from last week sparked a lively debate on comedy and how it changes with each generation. Comedy is a product of the times, reflecting our attitudes and sensibilities. Millennials have a different worldview than we Baby Boomers (or, if I want to lie about my age, we Gen-X’ers) have.
On a Sirius/XM comedy channel recently I heard an old Steve Martin routine. All he had to say was “Ex-cuuuuse meeeee” and the audience was pulverized in laughter. I thought, what if some 19 year-old is listening to this for the first time? My guess is they’d say, “what the fuck do all these idiots find so funny?” And if I said, “But it really was!” they could justifiably say, “Why?” I would then try to explain that he was goofing on the form, and his exaggerated persona was part satire/part silliness. He wasn’t doing “jokes” like standard comedians of that era, he had created an original character. The 19 year-old would nod politely and think I was a hundred years old.
Hey, my parents' generation thought Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis were a comic revelation (“the bees knees?”). Their schtick would receive howls of laughter. I just scratch my head. To me they’re painful.
Like with fashion, sometimes comedy styles come back into vogue. My generation rediscovered the Marx Brothers movies of the ‘30s and ‘40s. We loved their anarchy and insanity. Every generation following mine found them tiresome.
And then there is the comedy you loved at the time but now can’t understand why. LAUGH IN is an example for me. This was the number one show in America in the late ‘60s. Like everyone else in the country I roared. Now I watch clips of episodes and they’re more excruciating than early Jerry Lewis. Horrible old Vaudeville clams that make my teeth rattle. How was I EVER so unsophisticated that I found this show funny? But I was and I did.
But if comedy evolves how do you explain comedy that continues to be funny generation after generation? How do you explain I LOVE LUCY? Or MASH? CHEERS? THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW? Monty Python? Richard Pryor? George Carlin? Loony Tunes?
And yet, they all still work. Now of course there are going to be people that don’t respond to some of these perennials. I expect a bunch of comments from readers saying “I don’t find I LOVE LUCY funny” and “Loony Tunes are stupid.” But IN GENERAL, these franchises continue to stand the test of time.
Sometimes things are just… funny. You can’t explain it. And even if you don’t think you’re going to find something funny you wind up laughing anyway. You can’t help it. I’m going to try to leave you with an example.
This is from Jonathan & Darlene Edwards. (Really Jo Stafford & Paul Weston). See if you can make it through this song without laughing. I couldn’t.