Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Humor Me

Some individuals are content to wait long hours in line for the opportunity to witness a parade, gain entry to a concert or similar event, get early crack at shopping on sale days, be first in their group to sport a new iPhone, be among the early interviewees for a job. Knowingly or not, and with you in their numbers, many individuals are content to wait in line, however metaphoric that line may be, for the privilege of becoming a victim.

A victim is an individual who has suffered some loss and, by extension, harm. In anthropomorphic terms, victims are people. If we step back a bit, we may recognize other species in our midst who suffer loss or the ultimate harm, death.

You and your brother and sister humans have suffered losses of such things as illusions, money, freedom, teeth, hair, agility, status, and let's not forget health.  We have suffered embarrassment, humiliation, esteem, and prerogative, all in service to spending some time as victims.  

In some cases, we go out of our way to become victims, either because we think of it as our lot or, worse yet, because being a victim feels good, triggering the even worse yet notion that some of us harbor the hope of some reward for meritorious victimhood.

You can--and herewith will--equate time spent in national service as payment of citizenship to times having been a victim, in the service of being a member of the homo sapiens species.

In one way or another, we understand victimhood from direct experience.  What many of us fail to see and, indeed, what you were many years trying to learn in pursuit of a goal of being a comedy writer and humorist is this simple meme:  There is no such thing as victimless humor.

Many of the memorable humorists have recognized a major source of humor to be had in the frequent shining of the light of inquiry on themselves as victims.  This allows the audience/reader the luxury of relief that the victim is someone else.

You could have some fun with your own early and humiliating encounters with the step-by-step logic needed to prove geometry theorems, but let's instead get on with the work at hand.  If there is no such thing as victimless humor, then it follows that humor must have a target.

In some ways, your younger self knew this, evidenced by your belief that humor was exaggeration and wisecracking at some individual or institution.  "There is a lot less to Fred than meets the eye."  Not bad, for a kid, but not good either.  "People see Fred as a great wit, but they are only half right."  Or what about this, which at one time had you in out-of-control giggles:  "I spilled some alphabet soup at the dinner table and you can bet some hot words passed between us."  Please.

Humor deflates, equalizes, restores in its way the same kind of balance as the stasis achieved in mystery fiction, when the murderer has been identified and assigned legal, poetic, or metaphorical justice.

Humor is the identification of an individual with an ox.  This is the set-up.  In subsequent, dramatic precision, that ox is gored.  Thus the individual is wounded, a victim to his own ego or intransigence.  He cannot see--will not let himself see-- what we see of his defeat.  Even if he does for a moment or two glimpse his status, we know he  will be back in business at the same old stand.  The difference is that we see it and he, in time, will have reverted.

In its wonderful display of possibilities, humor reminds us of the filters we see on Instagram and VSCOcam, where each enhances or withholds particular colors or details, each in the service of a special effect being called to our attention.

Your own favorite among these filters is satire, far and away the most remarkable for its dramatic qualities whereby many of the audience take it as dead-on, at-face-value seriousness, meaning what it says, no more, no less.  Others in the audience will see it as the well-honed edge of irony, neither too exaggerated nor lacking gravitas.

In the metaphorical sense of Mark Twain being the literary father you inflicted yourself upon, you are your father's son, raised and whetted on The Innocents Abroad, Roughing It, and Sketches, New and Old.  In the actual, biological sense, it helps that you are Jake's son.  Part of the set-up to get that drama into play is the fact of your father, when he worked for your mother's youngest brother, a man of great vanity and a sense of self-importance somewhat beyond his reach.

The drama begins with you, addressing your mother.  "I didn't know Uncle Harry had such an intense religious streak."

Your mother:  "He has no such thing.  What are you talking about?"

You:  "Every time he addresses dad, he says 'Jesus Christ, Jack.'"

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