Today’s guest post comes from Clyde.
I recently stumbled across a little-known Thurber cartoon. I haven’t seen it almost 50 years.
The cartoon shows a distinctly Thurberian man wearing a bowlerhat and a startled look as he half reclines on a chaise lounge, as so many Thurber people do. Seated next to him is a young woman with hanging hair and and enraptured look saying “Have you fordotten our ittle suicide pact?”
I had an English course in college in which the instructor took us off into analysis of comedy, which, as he well knew, is a futile question. It is almost impossible to explain what makes us laugh, why things are funny. I presented this cartoon as an example of inexplicable humor. I do not know why I like this joke so much. The problem in the class was that the instructor did not think it was funny, nor did many of my classmates. Several people, in those touchy 1960’s, thought it was sexist.
We soon discovered that there was wide range of taste in humor in the class. Also, we got into that fuzzy region of trying to separate wit from comedy, from humor, from burlesque, from bombast, from camp, from satire, etc. We arrived at no real answers, but, oh, my, what a good class that was.
Isaac Asimov wrote a short story called “Jokester” (in Earth is Room Enough,1957) in which a scientist tries to find out where jokes come from, how they start. He discovers that they are implanted in human society by a superior alien race which is using them to study human psychology. Think about that a minute, just how much comedy does show about us. In Asimov’s story the moment the scientist discovers this truth, the aliens remove all the jokes and human life becomes bleak.
When I directed plays I was quite good at inventing humorous business, especially for a melodrama done in the Two Harbors band shell, the first of many we did in the mid 1980’s. I took a basic Samuel French-published melodrama and localized it. Instead of the heroine saying “He deserted me in the wicked city,” she said, “He left me in the wicked city of Superior.” You may have to be from the Duluth area to get that. We even did a drawn out version of the Groucho Marx “walk this way” joke that was very funny.
We made lots of fun of Duluth. “I had to go to Duluth . . . once” [Long deep sighs of sympathy from the whole cast, including those not on stage who stepped out to sigh and some plants in the audience who arose to sigh. We even once did it with all in perfect unison.]
One joke we could never make work. The line from the hero was “I am going to go way out west.” We wanted to add to that. “I am going to go way out west to ________.” We could come up with nothing funny. We tried Clover Valley (east of Duluth), Floodwood, Brainerd, Fargo, and several others. We had him point east or say “Bayfield.” There must be a joke there, but we could not find it.
My own favorite was having the heroine cry great sobs at the front of the stage while begging sympathy from all the women for the evil the villain had done to her. She then wrung out water from a sopping wet handkerchief she was oh so carefully handling while daubing her eyes.
As you can tell I like broad dumb humor. “Airplane” is one of my favorite movies. And I do like wit, the wry turn of phrase or events, as well as offbeat oddball humor, such as Thurber cartoons. I do not like physical humor or humor based on someone’s embarrassment or jokes that belittle, which is why I gave up network television 30 years ago. I must reluctantly admit that I do not find many of the classic pieces of comedy funny: Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy (just get the damn piano up the stairs, would you?), Abbot and Costello, W. C. Fields.
Now your turn. I’ve let you into the dark places of my psyche.
What makes you laugh? What does not make you laugh?