Saturday, May 15, 2010

Funny you should ask

Humor is burlesque and parody without props. Although there may be physicality to inform it, humor is comedy without the banana peel or the cream pie. In comedy, character types are sufficient enough conditions; in humor, articulated individuals, preferably pompous ones, are a necessary condition, but when all is said and done, anyone with pretensions will do quite nicely, thank you.

A man slipping on a banana peel is comedic, particularly if the slip comes as a surprise. A man who sees the banana peel, pointedly steps around it, then in doing so stumbles from the curb is an occasion of humor. We laugh at the misfortune of both those who slip, grateful it was not us who was the victim, but our laughter is a degree more intense and deeper when we are laughing at the person who seems the slightest bit self-congratulatory at having avoided the lurking peel, only to stumble a beat or two on down the line.

We laugh because of our awareness that it's a jungle out there, where ever there happens to be. We laugh at the sad awareness that there is no rock bottom, rather there is always potential for a far-better worse than any we could have imagined. Humor demands--and always gets--the last laugh, and were you to persist in graphing out its parabola, you would discover that the joke is always on you.

In its way, humor is as blind as justice: it has no specific issue with any of us, is perfectly neutral in assessing blame. Humor's end is not the vendetta of the last laugh, but instead to remind us that we have been chosen for special notice because we are human. We are the only species of whom this is true. In recognition of this fact, we sometimes try to dress up, costume, or otherwise adorn our pets, particularly but not limited to dogs and cats. When this activity does not produce enough of a desired degree of laughter, we are eventually presented with the sad awareness that in descending order, humor and the pet in question have had the last laugh because, however we rationalize our behavior of costuming or tricking or training or teasing, the pet is only afflicted temporarily. We may have momentarily humiliated Fido or Miss Kitty, but someone or something will remind us of our perfidy of behavior. The pet retains its dignity and we recognize our own inner Iago.

Perhaps the most volatile and damaging weapon of all, humor has the ability to topple individuals, attitudes, institutions, traditions, and behavior patterns. Being yelled at, shouted at, outwitted, or repressed are conditions we are used to experiencing; we can find ways of coping with these, even to the point of rationalizing ways in which we emerged waving the bloody scalp of revenge, but there is little relief from being laughed at as a result of having been caught out in hypocrisy or approaching the moral high ground as though we were Arthur, drawing Excalibur from the stone.

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