, yet charming and witty at the same time. Bugs is our expression of a piece of the psyche that has been deified in almost every culture on the planet.

That, I thought when I heard about In Character, was something I could sink my teeth into. And get paid to watch Bugs Bunny cartoons. Not bad.

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