Yesterday, in an exploration of what it means to be old-fashioned, I offered my view of comedy’s current direction, ipso facto, situations wherein the audience laughs at the pain induced upon the central character (The Office, Curb Your Enthusiasm) or the pain the central character induces upon others (Borat, the “remote” interviews on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.)
The recipe is simple. You torture somebody – emotionally – and the audience laughs.
I’m not in that. I’m not saying I’m a better person for not engaging in such laugh-getting techniques, I just don’t find them funny. I find them “ow-ey.”
It may be that, in the past, I’ve found myself being the target of the pain inducement – pledging a High School fraternity comes to mind – and I never cared for it. (I actually resigned from the pledging. The enticement of “When you’re a member, you can torture pledges” didn’t quite win me back.)
As a result of personal experience, when I’m trying to come up with funny situations, the pain-inducing option never comes to mind, relegated instead to a file labeled, “I Can’t Imagine That Ever Being Funny.” Such delineations, in the current comedy environment, classify me as being old-fashioned.
Well, okay, “Saint Earlo.” What is it then that you find funny?
Fair question, Mr. Italics. And I’ve been thinking about that. You have to offer an alternative. I don’t want to be grump, grump, grumplestiltskin, grouchity, grump, grump, grouchity, grump, grump, grump. I don’t want to be the Mr. Wilson of comedy. “Hey, you kids, come back here with my career!”
What’s my alternative approach? What other comedy option can I provide to today’s audience with the proposal, “I know there’s that, but what about this?”
I don’t want to give examples of movies and TV shows I found funny. I’ve done that already. I want to go beyond examples, to the heart of the matter. The fundamental core of the comedy. The wellspring of the hilarity. The underlying source. I’m talking “Down There.” Below the surface.
So here we go. My Kind of Funny. As best as I can communicate it. Today. (Not that the “kind of funny” will change, but I may find a better way of communicating it.)
Maybe it’s because hockey season just started, or because I’m going to Toronto at the end of the week, or maybe it’s just what floated up from my unconscious, but when I imagined how best to describe my comedic impulse, what fluttered into my awareness was ice-skating.
Stay with me. (And dress in layers.)
Here we go.
You step out on the ice. Not some big, fancy, schadenfreude guy with his custom built equipment. You. “Mr. Ordinary Person.” Going for a skate. You take your first stride.
You fall on your ass.
You’re embarrassed, maybe bruised, but, generally, okay. You pull yourself up, you dust the ice chips off your pants, you’re ready to go.
You take a stride. It’s tentative, but you’re fine. You take a second, slightly steadier stride. “Hey, not bad. I’ve got my bearings now. I’m okay.” Your confidence is beginning to build. You take your third stride.
You fall on your ass.
You look around. “How come everyone else here can skate and I can’t?” That can’t be, you just won’t allow it. You pull yourself up, you dust the ice chips off your pants, you take a breath, you take a stride.
You take another stride. Then another. Then another.
Your body’s remembering what this skating thing is all about. You’ve got your balance now. You’ve got your rhythm. You’re got your natural, repetitive motion. Look at that.
“Mr. Skater Man.”
It’s starting to feel easy. You’re picking up speed. The wind’s catching in your hair. You flash on Bobby Hull, “The Golden Jet”, whose locks flew skyward as he rocketed down the ice. A megawatt smile illuminates your face.
“Go, ‘Mr. Skater Man!’ Go!”
The end of the rink comes up quickly. It’s time for the turn.
You lose control, and crash into the boards.
You’re down again. The third time in as many minutes. It’s a definite low point; they’re skating around you. Then you remember. You’ve been down before. And when you tried it again, you got better and better. Only one thing to do.
You pull yourself up, you dust the ice chips off your pants, you steady yourself, and you take your first stride.
You lose your balance and take the biggest “flopperoo” of them all.
And that, to me, is the essence of comedy.
Old-fashioned? I guess it could be, but I can’t see why? People are still skating, and they’re still falling on their asses.
And they’re still getting back up.
What am I missing?