Monday, August 19, 2013

What's so Funny?

By Mark W. Danielson

I love humor.  Always have.  That’s why I include it in my stories.  My love of comedy came from growing up with funny people like Jonathon Winters.   A master at improvisation, he could make anything funny.   Johnny Carson and Steve Allen were right up there with their joke-telling.  Red Skelton, Tim Conway and Harvey Korman rarely made it through a skit without busting up.  All Carol Burnett had to do was walk on stage, make a face, and tears of laughter flowed.  Back then, life was simpler and the jokes cleaner.  I miss those days.

I’m not sure when the transition occurred, but nowadays most jokes come at others' expense.  Sarcasm went from Benny Hill’s wit to late night monologues that thrive on criticism and slams.  How many times must Olive Garden and Taco Bell be the butt of their jokes before they retaliate with libel suits?  More importantly, how did we get to where we must bash others to get a laugh?

Sadly, too many of our current entertainers cannot walk on stage without using foul language.  In their defense, they may have been influenced by Richard Pryor, who was a very funny man, but could not deliver a line without the F-bomb.  What these comedians fail to realize is that too much of anything numbs their audience.  What is the benefit in cursing if it is used in every sentence?  For that matter, if cussing is part of your vocabulary, what do you say or do when you get really angry? 

Another downside in mean humor is in how it has affected society.  No doubt some will ask whether modern-day comedy is responsible for our mean nature, or that our mean nature changed how we laugh.  Either way, it is clear that manners and respect have taken a back seat.

Like sex, mean comedy sells.  If it didn’t, it would have faded years ago.  Writers and editors who see mean humor in novels should ask whether it adds to their story.  If their character is upset, then foul language is probably appropriate, but if cursing is overused in your dialogue, you may be turning off your readers.  Humor style can also date a story.

These days there is an abundance of mean humor-inspired television shows.  Whether it is a so-called reality show or one intended as a practical joke, all achieve their laughs at someone’s expense.  Is this really the best we can do?  Have our comedians lost their ability to create something humorous or do they sink to this level to get attention?  Is suppose this is as rhetorical as deciding whether the chicken or the egg came first. 

Laughter is the best medicine for the body and the soul, so laugh it up.  Make it clean and it will be timeless.


Bill Kirton said...

I can't argue with any of that, Mark. If only comedy weren't seen either as an intrusion into the 'real', 'serious' world or a means of belittling people. OK, it's subversive, always has been - that's the way it works, but in the end it's a positive release, an essential.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Thanks, Bill. No doubt what is considered funny is always relative to one's generation. While I miss the days of spontaneous humor, I still enjoy a good laugh wherever it can be found. :)

June Shaw said...

Mark, I also love comedy -- and I know those comedians you mention. They were great.

Light-hearted makes me happy, so I anjoyed adding it to my Cealie Gunther mystery series. Thanks for the reminder about those comics.

Mike Befeler, author of geezer-lit and paranormal mysteries said...

Mark, And there's nothing like a few chuckles to lighten up a murder. I always like it when people can poke fun at themselves and not take themselves too seriously.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Thanks June, Mike. Mike, you hit the nail on the head. We all go through life the same way, some more fortunate than others, but I cannot think of any reason to take ourselves seriously. After all, we all turn to dust in the end and I would rather someone shared a chuckle over something I once said than to be relieved I finally passed on.