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.
Is it just me, or are there a lot of protest rallies these days? Certainly the South has lit up with marches and displays of the Rebel Flag now that the Palmetto State has taken it down from the Statehouse. There seems to always be something going on somewhere and some of them are from groups or people pushing something that others may find offensive.
What to do about it? The one thing you can’t do is let ‘em get to you – the moment you are offended and act out in a way you might not otherwise is the moment they gain power over you. The key is to laugh, to deflate the moment and dissolve the tension in a roaring guffaw.
How will America ever get over the racial divide? It’s going to take honesty, bravery, and humor – with an emphasis on the “get over” part more than the “racial” part. It’s going to take a venue where the bizzy blur of daily events has some space where people can breathe, think, listen, and then react – and feel comfortable enough to laugh about it.
Just when the limits of humor were tested with the Charlie Hebdo attack, which left us all to question not just what is right but what is funny, along came The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. It proves once again that Comedy Central isn’t really all that funny sometimes, which is the highest complement anyone can give it.
The Nightly Show is 100% Real, and sometimes it just hurts. We need that more than a laugh.
The Charlie Hebdo comics raise a lot of questions. Is it acceptable to deliberately offend people? Does free expression trump hurt feelings? Should there be an exemption for faith, a place where speech should be limited?
But there’s an even more immediate question: are the comics funny?
Not being French, I’ll never understand the French sense of humor. It tends to be deep, biting, satirical, and … well, not exactly laugh-out-loud. Good satire is often not really funny as much as painful, after all. Then again, bullets are even more painful.
Was that last comment satirical or just in bad taste?
Traditionally, actors with an established rep as serious performers can go into comedy, but not the other way ‘round. That’s been smashed lately by The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert, among many others who riff off of CNN and let the jokes write themselves. It’s revolutionary comedy, yet deeply indebted to the topical humor of Richard Pryor and George Carlin in the 70s.
What’s more important than how it will change comedy is how it might change how we talk about current events. One central element of comedy is timing, and a sense of timing is working its way into the patter of political talk. But how do you render that in writing?
That’s the secret. It’s what I work on all the time. Let me explain …