Now That’s Funny! …Wait, is it?

Now Thats Funny! ...Wait, is it?

Humor is a tricky subject. It always has been and it always will be. Its origins can be traced all the way back to ancient Greece with Aristophanes and Aristotle.  Comedy evolved through medieval times with the mediator of the jester and then travelled on to be involved in culture. William Shakespeare, who lived in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, wrote comedies that are still relevant and are performed today. Then, as far as American society is concerned, comedy took a pause. Americans had more important things to do like gain their independence, establish a sound government and solvent economy, and experience countless social reforms before they could even think about cracking a joke. Then, once America was suitable and people decided they wanted to laugh, comedians and satirists emerged from all corners of the nation (obviously this is a very condensed history, but you get the point).

“Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.”

But still, humor is tricky. What makes something funny? Should humor be analyzed? Is some humor just not intelligent enough to be broken down rhetorically? What the heck does “broken down rhetorically” mean? So many burning questions must be answered.

“If I agreed we’d both be wrong.”

First of all, we must establish that there are different kinds of humor and therefore different senses of humor. There is satirical humor (Saturday Night Live), slapstick and visual humor (Abbot & Costello and Charlie Chaplin), intelligent humor (Monty Python), good ol’ wholesome humor (Neil Simon), and just downright offensive humor (Daniel Tosh). These are just a few of the many. A sense of humor is simply which kind of humor someone prefers or believes it the funniest.

“I used to be indecisive. Now I’m not so sure.”

Should all of these humors be analyzed, or is comedy at its funniest when left unexamined? I believe it depends. Why is it funny that Abbot accidently stepped on a nail? Who cares, we still laugh at his pain. Why is it funny that Jay Pharoah, a performer on SNL, can mimic the mannerisms and voice of Barack Obama? It doesn’t really matter to me; I still cracked up at every Presidential Debate skit. It is best to leave simple humor alone and laugh at the straightforwardness of some comedy.

“Why didn’t Noah swat those two mosquitoes?”

Intelligent humor is different. By intelligent humor I do not mean knock-knock jokes that employ SAT-level vocabulary. I mean humor that may allude to a historical event or concept, or humor that the average theater-goer or TV-watcher may not understand immediately. Some sketches in Monty Python, like the classic cheese shop sketch, or the hilarious portrayal of the Spanish inquisition, may go over some people’s heads. If this is the case, humor must be analyzed. Comedy is a beautiful thing, and to miss out on a joke is an injustice. If you do not understand a joke to begin with, take a second and break it down. Think about the material, the concept, the delivery and the circumstances. Think about which one you do not understand and try to fix that. Once you can comprehend a joke, it will most likely become even funnier than before.

Now you’ve probably noticed all of the one-liners I’ve thrown in here just to get you in the comedy frame of mind. Now that you’ve read a couple, let’s take a look at one. I really like the last one about Noah. Someone may not understand this joke immediately, which is completely understandable. This one-liner, although only seven words, requires some background information in order to be understood. Let’s say you don’t understand this but everyone at your lunch table is laughing and you feel sufficiently dumb as you laugh uncomfortably pretending that you understand it. Let’s give it a shot:

Let’s begin with the mosquitoes. We all know that mosquitoes bite people and are annoying and that nobody in the right minds wants them around. But who is Noah? Noah is an allusion to the biblical character who built an ark on which he put two of every animal to repopulate the world after an apocalyptic storm. So that means two elephants, two dogs, two giraffes…two mosquitoes? Oh! So if only Noah had swatted and killed the two mosquitoes he brought on his ark then we would not have to deal with them today because the population would have never continued!

Does every joke need this? No. Is it an abomination that we broke down a joke that someone possibly did not understand at once? Absolutely not. So is it bad to analyze humor? Again, it depends. A joke will not lose its humor if analyzed (I still chuckle every time I read the Noah joke). But for some jokes, it may be unnecessary. Analysis is strictly up to the discretion of the person listening to the joke. It could help, it could do nothing.

I say to leave humor alone if you understand it. Humor is more enjoyable if you lose yourself in it and find yourself in an uncontrollable fit of giggles and hiccups. In fact, that’s the beauty of humor: to forget about everything troubling you in the world, even if just for a couple of seconds, and laugh.