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.
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 …
We live in a time made for satire. Everything is changing so rapidly that the powers that are have trouble holding on, the flood of news is difficult to make sense of, and even our language is often inadequate to explain what’s going on. Everything and everyone seems vaguely hypocritical and irrelevant. That’s why the Daily Show and The Colbert Report are so successful.
Shame then that so much “satire” isn’t really funny – or actually satirical.
You may have unwittingly believed a story shared on basefook or some other social media site that seemed true but wasn’t. Many stories written about Rep. Michele Bachmann (R, MN) for example are based on faked quotes that seem like something she might say – but didn’t. What many aspiring satirists fail to understand is that satire is more than just fake news, it has to reveal an inner truth that, at its best, is slightly painful. Also, satire has to be funny, we can’t forget that.
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.