Wednesday, April 6, 2011

One Name, Five Syllables

That's not funny. Or is it? I think humor is one of the most fascinating aspects of human culture and human existence generally. Like all aspects of what we like, which is an impossible science (cf. aesthetics), humor is so interesting because of the many variations in what people think is funny. Somehow, there are different genres of humor. There's "stupid humor," which is a misnomer because it's often so intelligently done that such a title is entirely ill-fitting. There's "dark humor," which is really those things that we're all thinking in the midst of life's most terrible moments, for the purpose of making the situation seem a little less bad, but have been socialized not to communicate generally. There's "oddball" humor, which is random and crazy and appeals to the more creative faculties of the hearer or viewer, because one must actively construct the ways in which the absurdity is meant to be funny, and then said content actually becomes funny. Of course, there are many other different "types" of humor. You get the idea.

People even draw the line on humor, saying that something "isn't funny" because it addresses a particular taboo we hold sacred. Jokes can come "too soon" after a tragic event.

But what I'm really interested in is how people construct their sense of humor. Of course, this is getting into a hairy "nature vs. nurture" debate, and I guess aesthetics overall, but I'm wondering if within a single (more or less) culture, something can be objectively funny, or if humor is entirely subjective, just like everything else we like in life.

A particular experience brought this question into focus. I recently watched Zoolander with some friends, and let me tell you, this is my favorite movie of all time. Many times you may ask someone, "Someone, what's your favorite movie?" and they'll equivocate six ways from Sunday (especially if that Sunday is the Oscars). "Oh, I don't know, I have a lot of favorites, I guess..." they might say. Not me. Zoolander. Forget the fact that I secretly want to be a male model, there are just so many things in that movie I find funny. I thought it was funny when I first saw it in high school, and I still think it's funny more than 10 years later. Maybe I have a "dumb" sense of humor, stricken as I am with extended "Arrested Development," producing a seemingly endless adolescence. And yes, things can become funnier over time (how does that work?) or after repeated viewings (I've probably seen Derek work his magic at least 20 times), but still. Some things are just funny, I propose.

Yet there was a member of the audience that night who just didn't think it was funny. Not having it. And even though I disagree, it made me more curious than defensive. How can this be?

I have more questions than answers on this one, so any funnymen/funnywomen out there who want to weigh in, please do. Give me your best Blue Steel, and if you think it's ready to let out of its cage, drop the Magnum on us. I hope it doesn't melt our faces off. Then again, I kinda hope it does.

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