Date Posted: October 6, 2011
Print Edition: October 5, 2011
“No matter what happens, somebody will find a way to take it way too seriously.”
It’s getting increasingly hard to be funny in our modern world, especially to be funny within a public paper such as The Cascade. I blame this primarily upon the thousands of grassroots groups that have sprung up in the last couple decades (the ones with names like the Chinese Presbyterian Association of Albino Pansexuals*), who seem to spend their time waiting for that one, golden opportunity to protest against discrimination, but they’re only part of the problem. I think the real threat is the sense of paranoia which inflicts us all whenever we’re just about to start laughing hysterically, the sense that somewhere, somehow… someone is being offended.
A man once said that funny is something that happens far away to someone you don’t know, and I believe there is an essential truth to this. If the bloke next door is maimed in a grotesque culinary accident involving a spatula, it’s tragic. If the same accident happens to a Mr. Duke ‘Mohito’ Spurling in a cooking school in Glasgow, it’s funny. Is this because I’m too coarse and self-centered to empathize with a man two continents and an ocean away? Probably. Of course, if the same accident were to have happened to a man in Yemen 500 years ago it would be downright hilarious.**
The problem with globalization is that it brings those potentially humorous events that much closer to ourselves, makes them that much more personal and therefore that much less funny. It also allows the Presbyterian Albinos to create international outrage through bloggers, Facebookers, and Twitterers (Twits?), although that’s beside the point. The real issue is that we, as a culture, are becoming more and more confused over whether it’s culturally appropriate to laugh or cry in any given context. And, of course, this confusion is making it really hard to tell jokes, since, after the punchline, a third of your audience will laugh, a third will cry, and a third will laugh until they cry and then glare at you through their tears.
The first solution to this problem is to never attempt to be funny, except in the company of people who are pretty much the same as you. This means that I personally could only make jokes when hanging out with white, conservative, cat-owners, so I think I’ll reject this answer outright.
The second solution is to attempt a return to traditional slapstick humour, which dispensed with words entirely and provoked laughter solely through physical comedy. I would support this, except that recently a man tried the ol’ fashioned throw-a-banana-so-that-somebody-slips-and-falls gag at a Philadelphia Flyers game, and now he’s facing up to $2000 in fines (for engaging in a prohibited activity and possible racism). Apparently times have changed, because I don’t remember this ever happening to Laurel and Hardy.
The third option is, well, complicated. The difference between not funny and funny is often a matter of timing and audience, rather than any definitive rules (Presbyterian jokes are funny, Chinese jokes are only funny when Chinese people tell them, pansexual jokes are esoteric). Some things are obviously not funny (genocide, for example), while others aren’t supposed to be funny but are anyways (Dr. Strangelove, anyone?). The quest for a successful joke can be dangerous to everyone involved, yet it must be remembered that humour should be closer to a rap on the knuckles than a burst of machine gun fire. Also, for those of you who are part of watchdog activist groups (many of which I whole-heartedly support) remember that every once in a while it’s healthy to laugh at yourself.
After all, even albinos and cat-owners love a good joke.
*If you happen to be part of this association then I’d like to express my profound and repentant apologies Please don’t call your lawyer.
**Assuming they have spatulas in Yemen. Or did five hundred years ago.