September 5, 2011

What's So Funny?

When I was in grade school, one of my teachers told me I'd make either a great stand up comedian or cult leader. Thus far, I've played it down the middle, not committing wholly to either. At that age, I never understood why people told me I should be a comedian. To my young brain, the idea of standing in front of people, their eyes expectantly burning through you, waiting for words to spill out of your mouth that change their mood, it just seemed gross to me. What kind of masochist would put himself through that, I thought.

To a degree, I still feel that way. To my way of thinking, if humor is discussed, it ceases to exist in that situation. Sure, you can then turn the situation humorous by commenting on the lack of humor, but why go through all that? Having said that, I decided to write about humor. The laughs stop here. You've been warned.

Everyone considers themselves the "funny one" of their group of friends. Why? Why is being funny so important? To me, it's just something that some people can do well. I feel self-conscious about declaring myself to be funny. Yes, I am funny. I've come to terms with that. Whereas some use humor as a defense mechanism, my main goal when I open my mouth is to make myself laugh. I truly don't care if nobody laughs at one of my stupid jokes. If I think it's good, and I understand why I think it's funny, I'm going to say it. Of course, if I think something's funny, there's a good chance someone else does as well. 

One of my favorite running gags is making Polish jokes in front of my Polish friends. I know what you're thinking. "Polish jokes? Really? That's as hacky as it gets!" And you're absolutely correct. That's what makes it funny. To me, anyway. See, I'm also Polish. And so when I make a Polish joke in front of my Polish friends, they, without fail, have to point out to me that I'm Polish. This is what I find so funny about the situation. That, after years, they don't see that the joke is my being Polish and making Polish jokes. And when they feel the need to remind me that I'm Polish, as if I'm so dumb that I forgot this fact, well, they're just piling onto the layers of humor at work in the initial hacky Polish joke.

When scenes like the above play out, I wonder whether anyone else is thinking as much about the unspoken jokes at play. There is definitely a level of smugness to my thinking. It feels like I'm the only one in on what the real joke is. And I can't lie, that gives me a weird, sick satisfaction. I guess that's what comedians do. They dissect a joke to its core, exploring exactly what makes it work, until it's a bunch of words haphazardly arranged in a sentence.

"It's Only In Bad Taste If It's Not Funny"

This is an adage I've adopted as something of a mantra. There are some situations that I refuse to joke about, but for the most part, everything's fair game. I don't know if this thinking has led to my desensification or vice versa. As I've written here before, sometimes, during a horrible tragedy, the only thing my brain will process is a joke to cope with what I'm experiencing. It could be a coping mechanism. Or maybe it's just a cop out mechanism. When people get mad at me for those jokes, I just tell myself that they're not looking at the situation as a whole. To me, part of the joke is that I'm such an asshole to make that joke in the first place. Also, there's humor in someone's reaction is to make a stupid joke in the face of trauma. I absolutely understand people not thinking it's appropriate. We all handle things differently. But hey, I don't judge you for crying like a pussy.

"...But Who's Funnier?"

Joke wars. I hate 'em. Fucking HATE THEM. What's a joke war, you ask? It's when two (or more) people just have to keep trying to top one another. Humor should be spontaneous, organic and effortless. Or at least, seem that way. When you're only telling a joke or being funny in response to whatever funny thing someone else just said, the illusion is gone.

Don't get it twisted. I have certain friends I hang out with where there's at least 4 or 5 genuinely funny motherfuckers. Like, funnier than me. And when we get together, the lolz pour like nectar from the Greek gods. But it's all natural. Nobody feels pressured to "out joke" the last guy. Maybe it's because this particular group shares similar comedy sensibilities.

The same can't be said for some other friends of mine. One in particular seems to think there's a competition between us. There isn't. How bad is it? It got to the point where he once asked some girls, flat out, which one of us was funnier. Both said I am. But that didn't matter. Things were just so awkward at that point that any attempt at humor from that point on was deflected by the tension. Like I said, humor is at its most potent when it's allowed to flow freely, weaving in and out of a conversation without constraints of contests and one upsmanship.

"Mean People Suck (So Do Mean Comics)"

As I've gotten older, what I find funny has evolved. Or I'm just getting soft. Either way, I just don't find any place for mean jokes in humor. If I say something that's insulting to a particular person or race or what have you, it's because I'm intending for myself to be the butt of the joke. That I'd say something so insensitive is the joke. I know some people won't see it that way, but I promise, that's my intent.

I think humor is such a great thing because it has the power to lift people's spirits. The only other quality I can think of that has that power is empathy. But really, empathy's a crock of shit and you know it. So when people use humor as a means to put people down, I see that as a sign that they just don't get what humor's all about.

Actually, I could expand that to cover any ulterior motive employing humor. Whether it be to denigrate someone or to get laid. And trust me, humor is NOT an aphrodisiac. Need proof? Louie Anderson. Humor, at its purest essence, is about making people laugh. Whether it be others or yourself.

A misnomer about people who crack jokes is that we don't take things seriously. On the contrary, I find that we analyze and over analyze everything to the point where we unearth the ridiculous aspects of the most serious, mundane events. Sometimes the only thing we can make sense of is the nonsense.

If you've read this far, you probably over think things as much as I do. There is no good reason for thinking about what makes things funny as much as I do. There's a joke to be found in there somewhere, but I've thought far too much about it to see it.



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