Friday, May 31, 2013

"Wherefore The Ha-ha?"

I am taking a leap here, as I have no expertise in this matter (though when has that ever stopped me before?), venturing out on the proverbial limb to say this:

Birds are not funny.

Let us apply the “Scientific Method” here, without actually conducting any experiments.  We shall draw on examples from our collective experience.

Have you ever seen a funny bird? 

Not a funny-looking bird.  Nor a parrot that can say, “Funny bird!” – that’s simply mimicry.  That parrot has no idea what it’s saying.  Even though one of the words is “bird”, which is what the parrot, in fact, is.  (Which is a little funny, albeit in an ironic context.)

“Funny” is entirely beyond its comprehension, parrots having zero recollection of Richard Pryor or Woody Allen when he did standup, so what do they know about “funny”?  When a parrot says “Funny bird!” we are invariably laughing at them, not with them.  (Ditto for the “funny-looking” avian, though it is hardly our shining moment as a species.  Chortling at a goofy-looking bird – how pathetic is that!) 

Aside flying around and then resting on something, what birds essentially do is to look for food and make bird noises of various soundages.  Birds chirp.  They warble.  They trill.  They caw.  And with each and all, they are delivering a message:

“Over here for worms!”

“‘Danger’ at ‘Ten O’clock!’”

“Who wants to make bird babies?”

I have singled out birds as representatives of Animalkind, with the exception of, what are judgmentally labeled “The Higher Order of Primates” who are reputed, in their behavior, to facsimilize people. 

It is herein hypothesized that everything the overwhelming majority of animals do is in the direct and immediate service of personal survival.  Tigers do not write music.  Tarantulas do not tap dance.  Though I would pay good money to see them try.  It doesn’t have to be a show, per se.  I’d be happy watching a tarantula tap dance class.

“Heel-toe, heel-toe, heel-toe, heel-toe, heel-toe, heel-toe, heel-toe, heel-toe.  And again!  Leg One – heel-toe.  Leg Two…”

People (and a few monkeys and a dolphin or two) are different.  Aside from the self-preservational necessity of working for food – because “No workie – no eatie” (though there are people who have oodles of food and continue working nonetheless) – the species Homo Sapiens engages in numerous activities that are noteworthily unrelated to staying alive.  For one thing,

People, as the late, great Art Linkletter used to say on the radio and then later on television…

Are funny.

And the question today is…


Let us immediately set aside the miniscule subsection of humanity who, like myself, fed himself and his family – and a cockatiel named “Cheeky” until it flew away – via the process of comedic entertainment, a cohort I once mistakenly called “special”, but that was only to make myself feel better because I am unable to do anything else.  I am not special.  I just made my living from being funny.  (Which I was, to a sufficient extent, to get by.)

Everybody is funny, or at least likes to believe they are.  (There is a famous essay by noted Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock who wrote that the biggest insult you can hurl at someone is not telling them they are ignorant or ugly, but to assert that they do not have a sense of humor.  Although, it being Canada, they’d say “humour”, and the response to such a rebuke is less likely to be a punch in the nose than a slightly wounded, “Cut it out, eh?”, a humorless comeback, validating the original point.)

Most people, however, are, at least to some degree, funny.  And, from survivability standpoint, nobody has to be.

So why are they? 

Why do any of us in our daily lives bother to be funny?

I choose today to vary from my routine and not pontificate, bloviate or dispense Wisdom from on High.  Know-it-all’s can get tiresome.  Even to the (assumed) Knower.

Instead, I shall now relent, and open the floor to the theories and (as the Blossom theme song used to say) opinionations of my readers, should you care to weigh in on the question of why people, though there is no immediate necessity to do so, choose to be, or at least choose to try to be…


Though I seem unable to stop before leaving you with this story.  Which is not directly about being funny.  But it is a paralleling milieu.

I’m in my mid-twenties in Toronto.  I am walking down University Avenue.  And I’m singing.  I no longer recall what I was singing, but it was most likely a “Power Ballad” from a Broadway musical of recent vintage.  A reliable guess – something from Funny Girl or The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd.

(I sing on the street to this very day, although caring family members have reminded me that, were I to see someone heading my way singing up a storm, I would immediately and without hesitation… cross-o el street-o.)

So I am singing my way down a Canadian sidewalk, when a random passerby infers and vocally interjects, 

You must be happy!”

To which I reply (or maybe I just thought it),

“If I were happy, I wouldn’t have to sing.”

One reason people are funny (or self-sing) to cheer themselves up.  But I am sure there are others.

Do you know what they are? * 

(* The foregoing is not a rhetorical question.  I would actually like to know.)


PG said...

Not having 'beautiful plummage', humans must resort to other attributes to attract the attention of the opposite sex.

Alan said...

A very musical friend and I were once sitting together at a Jays game. The first part of the final movement of Beethoven's 9th symphony sprung into my mind during a pitching change, and, without thinking, I started to whistle it. It's a complicated little ditty.
My friend joined in, knowing the other orchestral parts of the section I was fifing. After about a minute of this, we stopped. We were either out of breath or forgot how the rest of it went. Anyway, a guy sitting a couple of seats away from us said, “You’re not just whistling “Dixie”!”
Big Smiles all around for the rest of the game.
And several years after.

Keith said...

I had a dog that I thought was funny, but turns out he'd stolen all his material from Slappy White.

Stef said...

I heard on Public Radio recently (I forget which show) that someone making a joke and getting a laugh also got a shot of adrenaline. So maybe it is evolutionary - biological advantageous. Or at least addictive.

Jim said...

Birds can be funny, if they are on skis.