Thursday, February 11, 2016

Humor Me on This

Because you are so fond of the pun, which is a play on words, or using one word for effect because it sounds like another, you have been told any number of times that the pun is the lowest form of humor. Precisely because you seem able with some ease to think in puns, almost without trying, far be it for you to think the pun is so low on the scale.

You don't in fact have a personal candidate for the lowest unless it is the deliberately derogatory joke used to demean a race or ethnicity. There is no question in your mind that the payoff of a joke comes when a victim is revealed. Another way to put that proposition is that victimless humor is impossible. Someone has to pay, individual, institution, or type of individual or institution.

You give higher marks to the humorist who offers herself/himself up as the butt of the joke. Lower, but by no means inconsequential marks go to a character type. Middling marks go to directing the payoff against a specific individual unless that individual has gone out of his or her way to pay fast and loose with the social contract. Most of us enjoy seeing such persons taken down into the basement of humiliation.

A persistent favorite of yours is a character whose abuse of the social contract is not all that bad and who himself seems to parallel an archetypal character made famous by the noted nineteenth century autodidact, Joel Chandler Harris, who has left us with Brer Fox. 

This great favorite of yours, the cartoon character, Wile E. Coyote, is so doomed to failure and humiliation that you are forced over the line of considering him a self-serving predator, himself an archetype of focus and determination. Knowing his fate, you are even more drawn to him; he has a good deal in common with Sisyphus, who, not by accident, happens to be another favorite of yours.

The coyote also causes you to think, once again in a not unkindly way,of another individual, himself driven by the single goal of pursuing a great white whale to its death. Although there is a kind of humor inherent in the characters of Brer Fox and Wile E. Coyote, the closest you are able to come to humor with Capt. Ahab is irony. a quality which, from time to time, you find yourself placing among the highest plateaus of humor while, at other times, dismissing from the humor sand box entirely.

You still have time left to work this conundrum out, and may do so quicker than you'd thought, thanks to your present moment dealing with two other fictional characters, Gregor Samsa, and his father. Perhaps your thoughts of Samsa will lead you to think Captain Ahab's plight is humorous because Samsa's, having in the first paragraph of his venture turned into a large bug, surely is. 

Your reading of Samsa in action allows you to see him as having effected the overnight change from human to bug as an elaborate and brilliant revenge fantasy against his father, for whom he has exquisitely similar feelings to those his creator, Franz Kafka, had toward his own father.

Among your favorite levels of humor is the sort where the victim may well be the reader as the writer whisks the covering off the enormous elephant in the living room. One form of humor might evolve when one character asks another, "Is that your elephant over there?" To which the other replies, "What elephant?"

If we've seen one of the characters struggling to get the elephant into the living room, then cover it, we're in on the conspiracy. If we begin with dialogue questioning the existence much less the presence of the elephant, we're not entirely sure where the payoff is directed, who the intended victim is.

You not only enjoy such narratives because of your belief that you must keep your own focus, lest you unwittingly volunteer for the job of goat or butt, you enjoy the puzzle-like approach to discovery. Who do we trust? Are you making wise use of the details, or are you being led toward erroneous conclusions because of your bias and potential blind spots?

Best of all, you enjoy the humor where readers miss the clues, take offense, and in so doing elect themselves resident goat. The challenge for you, when reading such material is the same as the challenge awaiting you with the Sunday crossword puzzle. You get it or you don't. The learning possibilities are endless, both for the reader who takes all matter with great seriousness, and the writer, who has had to learn somewhere along the way, hasn't he, where the details end and the story begins.


No comments: