THE BIRTH OF HUMOR
My daughter is seven. She’s very much into telling jokes. They can be ones her friends told her first and she brought home from school, they can be from TV or they can be from joke books she gets at the library. Her favorite jokes, though, are ones she makes up.
The ones she made up herself tend to be the most creative, but also the most, um, existential. The premise is usually familiar enough. “Why did the chicken cross the road?” for example. But in her comedy, the poor chicken ain’t never gonna make it to the other side. The punchline is always something like, “Because he was on your head” or “Because the other chicken was chasing him” or “Tuesday.”
Someday, of course, she’ll figure out how to construct a coherent setup and punchline that actually can coexist. She’s pretty good with one-liners, so there’s hope.
But watching this evolution makes me think about the origins, lifespan and death of humor in a life. We all start out, probably, where my daughter is as kids. At some point, our humor molds to fit whatever we find funny – Shakespeare or Monty Python or Jon Stewart or whoever the hot new comedian is. We cruise through the main, let’s say, laughing years of life and end up at the end our lives grousing that nobody is funny anymore and hasn’t been since, I dunno, Jack Benny or Don Rickles.
And why do I think Stephen Colbert is funny, but you’d rather watch “Family Guy”? If laughter is the best medicine AND the universal language, why don’t we all think the same things are funny?
Why does everyone love a comedy, but comedy never wins an Oscar or a big book award? I can assure you it’s just as difficult to write and produce as drama is.
I have lots of questions. I have few answers. Well, maybe one:
Pull my finger.