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Friday, April 04, 2008

Got Wodehouse?



I don't think you understand humor.

That's not a knock on you, of course. I'm not sure anyone understands humor.

Let's say you go to a comedy club. There's a guy saying silly things or behaving obstreperously or whatever. He throws out a few tidbits, you begin to laugh a bit, then he begins the next joke while the first one is still reverberating. You get up on a sort of wave and ride it. That fellow? He doesn't understand humor either.

Jokes are not humor, really. You go to the doctor; he hits your knee with a little rubber hammer; your leg jerks forward. That's the medical equivalent of a joke.

Medical school for the comedian consists of hitting you with the hammer in the head, then the kidneys, stomping on your toe, eventually trying a shovel or an ice-pick instead of a rubber hammer, until he gets the desired reaction. When all else fails, he starts waling on himself. Finally something works, mysteriously to all involved. He writes that down, then does it every night, three shows, until he's dead or you are. If you think I'm exaggerating, how else do you explain sitting on the couch at Oprah's or Letterman's weeping and begging for forgiveness for your sidesplitting comedy routine? You know, just blue-skying here! The one that was sidesplitting in the mirror and career-ending in the club. You get tired of talking to Al Sharpton or the police and you think maybe if you're not allergic to white greasepaint, perhaps a nice mime act might keep you in booze and cigarettes for a few years.

If the audience is lucky, the comedian has a little sense, and like a farmer searching for truffles, he doesn't waste his time looking for valuable things in places they are unlikely to be. If you see a truffle hunter having his pig sniff around a paved road looking for the beastly little things, you've just seen a bad comedian. The majority of bad comedians try to tell you that looking for humor where it ain't is absurd, and so is funny. Well, Carrot Top has to eat too, but I'm not interested. A true humorist would have the farmer, when queried, say he searched for truffles in the road because he's just read a Steven Covey book and realized he could double his output by using the light from the streetlamps to search at night, too. In the woods, he had to go home at dusk.

True comedy is telling a story in an amusing way. You put jokes in them like diamonds in a tiara, and have the actors apologize for telling them. But never forget it's the broad wearing the tiara that's the real story, folks. If she's not a princess, she might as well be wearing a bucket on her head.

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse. Book it. Done.

5 comments:

Pastor_Jeff said...

Great source material given to two excellent comedic actors. The whole series is a treasure.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

My Shakespeare professor taught me the elements of humor are: surprise, exaggeration and reversal. That pretty much took the fun out of it for me right there.

Anwyn said...

My brain didn't process anything past "Fry and Laurie!!!!!" kind of like a dog doesn't process past "SNACK" ... I'll have to watch and read again later. :)

Thud said...

Quality viewing that I'm afraid wouldn't be made today...not inclusive enough in modern nulabour britain...as if comedy doesnt include us all.

SippicanCottage said...

Hi Thud- I thought the producers of the series took some liberties with the stories, but on the whole it was a tremendous success.

Fry's Jeeves is like The Three Stooge's Curley. He is the character you're immediately captivated with. But I've watched that series dozens of times now. I've grown to appreciate Laurie's effort much more over time.