Open Your Textbooks to Page 331

What is funny?

For the past seven years or so, you've been following this blog obsessively, enjoying laughter amidst incisive social commentary. But exactly why has this blog been so riotously side-splitting thus far? Why have you forsaken going to work and caring for your pets in favor of reading entry after entry? Let's stop for a moment and examine the causes and effects of laughter to discover...what is funny.

For our purposes today, we'll be discussing the twelve basic devices of written and visual comedy. They are:

1. The Insult
2. The Straight Man
3. Absurdity
4. Physical Trauma
5. Satire


"Hey, Character A," said Character B cheerily, entering the room, "telephone Character C. I feel like going to the picture shows tonight."

"I feel like shoving Character C up your butt tonight!" countered Character A.

Here we see how one character deftly responds to a simple request with a rib-tickling insult. Character B is left defenseless and bitter, while Character A has the last laugh. Character B may even be so deeply hurt by the barb that he may lose focus at work and in intimate moments with his wife!

In this next bit of prose, Character B plays the STRAIGHT MAN to Character A's wisecracking veteran cop. Read on:

"Officer B," said Officer A testily. "You are out of uniform. If we are to be partners in our pursuit of deadly heroin dealers, I insist that you don formal police attire."

"Hey, A," Sergeant B responded, his mouth full of Cheetos, "there's one thing I've learned on the streets: the only times a man should dress formal is at his senior prom and at his funeral. Now here...have a brew."

"I certainly will not," A admonished him. "We are on duty."

"Duty patootie," B said, belching. "Hoo boy—look at the gams on this Animal Planet babe!"

Here the juxtaposition of personalities lends a light touch that would fit perfectly into any summer movie release starring any combination of former Saturday Night Live cast members. Actual story and character are negligible: it is the winsome combination of the rational and the cynical that brings in the dollars on opening weekend, a full two days before the devastating reviews come crashing down like the wrath of Allah.

"Absurdity" is defined as making the real seem fantastical. We all know that a man cannot turn into an English muffin, for example, but when it happens on the page or the screen, we roar with unrestrained delight. See if you can guess how absurdity is used in the following exchange:

"Character A," B said, brows furrowed. "You seem upset. What's wrong?"

"It’s this stupid DVD player,” wept Character A, “my copy of Baby Geniuses won’t fit inside it for some reason.”

“But A,” said B, “that’s not the DVD player---that’s your cat’s left nostril!”

A looked at B blankly. “My head hurts sometimes,” he said.

Finished laughing yet? Probably not. That's because the deterioration of A’s diseased synapses have caused him a confusion so ridiculous that we call it "absurd." Unfortunately, many people find the entire idea of this blog "absurd," and this kind of scattershot criticism, along with all these meddlesome lawsuits, just serves to disrupt the flow of our perfectly innocent—and most definitely non-racist—fun.

"Gosh, Franciscan Monk B!" exclaimed Franciscan Monk A as he trimmed a hedge or topiary. "I sure do enjoy working in the yard on a cool autumn's day!"

"As do I, A!" Franciscan Monk B called back.

"Franciscan Monk B, watch out for that rake!"

"Aaaahhhh!!" cried Franciscan Monk B, stepping on the rake, watching helplessly as it flung itself upwards, its savagely sharp prongs burying themselves deep into his neck.

Ha, ha, ha, ha! That's right, it's our old friend "physical trauma." Beginning humorists should remember that there is nothing like a swollen hand or bleeding gums to entertain and edify. Pain is what made the Road Runner cartoons such classics, and it can work for just about anyone. The image of a red-faced dupe in need of immediate medical care can only bring tears of bliss to the reader or viewer---as do the topics of bank foreclosure and suicide pacts that just barely don’t work out.

Finally we come to satire, by far the funniest form of comedy. Where something like a funny name or a crude insult caters to our baser instincts, dry satire brings out the intelligent wit in each one of us, as well as providing an endless tide of belly laughs. Just read this selection from Moliere's 17th century masterpiece, The Misanthrope:

"I don't say that. But I told this person,
Surely you're under no necessity to compose;
Why you should wish to publish, heaven knows.
There's no excuse for printing tedious rot
Unless one writes for bread, as you do not.
Resist temptation, then, I beg of you;
Conceal your pastime from the public view,
And don't give up, on any provocation,
Your present high and courtly reputation,
To purchase at a greedy printer's shop
The name of silly author and scribbling fop."

Jesus Christ, that’s hilarious! It is quite clear by this gut-busting passage that our English teachers were correct when they condemned low humor and praised the early satirists. So there you have it: humor at its highest form. Other examples of sparkling satire include Wilmot Blithely’s 1808 drawing room classic Oh My! Oh My Word! Quite Honestly! Did You Really? and some of the stuff Woody Allen used to say before that Asian girl decided he should suck instead.

1) Why are bananas funnier than corn? Explain.
2) Name three recent human tragedies involving loss of life and explain how they could be turned into situation comedies.
3) What if I just started poking at my pinkie toe with a steak knife? Is that anything?