Wonderful Cruelty: It’s Not Funny Until Someone Gets Hurt

 It’s Not Funny Until Someone Gets Hurt

Vít Luštinec, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

For a long time I was of the opinion that comedy is all about timing. Now I think that timing is a requirement, but it’s cruelty that matters. It’s always been about cruelty.

I should note that that’s wonderful.

My wife and I have tossed this around. She’s the smartest person I know and I know a guy that changed the course of a gubernatorial race and another who argued in front of the Supreme Court. The latter, were he still alive would have pointed out that the tense is all wrong since he’s passed on and I should have said that I knew rather than know and the former would pat me on the back for keeping latter and former straight. “F” comes before “L” but I still need to mentally reassess every time I read the former/latter construct.

The long and the short is I know smart people and have managed to insert my ignorance among them.

A point of contention between my wife and me is that I think all humor requires a foil. She disagrees, so the caveat here is that the smartest person I know thinks that everything beyond word 203 of this (I’m going to call it a treatise because I’m feeling snooty and that’ll show her) treatise is nonsense.

Being funny is focused meanness. I’ve written here about George Carlin’s “look at the rubes” and the fallacies that make that actually funny contrary to his intent. Humor is pointing out what is overlooked.

My wife brings up Wodehouse as kindly comedy but he requires mocking an assumption of British people in the inheriting business. The upper classes and titled may be altruistic and wonderful and so worried about the environment that they fly private planes all over the world to tell you how worried they are about the environment, but Wodehouse’s books don’t work unless you view the upper classes as buffoons. It casts another. It’s cruelty.

Even the most basic jokes rely on mental missteps. Why did the chicken cross the road? The answer is to point out that people skip past the obvious. Joke is on…

I am funny in person, at least I think so. I’m a pretty good tickler too, but in particular I’m a fan. I’m a goof, a Tiger Beat subscribing type, to people that have made a living being funny in print. As an aspirant I have my list of heroes. I have a plastic wrapped copy of the Doug Kenney led spoof of Time Magazine that launched National Lampoon. I know about Matty Simmons for non-credit reasons. I strangely have two copies of Bored of the Rings.

To me the funniest human being not named me is Christopher Guest. He killed it with “Highway Toes” and that was not nice. He skewed James Taylor – and I should note that James Taylor did not beat up the mermaid because that was a different guy but they get confused and it’s not just me that conflates them – for drug use. The song was as close as you get to perfect parody and the payoff? Huge.

The lesson of Christopher Guest is that if you are cruel and funny and point out the foibles of others you get to get convivial with the hot chick that escaped Jason or Myers or whatever. I don’t know. It wasn’t Freddie. That was a Depp project. All that aside, Guest was watching Spartacus at age 12 and had no idea that he would be married to Tony Curtis’s daughter. Serendipity.

Record Scratch. My outline for this post is suddenly out the window.

I just Googled Guest who I’ve been a fan of for the entirety of my non-adolescent life and apparently he’s a member of the British House of Lords? What the ever living hell, Archie? Christopher Guest is the 5th Baron of something.

I’m kinda thrilled.

I love the idea of actually funny people in power even if it seems to be merely titular.

Humor, properly executed, is a fart joke, but refined, it’s a scalpel. You mock what is false because it’s false. It points out incongruities because they are not congruous. Humor separates fact from pretention and no one has ever told a better joke than Vaclav Havel.

“Workers of the World Unite!”

Havel got it.

In his Soviet dominated-world a greengrocer, and that’s at least his or his translator’s word for a guy that owns a grocery store, was required to have a sign hanging in “his” business that said the above. “Workers of the World Unite.” But that wasn’t what the sign said.

The sign said, “I submit.” Havel got it.

It was the biggest pull in history and this man who was a poet (bless him) and playwright (we all have our sins) threw a Velvet Underground album at the powers that were and dustbins opened.

Havel’s “Power of the Powerless” may be up there with “Areopagitica” as one of the most important essays ever written, but be clear. It was a joke. A very serious joke.

He pulled the rug out from under powers because he honed in on the truth and disallowed their attempts to cast the world in a shade favorable to them. He took things from them. He was relentless. He was cruel. He was funny.

Because that’s what funny is. It is pointing and showing.

It’s an instinct as far as I can tell. People from various sides of the aisle are asking why we can’t be funny, and by that I mean why we can’t ask about what we are supposed to accept.

Rogan, Wiess, Chapelle, Brand, Travis, Greenwald. These are people asking questions. The answers may not be what you agree with, but they ask. They note that there is a statement and then contrast the statement with the what they see. They get it wrong on occasion. That’s okay.

The scary thing about funny people is not that they note the disconnects on issues or whatnot. You can argue disconnects out over a shrimp salad at lunch. The problem with funny people opposite the table from you is that post salad lunch, they know. Deep down you know that they saw your flaws. That’s what funny people do.

I’m willing to be wrong here – I’m willing to be wrong everywhere – but I think a sense of humor is a divisive trait. People with a sharp one instinctually identify bullshit and they opt to be kind and keep the observation to themselves or they don’t. It’s cruelty.

Those willing to be funny are putting themselves out in front of crowds and are daring to contest ideas. P.J. O’Rourke wrote hilariously about a Parliament of Whores. I’d guess he’d be with me in the idea that maybe a few comedians should run for office and look at the issues encroaching the world. A few uninvited Guests might be just the answer.