Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies.
– E B White.
What makes something funny? It turns out that there are many different Humor Theories and none of them are funny. That may seem like a problem right there, but the irony that you expect it to be funny and it isn’t could be funny if you … Hey! Wait!
OK, so this duck walks into a bar and asks the bartender, “Why is it so often a duck?” and the bartender says, “Look, if you want to analyze stereotypes you could ask why it’s always a bar.” The duck shrugs his wings, sits down, and gets so hammered he doesn’t even remember pecking to death the priest, the rabbi, and the lawyer.
What most theories of humor all have in common is that funny seems to be a process of something not turning out the way you expect it to. A word is used badly as a pun, the very proper looking news show has a potty mouth, or your best friend laughs so hard at a joke that the milk he was drinking shoots out of his nose. Nearly everything has a setup or an implied setup to be funny and then goes against it.
OK, I’m losing you. The point is that funny has to sneak up. But at the same time it helps if you’re in the mood to laugh. That’s why old standards like “A blank walks into a bar” work so well – they tell you to be ready to laugh while they set the scene. Besides, what would a blank drink in the first place?
There may not seem to be much point to this, and perhaps there isn’t. But in a world where everyone seems to be outraged by nearly everything it doesn’t take long for nearly everything to become very funny. It’s all in the setup, which real life doesn’t do quite to the same form as a duck walking in a bar.
But it’s there. And it’s time to mine this for comedy gold.
I’ve been advocating humor to fight the rise of anger, selfishness, and general grumpy-grump that has plagued our “politics”. The problem is that in order to organize around humor you have to teach it, at least to some extent. You have to bring da funny. So how do you do it?
I think that the more I watch people being grumpy the more I realize that the setup is already there. Mocking is a form of satire which can take off from nearly any situation. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and it opens the door to a lot of other forms quickly. It can get us in the mood for bigger things. It works on both grumpy people and the jargon class, too.
It’s not as though funny hasn’t become a staple of life these days. Now that John Oliver has taken over the Daily Show for the summer, we can see that it wasn’t Jon Stewart who was the real comedian – it was the writers. But more accurately, it is the nooze itself that provides all the humor. What really is funnier than congress these daze? Laughing at them is simply the best way to cope with how ridiculous politics and nearly everything else has become.
In a sense, the show just reports what’s happening in the world as blankly as possible, and John Oliver makes a much better naive outsider than Stewart did, if you ask me. He’s just there to provide commentary from a different world, one that is saner than the one we inhabit. While some people have problems with the English accent, it is more authoritative. It probably helps if you watched too much Monty Python as a kid.
Or is that too much analysis? What’s funny is funny, after all, and we live in very funny times.
If there’s one thing I know this subject it’s that since at least Shakespeare a comedy has been 70-90 minutes and a tragedy 120+ so it’s best to wrap it up quickly. Will this work? I’m not a psychic, but the last time I saw one she was laughing and carrying on so much I hit her – I always like to strike a happy medium. Goodnight everyone!