On Being Funny

This orig­i­nally appeared on mis​ter​agye​man​.blogspot​.com on October 20, 2014.
(Note to past self: Terry Pratchett passed away in 2015.)

According to the plan, this blog was sup­posed to be funny.

I know.

It’s very hard, trying to be witty. I might have some suc­cess if I took my time, but this is sup­posed to be a stream-of-con­scious­ness exer­cise, which makes it harder. (This is also why every­thing keeps coming back to the same themes, by the way). I find every time I meet some­body dif­fer­ent, it takes me around two weeks before I am com­fort­ably human enough to get their jokes. Then it takes another month or so before they real­ize that the things I have been saying all the time were actu­ally meant to be funny.

I never liked watch­ing stand-up when I was a kid. Male comics seemed to be too vio­lent, and female comics seemed too anx­ious to broach the sex topic, just to get it out of the way. My idea of a good punch­line had para­graphs. I have fond mem­o­ries of jokes from Mark Twain and such where the reward is buried under one-and-half pages of build-up. If I had to rank my favourite humourists of all time, ten­ta­tively, it would be:

  • Jerome Klapka Jerome
  • Stephen Leacock
  • Mark Twain
  • Bill Nye
  • P.G. Wodehouse.
  • Terry Pratchett.
  • A.A. Milne.
  • E.B. White

By an inter­est­ing coin­ci­dence, these people are all dead.

Is it that I don’t find any­thing funny today? I do. I was intro­duced to Cartoon Network late in life, and I’m now a sworn fan. Most of the modern stars of comedy can make me laugh out loud, I think. Also, people nat­u­rally assume that with my pref­er­ences, I am likely to despise the local comedy. I do not. You can edu­cate your tastes, but you can’t change instinct. Funny is funny. Some say the Kumawood guys are too crude. I don’t think I’ve seen any­body who has gone far­ther than The Mask did, or Miss Doubtfire. Compared to that, Lil Wynn is a doc­u­men­tary film-maker.

Based on a true story. 

Fact is, most humour has to be offen­sive in some way. The instinct of humour is a reac­tion to danger. It’s the same with adren­a­line- a lot of our enter­tain­ment is designed to trick our bodies into think­ing that some­thing bad is hap­pen­ing, so that we can enjoy the body’s reac­tion to coun­ter­act it with­out going to all the trou­ble. Of course, if the bad thing actu­ally hap­pens to some­body else- prefer­ably one who deserves it- you can observe with right­eous glee from a safe dis­tance. But if it hap­pens in a case where you’ve been taught not to laugh, things get inter­est­ing. It was quite an expe­ri­ence watch­ing Les Intouchables, because of this. I kept strain­ing, watch­ing for signs of dis­tress on the face of François Cluzet, whose char­ac­ter was a quad­ri­plegic left at the mercy of a polit­i­cally incor­rect hus­tler. For some of the more ques­tion­able jokes- and there were quite a few- I could only laugh if he laughed. Is this hypocrisy? I mean- like when some­body mis­pro­nounces a word in the middle of a seri­ous pre­sen­ta­tion, I obvi­ously find it funny, so what’s the point in sti­fling it? Because if it was a Yo Mama joke, I would­n’t feel like laugh­ing at all. The laugh­ter is a sign that my body has decided that this person isn’t valu­able, and their pain means noth­ing. The laugh says ‘It’s okay, we are fine’.

It’s this we that wor­ries me. It’s taking the easy way out, like we’re ants pro­tect­ing the unseen queen of us-ness. Speaking of which, there is a specie of ants- the Argentine ants- which are unique because their colonies do not fight one another. By simply neglect­ing to have dif­fer­ent smells for every colony, these ants have cre­ated what we always say we will: a global village.

Go to the ant. Learn her ways.