This originally appeared on misteragyeman.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.
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.
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.