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Three Speeches about Billy Grainger

Billy Grainger, posthumous induction into the Humor Hall of Fame
Induction speech by Eugene “Mean Gene” Crawford

Thank you.

Now shut the fuck up.

I know you’re comedians, but we’re here to honor our own, so I swear to God if I hear one more tinkling glass I’ll shove it so far up your ass you’ll be able to toast after you finish your drink.

That’s better. Now where was I? Oh yeah, we’re a classy fucking group, and this is our distinguished fucking hall.

So, what can I say about Billy Grainger? Not a whole lot. He’s a fucking chemist. Ted called me and was like, “We’d like you to give an induction speech at the Hall of Fame ceremony, but it’s a posthumous award. You good with that?”

My first thought was, “It’s about fucking time.” My second thought was, “Sure, stick Mean Gene with the dead guy.” But the more I thought about it, the more excited I got. Maybe I’d be the one to finally induct Jeff Cargo or some dude from a hundred years ago who was overlooked. I’d be inducting some icon. Better yet, they’d be dead long enough that I could steal some of their material and you dumb fucks would think of it as an homage if I got caught. So it sounded like a good deal.

But, no, I didn’t get someone like that. I didn’t even get a pity induction for Carrot Top or Gallagher. So who do I get to induct? Billy Grainger. Billy fucking Grainger. A goddamn chemistry nerd.

The Centenary Prize from the Royal Society of Chemistry,
posthumously awarded to Billy Grainger
Speech by Doctor Mary Evans, Cambridge University

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen of the Society and our honored guests. I am humbled and excited to present this award to the late Billy Grainger for his extraordinary work using chemistry for social change. I recognize that this was both an inspired and controversial choice, but it was a necessary and important one.

For the many new guests we have in attendance, I should note that the Centenary Prize was established ninety-five years ago with the goal of highlighting exceptional communicators from overseas. Its specific purpose was to bring these communicators to the United Kingdom to share their deep and nuanced knowledge of chemistry by way of their skills as speakers and teachers. Yet here we are awarding the prize to someone who not only can’t share his knowledge with us, but whose knowledge was distinctly practical.

So, some of you ask: Why present Billy Grainger with the Centenary Prize?

Well, before we honor today’s recipient, let me answer the critics seated in this room. No, Mister Grainger was not a theoretical chemist. He provided no new knowledge or understanding to our field. Nor was he an experimental chemist, who blazed trails of new study. Nor was Mister Grainger a scholar, who used his broad knowledge of our field to further the understanding of chemistry or to provide context to assist current theory. Mister Grainger was none of those things. Mister Grainger—Billy Grainger—was that most simple and yet practical of us—an applied chemist. He took our current knowledge and applied it to a problem.

And, with all due respect, the problem he solved and the methods he used are the absolute definition of what this prize honors. I ask you all: Who in the entire history of this esteemed Society used chemistry and communication to change the world as much as Billy Grainger?

Heroes of the Resistance: Billy Grainger statue unveiling
Speech by Professor Terrence Jefferson, University of Pennsylvania

I’m a historian, and I’m proud of that fact. I don’t hide from the sins of our past. I’m not afraid to applaud the progress we have made. I shine the light of truth on the past, so that we can learn from it. So I cannot discuss the vital role that Billy Grainger played in reversing the Quiet Revolution without first providing you with the proper historical context—the truth.

So friends and fellow citizens, let me start with a simple proverb, condensed to a single sentence.

For want of a nail, the kingdom was lost.

This proverb tells us that small events can have great consequences. Nothing describes Billy Grainger better than this single line. He was not a great general. He did not give inspiring speeches or write revolutionary blog posts. He wasn’t a spy, a journalist, or a warrior. He did one thing. One small thing. One small, extraordinary, amazing thing to bring down a tyrant—he used humor.

Humor Hall of Fame speech, continued

You’re booing me for calling him a chemistry nerd? I can’t believe this. You’re fucking booing me.

The dude’s corpse is cold, and you’re telling me this is too soon? We’re fucking comedians. It’s never too soon, you cowardly fucks. Do you think Grainger was a coward? He was shot on live TV for doing what we do—making people laugh.

Oh, you got me going now. See this? This was my really funny and somewhat inappropriate speech. This is me ripping it up. You now get the really inappropriate speech.

So let me tell you about Billy.

He was a fucking chemistry nerd. Sure, he was more than a chemist, but it was his chemical paint that defined him, so if we’re going to celebrate how funny and important his humor was, we still need to mock him for being a chemistry nerd. It’s what he would have done, and if you don’t get that, you’re idiots.

Am I pissing you off? Well, Grainger had this amazing talent for pissing people off so badly that they did stupid things. Sound familiar? Yeah, it’s not an accident that Ted asked me to give this fucking speech, you dickwads.

Do you remember his first piece? Of course you do. It pissed off everyone. He spray-painted Kellen doing Andrews doggy-style on the side of the Washington Monument. I mean, you have this fucking phallic symbol centered between the White House and the Capitol, and Grainger paints the President literally fucking Congress on it.

That’s pretty damn funny.

Centenary Prize speech, continued

We are all familiar with how Mister Grainger communicated his messages—graffiti. The messages were powerful in that they stabbed into the heart of the tyranny in America. Yet I daresay that it wasn’t the message that was important, but the chemistry.

There can be no doubt that Mister Grainger was a genius. He took nanotechnology and applied it broadly to both organic and inorganic compounds to create what we all now take for granted—nanopaint. Could someone else have done this? Certainly. Was there a market for a paint that binds with the underlying structures so strongly that it is effectively permanent? Maybe. All progress seems obvious in hindsight, but someone must take that first, critical step. That someone was Billy Grainger.

Today we know that others had the same idea, but they abandoned it due to the many perceived problems. Truly permanent paint was deemed too dangerous and impractical. Something as minor as a spill would be impossible to clean. Paint on clothing or your skin would never come out. And, yet, where others saw nothing but problems, Mister Grainger saw a unique opportunity to create change.

This is the essence of applied chemistry and something this honored society has overlooked for far too many years. It took Mister Grainger’s sacrifice and the societal change in America for us to recognize it. Many claim that it was Grainger’s words and images that sparked the resistance, but us chemists know better—it started with Mister Grainger’s understanding of both nanotechnology and chemistry. Without that understanding of binding two unrelated chemicals together, we wouldn’t have permanent paints and dyes. And without permanent paint, America wouldn’t have its freedom.

Heroes of the Resistance speech, continued

History is constantly being re-examined. Historians in the nineteenth century saw the enslavement of my ancestors in financial terms. Today we view slavery differently. This is healthy and part of getting to the truth—understanding how things were and how they change.

It is clear today that the United States was founded not by ideologues but by practical men. They knew that rule by popularity was a different kind of tyranny, but one nonetheless. They saw the tyranny of the masses and built systems in place to protect the minority—empowering states, creating a senate not based on population but territory, and many other things that held the potential power of the masses in check.

That structure helped my people and many other minorities as we battled for our rights. So this was a good thing.

Yet history has taught us again and again that a small and rabid group of people can tyrannize a splintered larger group. And that’s what we all failed to see until we looked back as historians—that a small group of citizens had twisted the practical and good intentions of this country’s founders into the Quiet Revolution. One moment we were dumbfounded over the election of President Kellen, and the next we were watching as he systematically dismantled our freedom for his own purposes.

Which brings me to Billy Grainger. Billy saw something that none of us could see—the fragility of a tyrant fueling the flames of anger in that minority. He saw that when you rule from a position of weakness, nothing is worse than being mocked. Yet Grainger wasn’t just a pamphleteer or an editorial cartoonist or an artist. Grainger was a chemist.

And thanks to his application of chemistry, he did one thing that none of us could have predicted. One small thing that made all the difference in the world—his nanopaint gave his mockery permanence.

Humor Hall of Fame speech, continued

It’s really convenient to forget today, but that move pissed off everyone. He fucking defaced a national monument. Even people who hated Kellen and Andrews were pissed off at Grainger. Let me tell you, that takes talent.

It takes talent because for attack comedians like Grainger and myself, it’s not about the joke; it’s about the response. That’s right, I’m calling him a comedian. Did he ever do stand-up? No. Can I mock him for being a chemistry nerd and honor him for being a comedian? Yes. I’m fat. I contain multitudes.

So what do I mean by the response? Well, we’ve all crossed the line and said something that made others uncomfortable on stage. Hell, I’ve built a career around it. When it works, the response of that uncomfortable person is itself so over-the-top and funny that your bit of cruelty is overshadowed by the ridiculousness of your target. You provoke, and the response is the punchline.

Is it nice? No. Is it cruel? Maybe. Is it funny? Fuck yeah.

So while I thought Grainger’s graffiti was funny, Kellen’s response by tearing down the entire Washington Monument was absolutely hilarious. Who the fuck does that? Some insane fascist dictator, that’s who. And you know who knew how to destabilize the fragile ego of a dictator better than anyone?

Billy fucking Grainger and his nano fucking paint.

Centenary Prize speech, continued

This award is about communication, and it is about chemistry. Before I talk about Mister Grainger’s talent for communication, let us discuss his chemistry. Science and technology have progressed so fast that it’s easy to forget that nanobot-assisted chemical reactions were new when Mister Grainger was in graduate school. Like many men before him, he dropped out of school not because he was bored with his studies, but because he was excited by this technology. He didn’t want to study it—he wanted to use it.

At the time, many people were doing the same in important disciplines—medicine and pharmacology, industrial engineering, transportation. Some of them have been lauded on this stage. Yet while many scientists followed the money flowing into businesses embracing this new technology, Mister Grainger did not. He took a used 3D printer, a credit card, and lots and lots of time, and focused on one simple thing—paint.

Here is the moment where I shall wax philosophical as I speak proudly of chemistry’s contribution to art. Simply put, chemists have changed art throughout the ages in fundamental ways. Dyes, oils, acrylics—this was not the first time that we had created a new paint for our artist brothers and sisters. Even new colors were brought to life thanks to chemistry.

So Mister Grainger is the latest in a long and honored lineage of chemists who have fundamentally changed art. And that is one of the reasons we honor him today. When the world saw dollar signs, he saw chemistry at its most fundamental level—a creative expression.

Heroes of the Resistance speech, continued

It is an iconic moment, one that my fellow historians point to as the moment that galvanized the resistance—when President Kellen ordered the Washington Monument torn down. It shocked the nation. Many blamed Grainger for defacing the monument, but few could understand why it needed to be torn down. Sure, Kellen restricted access. He covered Grainger’s political statement with tarp. He tried to use chisels and jackhammers to remove the statement, but in the end we are told that he felt everything was taking too long.

Kellen’s impatience and his ego led to his biggest mistake—tearing down a monument to one of the country’s most revered founders. He had his propaganda machines explain it the best they could, but in the end a flawed monument that defined the nation was still a monument, a symbol of everything that Kellen claimed to be. It is easy to forget, but at that moment in time he could have recovered. The country was teetering between sentiments that Kellen did what he had to do and that he had betrayed our country’s founders.

At that exact moment of uncertainty, of a nation poised between abandoning the symbols of our past or turning on the Kellen regime, Billy Grainger spray painted the following on the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial: You made me Kellen’s Bitch.

Crass. Offensive. Shocking. It was all those things, but it was Kellen’s irrational response that made the headlines.

Humor Hall of Fame speech, continued

Billy was that evil combination of class clown and science nerd. He was a chemist with a vengeance, man. If you idiots learned anything from fifth grade, it was don’t pick on the class clown. But you especially don’t pick on the class clown with access to chemicals. Kellen fucked with the wrong man.

The Lincoln Memorial thing will always be my favorite. You made me Kellan’s Bitch. Holy shit. That’s genius. Honest Abe calling out the fascist fuck ruining his country. How pissed off and insane do you need to be to bulldoze the Lincoln fucking Memorial just so people won’t know what was written? Why didn’t Kellen just permanently close the memorial for repairs or something? I don’t fucking know, but the idiot did it anyway.

The dude seventy percent of the country knew was insane was suddenly acting insane to the other thirty percent. He was literally razing our national monuments to cover his fragile ego, and it was all due to Billy Grainger. Billy fucking Grainger the chemist nerd.

Centenary Prize speech, continued

As an applied chemist, I hope you all will agree that Mister Grainger is a worthy recipient of this award, but we cannot forget that the foundation of this award is communication. Mister Grainger’s ability to take ideas and communicate them in a way that had a powerful impact is undeniable. Were his words and images offensive? Certainly. But we must remember that he was living in an offensive fascist dictatorship, and those words and images exposed the rotten core eating away at America.

Chemistry. Communication.

Billy Grainger represents both of those things, and those two things represent this award. Mister Grainger doesn’t only deserve this award, he typifies it.

Heroes of the Resistance speech, continued

It is difficult to comprehend why a leader would act irrationally, but it happens all too often. Perhaps at the root of it is the assumption that they do it because they feel like they can get away with it. Perhaps that is why Kellen responded so irrationally. Something about Grainger’s biting comments and profane images bothered him so much that he felt he had to remove them, and not only that—he had the power to remove them without consequence. So he bulldozed the Lincoln Memorial. He blew up the Arlington Memorial Bridge. When Grainger moved to New York, Kellen closed the Brooklyn Bridge, spending millions of dollars to swap out metal girders where Grainger’s paint had fused with the underlying metal.

There are other examples, and each one led to a response so absurd that you could practically see President Kellen’s face turn red in rage. It was hard to explain. It was utterly unexpected. It was crazy. And it fueled the revolution.

Humor Hall of Fame speech, continued

I was watching Billy’s statue unveiling at the Monument to the Resistance and this stuffed shirt is giving a speech about Billy. He was like, We don’t know why Kellen acted the way he did and Why would he implode over graffiti and shit like that. Let me tell you, us comedians know. Nothing destroys a person like humiliation.

Billy Grainger, the class clown with access to chemicals, fucking humiliated Kellen, but even more than that—he humiliated those who followed him. So many of these left-wing idiots tried to fight Kellen and his Nazi followers using logic and rational arguments. Are you kidding me? That shit never works. What the country needed was someone who would make fun of them for the idiotic, small dick, insecure, evil fucks that they were.

Thank God Billy Grainger came along. He didn’t argue state’s rights or human rights or any of that shit. He pointed at Kellen and fucking laughed. And he made us laugh. Then he pointed at Kellen’s followers and laughed at them. And he made us laugh at them, too. And, let me tell you, those fuckers didn’t like it.

The dumb-fuck fascist enablers in this country could deal with being criticized for being racists, homophobes, misogynists, being ignorant as a brick, and even being called Nazis. But, let me tell you, they could not in any way deal with being laughed at.

Centenary Speech, concluded

Before I close, I want to step outside my role as academic and add an additional word that describes Billy Grainger: courage.

It is perhaps easy to ignore Billy’s great personal courage as we judge him through the cold eye of science, but it is impossible to ignore as we judge him as a human. After he was arrested while painting Resist! on the Golden Gate Bridge, society had already turned against the Kellen regime. We know of the military losses and the erosion of support for Kellen. For Billy, after he was caught, it would have been easy for him to apologize for his crimes and to seek mercy. It is entirely possible he would have been paraded around as a propaganda tool and then imprisoned, with some opportunity to be set free after Kellen was overthrown. We all watched from here in the UK, and it was clear even to us.

Yet Billy did what he meant to do from the start. He spat in the face of a tyrant that couldn’t imagine being spat at. He imagined a message of resistance. He found an inspired canvas for that message. And he communicated it with his art. And, in the end, he was courageous and died delivering that message.

Ladies and gentleman, I am honored to posthumously award William Grainger the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Centenary Prize.

Heroes of the Resistance speech, concluded

Plenty of heroes are honored in this memorial. Heroes who lost friends, family, and loves, who sacrificed their own lives to overthrow a fascist and evil regime. We rightfully honor all of them, as without them we would not enjoy the freedom we have today. Billy Grainger is undeniably one of these heroes. It is worth a reminder that after he was captured by nationalist forces, he had every opportunity to save his own life. He could have reasonably ascertained that the cause he fought for was secure, but for whatever reason, he felt the need to make one last statement.

Today, like with so many decisions of the Kellen regime, we have a hard time understanding how it could happen, but the execution of Grainger, shown live on TV, was the final nail in the regime’s coffin. By then he was a folk hero to everyone but Kellen’s most hardened supporters. Websites provided real-time updates as they waited for the next Grainger piece and wondered just how explicit it would be or what insult Grainger would use next. The machinery of public sentiment that Kellen leveraged so well to gain power was entirely turned against him.

We can only guess that Kellen felt the only way to put the Grainger problem to rest was to intimidate us all by showing what was in store for those who resisted. Kellen called him a bully, a traitor, and a vandal. But labels like that are immaterial when the man you plan to execute walks out with a huge smile as he faces his death.

Billy Grainger’s final act is as well known now as any historical event in history. It spread across the globe in seconds. The image ended up on posters, painted on buildings, and shared across every social network known to man. Grainger, the hero that he was, somehow knew that it wasn’t his permanent graffiti that would shut the door on Kellen’s power, it was his own personal message.

In hindsight, Kellan’s biggest mistake, his final mistake, was glaring and obvious—he locked Grainger in a cell and gave him a pen. Of course, he was delighted when Grainger wrote a lengthy confession the morning of his execution, but for that small and insignificant document, he handed his greatest enemy his greatest weapon.

I tell that well-worn story for one reason: to address the controversial statue created by Ruth Teixeira. She chose the highly personal and yet epic moment of his death to honor Grainger, and none of us on the board of directors could disagree with her decision. Yet it offended many. All I can say as a historian is that you can’t study history without knowing the context that surrounds it. It is the only way to get to the truth. And in the context of Billy Grainger, hero of the resistance, I present you his memorial statue . . . and the truth.

Humor Hall of Fame speech, concluded

Fuck, thinking of that crazy statue made me realize something—there is no way we can honor Billy as well as the goddam Resistance Memorial did. I about shit myself when they unveiled the statue. I kept thinking, Holy shit. They did it. They really did it.

So let me conclude by saying that the fucking nerd chemist class clown pulled off the greatest bit of humor in history when he was shot. I smile every time I think of it. Not Billy getting shot, you assholes, how when the Attorney General fuckhead said, “Reveal his traitorous heart” and they ripped open his shirt and there, drawn on his chest in the same black permanent ink they gave him to write his confession hours before was a drawing of his middle finger with that transcendent caption . . . “Fuck you, asshole.”

Do you get it? He knew this was a historically epic moment. He knew that everyone was watching. He knew that he was on the largest fucking stage any comedian ever had, and he just owned it. He flipped off all those fascist fucks with a smirk on his face. And to make it even better, now there’s this fucking statue of him surrounded by statues of stern-faced heroes and forlorn children, and it’s him smirking with a fuck you written on his chest.

I mean, have you ever walked through the memorial? There’s this awed hush and quiet solemnity, and then you turn the corner and fucking Billy’s chest is giving you the finger. That, ladies and gentleman, is the pinnacle of comedy. This fucking guy. He’s memorialized giving the finger in the fucking Memorial to the Resistance.

Hell, let’s shut this whole fucking Hall of Fame down. Ain’t no one going to top that.

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Jake Kerr

Jake KerrJake Kerr began writing short fiction in 2010 after fifteen years as a music and radio industry columnist and journalist. His first published story, “The Old Equations,” appeared in Lightspeed and went on to be named a finalist for the Nebula Award and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. He has subsequently been published in Fireside MagazineEscape Pod, and the Unidentified Funny Objects anthology of humorous SF. A graduate of Kenyon College with degrees in English and Psychology, Kerr studied under writer-in-residence Ursula K. Le Guin and Peruvian playwright Alonso Alegria. He lives in Dallas, Texas, with his wife and three daughters.