Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Comedy and the Beholder's Eye

I read this morning in a comment from Richard Howe in which he wrote that "family value moral minded politicians" are, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder.

I would say ditto for comedy.

I respectfully disagreed with an opinion about 'The Hangover' last night and got some of the 'lighten up and stop overthinking it, would ya?' and 'I don't go to comedy movies looking for deep meaning' type of responses, which are all well and good, except they don't address the chance that some people might disagree on what they find funny.

For the record, I believe that ethnic humor and slapstick are VERY funny, but only in the right context.

Ethnic humor is funny when put into a witty context, as exemplified most masterfully by much of what Chris Rock does in his stand-up routines. It's not funny, however, (to me, anyway) when someone says, "Hey Wasserstein, go pick that quarter up off the ground!" It's not my sense of political correctness that's offended by that, it's my sense of humor!

Slapstick can be very funny, too, but it doesn't work for me in and of itself. A 93 year-0ld lady falling on ice just isn't funny to me. It's not my sensitivity for elderly women that's offended by that, it's my sense of humor!

Bestiality is never funny. Again, that's an opinion and nothing more. I have very good friends who are repulsed by ANY form of bathroom humor, which is more or less a staple in any of my 'homemade' routines. My lack of laughter at bestiality doesn't come from any sensitivity to animals, by the way, but from a sensitivity to what meets my definition of 'funny'!

Insta-humor, as I define it, is when an entire joke or gag depends on just saying a word or showing something devoid of context. Examples from recent stand-up routines would include: Crack, Spam, Viagra, and Ebonics.

Another really good example of insta-humor is when people think something becomes funny just because it somehow involves midgets. Please bear in mind, I'm not saying midgets can't be funny, it's just that something otherwise not-funny does not suddenly become hysterical just because it involves a person who's less than four feet tall.

For the record, I'm not a fan of the boilerplate workplace stuff, either. So when someone says any of these, I meet them with a blank stare:

You don't have to be crazy to work here, but it helps!

I pretend to work, they pretend to pay me...

Are we hard at work, or hardly working?

Of course, my blank stare is met with a poke to the ribs and a "It's a joke man, have a laugh." That's the same blank stare I'd give, by the way, to someone who said, "Would you like pancakes with that syrup?" thinking there was some kind of original wit contained therein.

What the person doesn't realize is that yes, maybe the attempt at humor is being recognized, but simultaneously dismissed.

I'll respect your right to laugh at bestiality, stock ethnic stuff, and old ladies falling on ice all day me, that's no different than you liking the cheddar-stuffed Combos while I reach for the Fritos.

And when I crack up hysterically at the Michael Moore v. Peter Griffin farting scene on a Family Guy episode, and you don't even crack a smile, I'll promise not to say you're "overthinking it."


C R Krieger said...

Greg (and Kad)

To me humor is always about someone's misfortunes.

And, the idea of ethnic as part of humor has more to do with ethnic than humor.  When I was a student at the RAF Staff College, at RAF Bracknell, in the UK, our assistant Librarian had a Father who flew with the Free Polish Air Force during WWII and then never went home to Poland.  As a "thought experiment" I read her a BC cartoon one day that was a "Polish Joke."  She didn't get it.  Then I read it to her, but translated it so that every place it said Polish I put Irish.  Laughed out loud.

So, a couple of years later I told this story to an Air Force Chaplain who was born in Ireland.  I then asked him who the Irish told jokes about.  His immediate response was "People from County Kerry—Do you know what a County Kerry policeman in a tree is called?"  "A Special Branch man."

Maybe it is the audience that makes for humor.  Kad was in the right audience.  In a difference audience it might not have been funny.

This is just a working theory.

Regards  —  Cliff

kad barma said...

My Canadian cousins all joke about Newfies. I was going to say something about the Pennsylvania cousins all poking fun at Republicans, but mostly they just make fun of people from Massachusetts. (John Ford never shied away from taking pot shots at Boston in his movies, now that I think of it). At some point in this country it became only OK if you were part of a group before you made fun of it, a la Jeff Foxworthy, which I think is OK, except it sometimes limits the greater audience's context to get the jokes. Says a little bit about me, I think, that my favorite TV show these days is "Big Bang Theory".

An engineer goes to an ice cream place every week and orders an ice cream for himself and another one for the empty stool next to him. This goes on for a while until the owner asks him what he is doing. The man says, “Well, Quantum Mechanics suggests that it is possible for the matter above this stool to spontaneously turn into a beautiful woman who might like the ice cream and then fall in love with me”. The owner says "Well, there are a lot of single beautiful woman who come in here every day, so why don’t you just buy an ice cream for one of them and maybe she'll fall in love with you”. And the engineer says “yeah, but what are the chances of that?"

C R Krieger said...

It was funny.

On the other hand, it was picking on a specific group.  Reminds me of a line from college, "I'm a lover not an engineer."

Regards  —  Cliff

The New Englander said...


Thanks for adding those..I'm always reminded of my non-engineeringness when I hear the quip:

"An optimist says the glass is half-full. The pessismist says the glass is half-empty. The engineer says 'This glass is twice the size it needs to be.'"

I'm glad there are people like that in the world, and I also recognize that I'm not one of them...which I'd like to think makes me easy to get along with, but unlikely to ever win a prize for invention or innovation.

Cliff, interesting idea about humor and misfortune..I have a friend who is a semi-pro stand-up comedian who always said comedy is about the unexpected. That generally works for me though I admit the unexpectedness or misfortune associated with most slapstick/physical comedy never pressed my buttons the same way the observational stuff does..