Tuesday, February 9, 2016

"Periodic Penance"

I once yelled at a guy, unjustly and unnecessarily.  After that, whenever I ran into that guy – the gaps between our last two encounters being ten years, but still… – I never failed to apologize to him.  For me, there is no “Expiration Date” for bad behavior.  I am eternally sorry for my unforgivable faux pas.  And I wanted him to know.    

Which brings me to yesterday’s blog post, which will take me eventually to an experience yesterday’s blog post brought to mind, an experience for which, like the yelling episode, I continue to feel, if not guilty, then at least regretful.  Meaning that I have not stopped banging my head against the wall over it but I have covered that wall with pillows.

Yesterday’s post spoke to my ongoing mystification concerning the matter of “What’s funny?”  I am, of course, aware that the definition of “What’s funny?” continues evolving over time.  I recently read a piece in the New York Times dissecting “The New Comedy”, whose headline, as I recall, read something like,

“Comedy No Longer Has To Be Funny.”

This pronouncement seemed odd to me.  It was like saying water doesn’t have to be wet.  But, you know, I’m old, and I may just not understand.  Although – I apparently cannot help adding in my defense – if comedy no longer has to be funny, how do you distinguish it from not comedy?


I mentioned yesterday, during my commentarial reaction to a National Lampoon documentary I recently saw, a “bit” written by Michael O’Donoghue pondering how variety show host Ed Sullivan’s would react if steel needles were inserted into his eyes, the comedic “payoff” for which was extended and helpless, agonized screaming.

Theoretically, I should have actually appreciated that joke, as it adheres to one of my favorite comedic constructions, which I call “It” comedy.  The joke reflects neither a reversal, Wildean wordplay nor satirical commentary.  The payoff catches the audience off-guard by being exactly what you expect it to be – the agonized screaming being precisely what would happen if you stuck steel needles into somebody’s eyes.  Hence my personalized descriptive, “It.”  (I once did an ”It” joke concerning a sociological study which proved conclusively that “Rich people have more money than poor people.”  You see what I did there?  I just said what it was.)  

The reason I did not laugh at O’Donoghue’s “eye” joke was not just because I have had lifelong serious issues with my eyes – I asserted yesterday that there is no joke than is not “not funny” to somebody – but more importantly, and more generally for people who have not had lifelong serious issues with their eyes…


For me, the “Unremitting Pain Factor” made O’Donoghue’s humorous concept “not funny”, but instead the opposite if the opposite of “laughter” is “disgust”, which it might be though I do not have an “Antonyms” dictionary on hand so I am unable to check.  It sure sounds like it could be the opposite of “laughter”, doesn’t it?  Although it may possibly be “crying”, in which case I am wasting everyone’s time.     

Which brings me directly to my point.  (As an apology for maybe wasting your time, I shall exclude the intermediate stuff.  Which, although I never wrote it, might possibly have been pretty good, but what are you gonna do?)

Yesterday’s post brought racing to mind an occasion in which I wrote a post that I thought was “funny” – and when you’re writing, there is frankly no judgment to adhere to other than your own – which compelled a regular follower and virtual daily commenter to compose an angry email of rebuke, and then abruptly and permanently disappear. 

Which, to me, was a blow.  Considering the number of comments I regularly receive, losing a daily commenter was like… I don’t know, you have a four-legged table and then one of them falls off.  Although in my case, it is more like a two-legged table.

What can I tell you?  I found it funny –and I have to admit the premise continues to elicit a chuckle – to craft a scenario concerning Frenchman Joseph-Ignace Guillotin who, in 1789, stood before the National Assembly pitchtng an innovative contraption for capital punishment, its most salient “selling point” being that, instead of hanging poor people while chopping off rich people’s heads – as had previously been the case – the condemned of all classes would now all be executed the same way.

This gesture of egalitarian barbarism legitimately tickled me.  My regular follower and daily commenter, however, found it insensitive, tasteless and disgusting.

And she went away forever.

I take the current opportunity to apologize once again.  (Even though she is unavailable to read it and was equally unavailable the last time I apologized.)  I am truly sorry I offended her, and equally sorry that I lost her as a follower.  Her observations were insightful and always thoughtfully assembled.  

The thing is – and there is nothing I can do about it –

If you think something’s funny…

Then you think something’s funny.

And it won’t stop being funny,

Until you change your mind about it,

And come to think that it isn’t.

1 comment:

Wendy M. Grossman said...

(I actually do think that's funny.) There's a case to be made for the idea that if your humor doesn't offend *someone* (as opposed to everyone) it's too "safe".