Monday, September 7, 2009

Humor me

A bit over 400 years ago, master wordsmith William Shakespeare penned the most hilarious piece of extended writing I have read, A Comedy of Errors. The plot revolves around twin brothers separated years ago, each of whom employs one of a set of twins for a servant, and the mistaken identity problems which inevitably result kept me in stitches the entire time I read the play.

I have read, more accurately attempted to read, a number of comedic books that have sold well, several by noted thriller writer Robert Ludlum, whose works I flew through until he wrote a few "The Road to..." books, none of which I found even remotely humorous, let alone funny. I read The Road to Gandolfo all the way through, and afterward wondered why I bothered. I tried another of his Road books later, and gave it up quickly.

My Darling Wife has maintained for years that I have a "strange" sense of humor. We laugh at many of the same things, but she just shakes her head at some of the things at which I laugh. To some extent, I put this down to "guy humor", things that guys laugh at that women do not; the Three Stooges, slapstick comedy, parodies, etc. Guys have a reputation for laughing at broad humor, things like punches to the groin, mainly because it is great that it happens tp someone else, while painfully remembering how bad it felt when it happened to us. That strikes many of us as funny. We can't help it, it is the way we are wired, I maintain.

We are more likely than women to laugh at stupid things, probably because deep down we can recall laughing uproariously at something similar while being at least slightly tipsy, back in the days when we did things like that.

I have long had an appreciation for British humor such as Monty Python's Flying Circus, which I watched for years on Sunday nights on our local PBS affiliate. For years I was able to recite the entire piece, "Penguin on top of the television set" sketch, which appeared on Monty Python's Previous Record after being performed on their show. Another favorite was "Are You Being Served?", a sitcom from the 70s about life in a department store. That setting sounds mundane, but the writers were very clever and almost always came up with excellent writing for their stories.

Puns have always been considered the lowest form of humor, but I disagree. One not only has to recognize the potential for a witticism as it occurs, but must also instantaneously come up with said witticism, and then communicate it to someone else, whereupon they usually groan, but do so with a bit of a smile. Around our house these became known as Daddy Jokes(c). You cannot plan a pun, it must be spontaneous.

In the 70s I had a number of comedy record albums (large vinyl cd-like things that you played on a stereo, youngsters) in my collection, featuring such luminaries as Bill Cosby, George Carlin, Hudson and Landry, and others. About three years ago I listened to them again, for the first time in over a decade. The Hudson and Landry albums were comedic sketches, and were very dated, offering little in their favor. The Carlin albums were a little better, more topical, but there was a big difference between his early (hilarious) material, and his later stuff, which mainly consisted of a series of angry rants tinged with humor. The Bill Cosby material was still classic stuff, and remains so today. His was observations on life's little ups and downs, and perspectives on life seen through the eyes of a child. Some of his comedy still brings tears of joy to my eyes.

We watch commercials during the Super Bowl hoping to see something memorable, usually funny, and often the commercials are better than the game itself. When I see commercials for tv comedies nowadays, I am amazed at how dull and stupid-sounding they seem to be. There is nothing there that makes me want to say "I want to watch that show!"

I laughed for years at the monologues from Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, the radio and tv comedy of Jack Benny and George Burns among others. I like Jay Leno's monologues, but David Letterman I guess I just don't get. He is not funny to me. He seems to think he's funny, at least on the show previews you see on CBS.

Too many so-called comedians confuse funny with raunchy, thinking that the more f-bombs and assorted foul language they can stick in a sentence, the funnier they are. Far from it, but people still pay good money to see them in concert.

What is funny to one person often leaves another with a puzzled look on their face, but, if you can find something to laugh about regularly, you will find this to be a better world.


  1. Well I personally find your brand of humor hilarious myself. Jay Leno's new show has the potential to be funny. And who can forget "Whose Line is it Anyways?"

  2. I can't believe I did not mention Whose Line, which came to my mind as I was composing, since it was originally a Brit series anyway.

  3. You musn't forget the Bowery Boys. No Saturday afternoon was complete without their madcap misadventures.

  4. I also used to watch the Dean Martin celebrity roasts but they fell into so much foul language and outright gutter jokes which weren't funny they became not only a waste of time but something to be avoided.