Saturday, December 13, 2014

Comedy and Humor, Non-Perscriptive Pain Killers

Comedy has the effect of an existential pain killer.  It has the same effect on the reader or viewer as analgesics have on persons with aches and pains.  

This is not intended hyperbole.  Comedy makes us feel safe by the way it speeds up and exaggerates tragedy to the point where tragedy is no longer overwhelming.  If we can laugh at a thing, the comic says, then we have defused the ability of the thing to harm us.  The threat is minimized, directed away from us.  We are safe.  We can watch those who are not so safe fall victim to the things we know to avoid.

Or so we like to believe. 

Much of the human experience, however bright with challenge and explosive discoveries, is haunted by the potential for sudden protracted loss, reversal of fortunes, changes in status, and afflictions from emotions that we tend to use in immoderate doses.  

Comedy distracts us from our own personal losses and tendencies toward overconfidence by providing us a scape goat, one we can watch suffer the unanticipated pie in the face or slip on a banana peel with the heartfelt relief that it is not us.  The keys to comedy are its physicality, its exaggerations, its accelerated pace.

What better figure to personify comedy than the clown, who may be of either gender.  Give the clown a bulbous nose, over-long shoes, and a face painted in a permanent smile.  Give the clown a few simple tricks, say some balls or tumbling pins to juggle.  Give the clown a squirt gun or an old fashioned siphon seltzer bottle with which to spray at whim.

You've lost track of the number of times you've used the comedy inherent in the Marx Brothers movies as a direct analgesic, beginning with the times in your mid to late twenties when what seemed like prolonged and permanent frustrations and failure in your attempts to produce the kinds of story you sought.  A Night at the Opera, Duck Soup, Animal Crackers, and A Day at the Races, through their antic exaggerations and playing on words, seldom fail to move you to your own inner vision of a comic and exaggerated world, where the precise things that were disturbing and haunting you are transformed into laughable absurdities.

Comedy is a constant reminder that seriousness may be taken too seriously, carried too far as a goal, can, in fact, become a parody of its own intent.  Focus and maturity are qualities rather than traits, valuable and worthwhile.  But comedy reminds us not to forget the inner child, wishing it were recess time so that it can escape the class room, run for the sake of running, laughing for the powerful sense laughter brings, where the body has all but lost control and given itself over to paroxysms of pure relief. 

The ghostly presences of loss, constraint, despair, helplessness,and the added fear of all these things arriving like unwanted relatives, are sent to rout in a hail of thrown pies and banana peels set out to trip the unwary traveler.

A prime target for comedy is dignity, self-esteem, self-righteousness, and the pomp and circumstance of rituals meant to assure the celebrants of their worth and importance.

What comedy is to relief, humor is to awareness of the potential for disaster, whether the bureaucratic kind, which produces endless rounds of senseless avoidance mechanisms, or the class-oriented ones in which the gatekeepers are frustration and potential menace.

Humor is the edgy knowledge of the secret behind the euphemism, the understanding that passing over means death, that not now can mean never, that ethnic cleansing can mean genocide, that love can mean the amount of a dowry, and that world peace means black, tan, and Asian races must recognize the inherent superiority of white races.  Humor can also mean such concepts as racial purity or the trickle-down theory of economics.

Humor is an awareness that definitions and boundaries change, depending on who is in power.  If the inner child, yearning for recess, exemplifies comedy, the cynic, who has already sensed what new disaster can be visited upon us, is the poster child of humor.  

This cynic may have a few illusions left,  folded away like the twenty-dollar bill folded into the boot of a homeless person, but on second thought might tape the twenty to the foot, mindful that even a pair of boots as old as these could become a target of opportunity for someone with no shoes.

We do not laugh so much at humor as we do when we experience comedy.  Instead, we're more apt to release a snicker or two into the atmosphere, a grudging recognition of congratulation that there are no mosquitoes yet.  Never mind that there have never been mosquitoes here, mind instead that when they come, they'll have a field day.

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