Thursday, December 8, 2016

"Funny Is Funny"

No, actually, it isn’t.

I mean, sometimes it is.  Physical funny has a universal attraction; hence the international appreciation of Charlie Chaplin.  But even then… I mean, you are a wealthy plutocrat – whatever that is – wearing a top hat and a cutaway coat and you see the portrayal of a plutocrat dressed similarly to yourself slipping unceremoniously on a banana peel.

Everyone else is laughing hysterical.  Your reaction:

“That’s not funny.  He probably fractured a hip.”

You see what I mean?  It’s all a matter of perspective.  Or as Mel Brooks’s “Two Thousand Year-Old Man” pithily put it, distinguishing comedy from tragedy:

“Tragedy is when I cut my finger and it bleeds.  Comedy is when you fall in a manhole and you die.”

Individual response to comedy is also a consequence of “brain wiring.”  I recently posted a cartoon whose sublime comedic genius sent me beyond laughter to unbounded worship and adoration of a stranger. 

It was the “Number of Tilda Swinton Spottings in Kansas – Zero” cartoon. 

I get feedback from a regular follower, reporting that he just didn’t get it.  Which is fine.  It’s not a test.  It’s simply a reminder of individual differences.

Still, I pondered why that particular cartoon was a “miss” for him.  I don’t imagine he had any inordinate attachment in either Tilda Swinton or Kansas, nothing to make him take umbrage at Tilda’s being singled out for unsolicited attention or the mid-western state being laughingly unworthy of Swinton’s itinerary.  

It just did not strike him as funny, reminding me that not all “human receptors” are identically attuned, and making me wonder how many of my own humorous excursions have met with equally blank stares. 

Me?  Not funny to everyone?  Makes you want to sit down and quietly take stock.

It is a buffeting revelation.  We appear to speak the same language, but due to individual differences – experiential and bio-chemical, to name two because I can’t think of any more – we don’t.

This took me back to a joke I found hilarious, a joke I recently told my older brother, an acknowledged comedy guru, who laughed so hard – I related it as we were heading down a hotel corridor – that he had to stop and support himself against a nearby wall, unable to proceed down the corridor and laugh as uproariously as he was laughing at the same time.

Confirming to me that it was a genuinely funny joke.

And yet…

A former police officer told me this story, as an example of the local constabulary’s
penchant for “Gallows Humor.”

A child murderer leads his intended victim into the forest at midnight – dark, creepy, ominous predators ready to pounce.  “I’m scared,” exclaims the incipient victim.  To which the child murderer replies, “You’re scared.  I’ve got to walk out of here alone.”

“Black comedy”, to be certain, though harmlessly innocuous in its recitation. 

“No children were imperiled during the telling of this anecdote.”

“It’s just a joke.”  Still, some people… well, let’s set that aside for a second.  Or forever.  I decided not to come back to it.  “Individual taste differences.”  ‘Nuff said.

Viewed from a comedy “receptor” standpoint, it is necessary – momentarily at least – to be able to “turn the situation around”, empathizing – incongruously, which is what makes it funny – with the perilous predicament of the predator.  Some brains are incapable of accommodating such a “reversal.”  (To which some might reply, “Thank God!”)

A final story about perspective.

Decades ago, I took a date to a movie – the original version of The Heartbreak Kid. 

Based on a Bruce J. Friedman (one of my literary heroes) short story, the conceptual comic premise is:

“A man meets “The Girl of his Dreams” while on his honeymoon (with somebody else.)”

The 1972 adaptation cast the new bride (played by Jeannie Berlin) as identifiably – and unflatteringly – Jewish.  The impeccable “Dream Goddess” (played by a luminous Cybill Shephard) was not.

The date I saw the movie with was Jewish.

I think you can finish that one yourself.  She did not yell at me directly.  But when she left in the middle to go to the bathroom, she wreaked holy havoc on the theater manager, for showing “such a terrible movie!”


No comedy concept is immune.

Somebody somewhere will find no reason to laugh.     

And if they’re driving (and you’re insufficiently sympathetic)…

You might wind up going home on the bus.


YEKIMI said...

Had a friend like that. Could tell him a joke, a riddle, anything humorous, even watching a sitcom, and all you'd get back was a blank stare......each and every time and a response of "I don't get it". Wasn't just me, it was anybody who told him something hilarious. I wanted to lift up his arms and check his elbows to even see if he had a funny bone.

Loosehead said...

Ok, here's one I was told at school, and it was big among ALL my friends, but I still don't get it 50 years later. Man walks into a shop, and asks for a loaf of bread. The shopkeeper asks "Brown or white?" and the man says "Doesn't matter, I've got my bike outside."
Humour is where you find it. Or not.