What is Funny?

By: Dennis Bates

A few years back one of the most popular television shows featured a standup comic named Jerry Seinfeld doing what was essentially a parody of himself. He made fun of his lifestyle, the neighbors around him and the city of New York, but he did it in such a clever way that it made people tune in and that meant ratings, which meant it was a hit. It lasted for approximately 10 years and is still seen in reruns on many channels.


Somebody once asked him what the show was about, and he is reported to have said “It’s about absolutely nothing.” Several of the episodes bordered on the genre known as “blue comedy,” which means it dealt with topics traditionally thought to be obscene or offensive. Several more episodes crossed that border, as far as I’m concerned, and I am not exactly a prude when it comes to humor or most everything else.


I have to admit that a few of the episodes were extremely funny to me, and several will become classics, but I was never a huge fan, and I’m still not. To be fair, I have to say that a lot of the shows and movies that pass for comedy today are sophomoric, crude, and tasteless in my opinion. Can anyone out there say Will Farrell, Ben Stiller or Jack Black for starters? All may have talent, but so far they are hiding it.


Compared to them, Seinfeld’s humor is cerebral.


As someone who admittedly appreciates good British bathroom humor on occasion, I must say that what I see in modern day comedy is bathroom humor pushed to the extreme without the benefit of the “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” that makes it acceptably silly but not totally offensive. Where is Benny Hill when we need him or Monte Python, for that matter?


Don’t get me wrong; I don’t trust somebody who has no sense of humor. They’re hiding something. However, what we laugh at tells me a lot about our values, or lack of them. And when we laugh at nothing or worse at coarse, tasteless material that doesn’t wink back at itself, we evidence a lack of belief in much of anything. Laughter has to believe in something or it’s pointless and empty.


Yes, society and humor change with the times like so many things do, and I have to accept the fact that some of my disdain for what passes as humor today may be a function of age. But humor has many functions, and one of them is to help us deal safely with ideas, concepts and hurts that are too painful to deal with any other way. So we laugh, and through laughter frequently we are allowed to heal. God knew what He was doing even in that realm.





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