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by Jan Sand
2007-02-14 08:44:26
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Aside from its utility as a prime source of heating, cooling, and oxygen, the atmosphere jiggles in all sorts of ways to provide Earth’s perceptive inhabitants with awareness of what is going on. This capability is so important that it is incorporated into our basic physical structure and in the various ways that we automatically emit sounds to signify our emotional mindset and body conditions. Sneezes, coughs, screams, grunts, groans, snorts, and farts are fairly well accounted for but laughter has a special place in harboring something of a mystery.

In our commercial society the ability to evoke laughter is a valuable resource and just how this can be managed is a developed skill that depends upon several ephemeral variables. But many of these variables can be boiled down to a few standard basics.

Perhaps the most fundamental aspect of humor that is generally unrecognized is that funny things have a basis in fear. The greater the fear, the greater the possibilities for humor. That’s why many children’s jokes deal with incontinence and many adult jokes deal with sex so that social impropriety in each area constitutes a threat for each age group. But the humor derives from the discovery that the threat is not real or is so monstrous that it cannot be taken seriously. In other words, funny stuff comes out of the pleasant surprise that the rampaging Tyrannosaurus Rex that is running you down has rubber teeth and is composed of three beautiful girls in a cloth costume suit. It is, of course, the surprise that triggers the laugh. But then, three beautiful girls can inspire so many things.

Now, just suppose a democratic political system had elected an obvious jerk as a president. It only works because of a totally crooked election system - this was the comic basis for the film The Great McGinty. Then, suddenly, a terrible tragedy hits the country and the jerk is acclaimed as an instant hero who can save the country. He involves the country in a war that makes no sense and he keeps inventing unrealistic reasons for the war. This doesn’t seem funny at all but the Marx Brothers made a hilarious film called Duck Soup with exactly these elements. So it indicates that tragedy can be funny if you are not in it. At the present time the USA is in it and it surely is very difficult to see the humor.

In general there seems to be two basic species of humor. One type is based on supreme stupidity. Jerry Lewis, The Three Stooges, George Burns and Gracie Allen, The Flintstones, All In the Family, and many others have mined this vein. Stupid characters make unwarranted assumptions that are obviously ridiculous and get them into terrible difficulties that can be very funny. All In the Family, Charlie Chaplin, Woody Allen in Take the Money and Run have been especially clever in their stupidities.

The opposite efforts utilize perceptions of the stupidities of society to create funny realizations. Oscar Wilde, Groucho Marx, Fred Allen and Jerry Seinfeld have been especially creative in pointing out the normally unperceived idiocies of society. Richard Pryor and other black comics have used comedy based on the stupidities of racism that, in real life, are more tragic than anything else but when looked at straight on can only be embarrassing to anybody who accredits himself with good sense.

But the direction of both types of humor, to be really effective, exposes the suppressed truths of accepted society. And this is why dictators and tyrants cannot withstand the assault humor. Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator thoroughly skewered Hitler and his dreadful crew for great humor, as did Stanley Kubrick in Dr. Strangelove to the idiotic assumptions of atomic warfare. The world is ripe for this type of attack of the truth and the overblown schemes of the Bush administration makes a juicy target.

Shakespeare wrote, “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods.” Humor takes the godly point of view.
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