Sunday, March 6, 2011

What's so funny now?

With some frequency, you find yourself on the downside of a conversation in which you have  been asked but just as often challenged to explain what is funny and in some extreme cases what is so funny.

To get the obvious out of the way first, you are often caught off guard by the question, which was directed at you in the first place--"What's so funny?"--because the funny thing was you.  You were laughing because you had done something counter to your resolve not to have done it.  You may well have been laughing at the way you did something, once again having done something counter to your intentions, creating in the process an image of yourself that causes you to laugh at the picture you have presented to the world about you and to you in particular, attempting to cope with some need or responsibility.

Thus you have begun to describe and demonstrate what is funny in terms of your prime target--you,  Starting with you, people are funny; they are humorous because, like you, they are hives of inconsistency, alternately confident, unsteady, unsure, thinking to have at last caused the rocks to dislodge in sufficient number to cause a landslide.  You and those like you are walking, living comedies of the absurd in the warp and weft of your daily life.

In addition to the characterization of the theater of the absurd in which you are headliner star, the universe, although stunning in its magnificence and natural beauty, is also a fit arena for absurdist drama.  In case you hadn't noticed, it is a jungle out there except when the jungle has dried out or flooded or burned or perhaps even exploded.

Funny is among other things someone--you included--thinking exulting enough thoughts to consider himself in some position of knowledge or authority or--dare you go so far--grace or familiarity with the laws humans from time to time associate with a natural and proper order of things.  Funny is thinking you have the right tool in your toolkit, the right sentence in your story, the right paragraph in your book.  Once "they" get a look at it, "they" will appreciate the distance you have come, the ground you have covered, the tremendous forces you wield over the elements.

Events, by the nature of their being the products of human ego, inventiveness, determination, and wrong-headedness, have the potential for rollicking and bumptious humor, which is to say funny moments, which may cause others to laugh but not you in the role of the beholder.

What's so funny? can be seen as a thinly veiled probe in which the questioner is wondering if you are laughing at him or her.  In such cases, it does not provide ready help to suggest you are laughing with rather than at--funny, you see, has become a threat, a heat-seeking missile of ridicule and mockery.  Some of us have already been on the real and/or perceived firing line of those attacks.

What's so funny is you, in particular when you are trying to effect the most seriousness of purpose, to solve cosmic conundrums with homily and a faith in extra-human agency.  The more we attempt to put on disguises, the more we begin the process of appearing funny to someone else.  Truth is, there are already those to whom on any ad hoc basis we already appear funny.

Dignity is a lovely possession, a kind of psychic immune system that begins with the notion that a human who has most dignity at all is the one who realizes how funny he or she at heart is, then sets about asking us all to celebrate with the ritual of a good laugh.

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