Sunday, August 28, 2005

One way or another*, it's just not that funny.

Congratulations to the creators of Blondie who for 75 years haven't been making America laugh. I don't know what exactly they've been doing over there in the funny pages for all these years, but it hasn't been all that funny. Still, anybody who is able to pull one over on people for that long deserves to be recognized for their accomplishment.

There is a brand of humor that is quite popular in our society that has as its sole distinguishing characteristic, a total absence of anything that would remotely be considered funny. It shows up a lot in advertising, greeting cards, emails, and of course, the comics. There is usually just enough of a comedic set-up to let you know that it aspires to humor, but once the supposed punch line is delivered, you realize that you've been had.

Of course this is all subjective. Some people possibly do find Dagwood a real cut-up, but I suspect that there is also an "emperor's new clothes" effect going on here. Many assume that if it's in the funny pages it must be funny and to think otherwise is to be a bit of a fuddy-duddy. So they laugh the laugh of the easily amused without ever thinking of just why a guy with an oversized sandwich is funny. If Mary Worth didn't have such a pained expression on her face all the time they would have laughed at her too.

Although I try not to, I watched Oprah recently only because Jon Stewart was her guest and I do find him funny. It way a trying and ultimately nauseating experience. Since her guest was a comedian, Oprah had to be funny as well. And even though she wasn't, her audience shrieked with gleeful delight at everything she said. Perhaps they risked expulsion from the studio if they didn't join in on the group mind-laugh or maybe they just wanted to appear grateful in the off chance there were free Pontiacs waiting for them in the wings.

Practitioners of lame comedy take advantage of the jocular wantonness of their audience. Some people will make with a laugh for any and every lame bit that comes strolling along and winks their way. How else do you explain the career of Whoopi Goldberg or the entire oeuvre of Steve Gutenberg?

It shouldn't bother me that some find humor where I simply see random words strung together. The problem is that it lowers the bar for what is expected to legitimately illicit laughter. Why go to all of the hard work of creating something truly witty such as Calvin and Hobbes or the Far Side when you can just phone it and still get 2,000 newspapers to pony up for it.

But that's the way it is with almost every form of entertainment. The mundanity of everyday life makes us easy marks for even the vaguest promise of escapism and that's what art forms propose to deliver. So Blondie hangs around for 75 years, Hootie and the Blowfish sell a million records, and the inordinate number of elementary school-aged boys named Dalton can be directly tied to Patrick Swayze's role in Road House. "Pain don't hurt." Now that's funny.

*Get it? Blondie. Debbie Harry and the boys.


JeromeProphet said...


I used to read the comics section religiously when I was child, and as I grew older I'd designate a minute, or so, to scan the page just to confirm that nothing had changed.

That feeling that nothing had changed somehow made the world seem a safer, and more predictable place.

It's not easy to face the real world with all of its demands.

I suspect that comic strips act more as a form of sedation than humor. Offend no one, comfort everyone that everything is alright in some strange way, and most important of all - stir no passions!

Yes, there's been a few shake ups over the years, wives have gone off to work - oh my, but dad's favorite couch is still a safe place to take a good old fashioned nap especially after sneaking a huge submarine sandwich.

Not funny, but safe ZZZZzzzzzzzzzz

Dan M. said...

I look at it this have your Leno people and you have your Letterman people. Anyone who tells me that they prefer Leno over Letterman gets little chance to tell me anything after that. Conversation over. They are idiots.

Here is another one, and I know you have probably heard the same quote. "I didn't like 'Pulp Fiction', it was weird." Yes, you complete moron; intelligence, wit, and originality IS weird. Now go pop in your DVD of "Con Air" or "Face Off" and please do not speak to me ever again.

My point. What people find entertaining is a mind-boggling enigma. The same one that dumbfounds me when I see people pay an exorbitant amount of money to purposely inhale toxic smoke.

But alas, if we were all the same, THAT too would be boring.

Don Gerard said...

...i liked gutenberg in "diner".

the key to success, i guess, is knowing your audience. hence, bloom county, calvin & hobbes, et al come and go.

lloyd cole once told me he was wary of writing too many songs. he said he had already written a lot of songs of which he was quite proud & feared if he added too many it would compromise his entire body of work.

i thought “the tick” (live action series) and “greg the bunny” were hilarious & i am glad i can rent them on dvd. i still think the “simpsons” is pretty darn hilarious, but i do not make as much of a point to watch it every week. I cannot help but wonder if i subconsciously simply do not want to risk seeing a weak episode.