Assorted Opinions: What Can You Laugh At

Posted by ractrose on 23 May 2018 in Nonfiction

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What Can You Laugh At

(Only joking)


We seem to live, these days, in the “it takes one to know one” era.

Those most likely to taunt others, with a motive of dominance, silencing, or plain cruelty, or to openly aggress on them with nothing that lives in the neighborhood of humor, are both the first to claim offense when they, being public figures, are lampooned (under fully accredited comedy auspices); and conversely, the first to excuse themselves by accusing others of “not taking a joke”, when their own offenses manifestly were not meant as such. 

Anyone can crack wise spontaneously, and any comedian can ad lib. If the joke is thoughtless, the investment of backlash should equal and not exceed the investment of thought. But—heads up!—comedy will often appear in the funny pages, on TV, in movies, in clubs…all places where the recipient (audience) has an implied contract, that of the “house”.

You knew joking would take place when you came here…you are not under duress, presumably can’t come to harm, and you can leave if you like. (Yes, when comedians scare people, ridicule them, or damage their property, they’ve broken the contract themselves.)

So, how do you tell a joke? Not tell, but tell.

Let’s start with some old-time slapstick. You might, under present-day PC rules, find this 1914 Mack Sennett short sexist…brute-ist, even…though Mabel Normand gives as good as she gets; further, the various objects-at-hand the characters hit one another with are very apparent props.




Perspective, and consideration of era, make it okay to laugh at the above. What about “organic” slapstick? The next clip shows a series of texting-while-walking accidents. In this news report (not always the case with videos online) events are responsibly curated. But here is one of the central conundrums of comedy, one serious philosophers have wrestled with explaining.

Why do we laugh at mishaps, even when they are “real-life” and the consequences may be unfortunate?




This past April, a couple of tempests in our nation’s teapot took place, when Sean Hannity picked a fight with Jimmy Kimmel over Melania Trump’s accent; and when comedian Michelle Wolf hosted the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. 


Links: USA Today


Kimmel and Hannity

Michelle Wolf


Are matters of appearance, or habits of speech, truly off-limits for jokers? The freedom constitutionally afforded to satirists is, of course, everyone’s freedom, as in oppressive regimes humor is often the front line of fighting back, for ordinary people who have lost their representative voice. Whereas, in long-established rules of cultural interchange—etiquette—those things true of a person, obvious to the eye, and which everyone is expected to ignore as though they did not exist, are regarded either tragic afflictions or embarrassments.

So it may not be a welcome defense to suggest a person’s accent or her face must be unmentionable, for decency’s sake. 

Mimicry is a comedic convention. To separate good from bad requires analysing what makes a humorous device function. Cartoons, as a type of comedy, employ portrayal in the most direct way. The punchline is part of the joke, but the joke gets its flesh from the accompanying artwork.

Below, one of my own, “A Friendly Smile, and a Firm Handshake”. In this case, the joke really is the art.



Text box setting up cartoon joke


Cartoon of counsellors teaching clients how to smile


Cartoon of three men trying to smile



When monologuists portray famous people through mimicry, they are sharpening the joke…drawing for the audience a picture, in effect.

In the first of the following clips, Stephen Colbert gives a physical representation of Eric Trump, that so unexpectedly delights the audience, he barely is able to finish the joke, and ends up doing the gag twice.

In the second clip, Trevor Noah’s satire of Facebook’s apology ad gets surgical with his impression of the narrator’s voice and mannerisms.







Mean mimicry is not only identifiable to most people by instinct, but has the characteristic of pointlessness. People who suffer are not always saints, few uniformly saintly in behavior…if holding to a higher set of ethics, or showing greater tolerance than the average person, is any wish of theirs in the first place, they are—having enough to deal with—fully entitled to refuse such a role. In which case, the things they do that violate social codes are legitimate joke fodder, externalities notwithstanding. 

Making fun of someone with a degenerative disease merely because he has symptoms of this disease, is utterly pointless. Making fun of people who speak a language, or practice a religion, merely because they do so, is utterly pointless. 

That stuff is not comedy. Therefore not excused on the grounds that the target had not “understood” the humor.





Short Opinion


I’ve been listening, while I make my art, to background music, 70s channels on YouTube—not merely to enjoy the songs, but for being reminded of “good ones”, I’d forgotten existed, as “Fox on the Run,” by the band Sweet. But, to my disappointment, some of these channels take fancy notions, playing a bunch of alternate versions, instead of the good old radio song I know and love. It makes me think that “live” cuts are the musical equivalent of kale. A lot of people find them superior…leafier, as it were, and more fibrous when digested by the temporal lobe, than polished radio “candy”. Myself, I like big in a song—big production, big guitar, big drums, big backup vocals, big lead vocals—total fakery, as long as it shines. That’s all.



What Can You Laugh At

Pastel drawing of Edwardian-era ship's captainDashing Off















(2018, Stephanie Foster)