The First Joke: Yeah, you know this one: A monkey strolls by…slips on a banana peel. Other monkeys go CRAZY! Certainly we’ve progressed past that? Nope. New York Times headline: While entertaining the Prime Minister of Uruguay, Queen Elizabeth stood up from her throne and…slipped on a Banana Peel. Details at eleven. Laughing not permitted.
Why is it funny? It’s called Humanity. It’s also called: Misery LOVES company. Right or wrong, it’s true. And if you still have your sense of humor, congratulations, you’re doing something right. No sense of humor? Uh oh…
Did You Know? The quickest most reliable way to verify mental health (or lack thereof) is through humor? A sense of humor shows perspective. It shows that, in the back of your mind, everything just might be okay. Ever take a tour through a mental institution? Not a lot of laughter going on…least not the right kind. Protect that sense of humor and if you’re down a quart or two, you can always go on YouTube. I’ve indulged you a bit at the end of this article… SNL, Taxi, Darth Vader in the Death Star cafeteria, though there are a hundred vignettes just waiting to tickle YOUR sense of humor.
Baskin Robbins: What’s Your Pleasure? We have 31 different Flavors: Dark Humor, Sick Humor, Dry, Slapstick, Self-Deprecating, British, Politically Correct..Incorrect Humor, Bathroom, Generational, Jewish, Sarcastic , Satirical, Sophomoric, Deadpan, Blue, Polish, Blue Collar, Southern, New York, Cartoon… Well, there’s more, but c’mon, we’re not writing a thesis here.
Why are Things Funny? Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Jackie Gleason, Rodney Dangerfield, even poor down-trodden Al Bundy on Married With Children. Every episode began with him coming home from his job of…selling shoes. Al would slump down on the sofa, then burst into tears, because he’d had another crummy day. Somehow, he made that scene funny every episode…and we watched, feeling that at least there was someone who was worse off than we were. Jackie Gleason, same thing, Rodney Dangerfield…no respect.
In virtually every form of comedy, we watch someone else who’s even dumber than we are, or has worse luck than we have. And in a Zen-like way, it levels the playing field for all of us. Humor tells you, “Ya think you’ve got it bad? Here’s someone who’s got it even worse! is dumber, poorer”…and for better or worse, we feel good about it. Humor tells us that: Life isn’t Fair, but…Sometimes, when you least expect it…it Is!
Zombieland Movie: Thin plot, though embarrassingly funny. Two guys and gals have been chased by zombies for the entire movie. Comes the Final Scene: Nighttime at a dark and empty fairground. One of the foursome has an idea…throws the circuit-breaker and suddenly, lights, action, Ferris wheel spinning, big rides zooming around, back and forth.
The downside is: it also woke up the 450 zombies who’d been sleeping in the park. Things get bad. Things get really bad, until finally, all four are being chased by ALL the zombies. To make matters worse, they’re closing in! It is hopeless. They are cornered. They turn to face the zombie crowd that is about to eat them alive, and then… and then… The big Egyptian Pharoh’s Barge swoops down from the sky and flattens every zombie. A quiet moment ensues. Characters look at each other. If you like Woody Harrelson, he’s in the groove here.
The Top Three Qualities We Want in a Mate: HUMOR, MONEY, SEX. This should tell you a lot. How much time do you spend making your mate blow coffee through his nose, or…making her pee in her pants? In our house, that is the highest form of praise…right next to clapping after sex.
A Small Handful of Famous Comedians: Jonathan Winters, Jack Benny, Jerry Seinfeld, Sid Caesar, Jackie Gleason, Bob Newhart, Ernie Kovaks, Milton Berle, Chris Rock, Phil Silvers, George Carlin, Eddy Murphy, Bill Cosby, Carol Burnett, Sarah Silverman, Joan Rivers, SNL, Dana Garvey, Richard Pryor, Shelley Berman, Mort Saul, Burns & Allen, Rodney Dangerfield, Wanda Sykes, Louis Black, Lucille Ball, Eddie Izzard, Bennie Hill, Chris Farley, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Henny Youngman, Christopher Lloyd, Mitch Hedberg, Steven Wright, Gilda Radner, Tina Fey, Robin Williams… The list could easily fill a book. The amazing thing is, each one has their own unique flavor!
It’s a complicated plot: Martians land in big nasty contraptions and then proceed to stomp around, kicking the hell out of our skyscrapers and frying humanity to “extra crispy” with their heat rays. They vaporize our entire Air Force, sneer at our nuclear attacks and blow up every M-I tank on the planet. It is hopeless.
But then… One Martian climbs out of his war machine to take a leak. He unzips his fly, then leans over to sniff a pretty yellow flower. He calls over to his buddy: “Hey, Barry! What’s this thing called?” His buddy Googles it (though they use a different word on Mars). “It’s called Ragweed.” “Hmmm…funny name. It smells….” Then the Martian sneezes. Ten minutes later… he falls over dead, and Earth is saved!!! If it were on the Simpsons, a little kid’s voice would snicker, hah, hah… The point is: you can find humor in anything if you look hard enough. Just ask Mel Brooks about The Producers…a Broadway play making fun of Nazis in Springtime for Hitler. Gutsy. He made a point: Humor can disarm even the worst monsters on our planet.
Telling a Joke: Some can. Some can’t. It’s a muscle, but it also has a whole lot to do with timing. My Mom was the ne plus ultra role model for how NOT to tell a joke. She was awful, hideous, teeth-chatteringly bad and…she never knew. We had an old mutt named Cappy back then, and I swear, Cappy used to cower and creep away when she’d start one of her jokes. First thing she’d do was tell you just how funny it was going to be. Then she’d start laughing as if that somehow proved it. Eventually, she’d calm down enough to kick-off with the first line. But then things always got muddy in chasing down those details. Was it two nuns and a rabbi or two nuns and a Pope? Then she’d stop and seriously try to figure out which it was. Finally, when it came to the coup de grace, she’d forget the punch line…every time. She’d say, “Wait a minute. It’ll come to me.” We’d all laugh, but it was always for the wrong reasons. God love her, she was GREAT at everything else.
Five Star Skit: Reverend Jim’s Driving Test: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvn-tBeLpCk
Some of the Best SNL Skits: Bassomatic, Cowbell… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uShCUp2QYGs
Darth Vader on Death Star: A different flavor you’ll love or hate. Premise is: Darth Vader in the Death Star Cafeteria…(done in animated Legos) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sv5iEK-IEzw
What’s Your Favorite Joke? Who’s Your Favorite Comedian?
Who isn’t Funny? If I were good at doing graphs and pie charts (and had some data) I’d show a graph here of the inverse relationship of: Sense of Humor vs. Good looks, Wealth, and Power. I’m just shooting from the hip now, but I’m guessing that Dick Cheney’s sense of humor is somewhat limited. And perhaps The Donald (except for his hairdo), The Queen of England, 90% of the top models, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Al Gore, plus everyone in your high school who was super bright, super good-looking and most of all…never suffered, like the rest of us…
Analyzing a Joke is a Whole Lot Like Dissecting a Frog:
You carve it up into little pieces and it just lies there and starts to stink….unless you are Bob Mankoff doing a TED Lecture on the cartoons in the New Yorker Magazine…and how they are chosen. It’s both funny and highly insightful..a difficult thing to pull off. Give it a shot!