Thursday, December 07, 2006

More on Funniness

The discussion Christopher Hitchens's "Women Ain't Funny. Smooches, Bitch" story provoked suggests to me that there is a market (nonpaying, sadly) for a longer post on funniness in general. Not that I plan to write it, but I'm throwing out the idea for some enterprising blogger to pick up and run with. And here is the outline for the post:

First, make a distinction between being funny (as in a comedian) and laughing at something as being funny. The two are different things, yanno.

Second, make a note of the fact that people laugh at very different things. Racists laugh at jokes about minorities. Misogynists laugh at jokes about women. Smart folk laugh at clever jokes. Lots of people laugh at situational comedy but for different reasons. Think of the Borat movie. People laughing in the movie theater may not be laughing at same things at all. Some (gasp!) may actually laugh "on the other side" so to speak. People in the countries I've lived in don't laugh at all the same things, because jokes depend on context and shared history and many other details which don't carry over very well.

Third, discuss the hostility underlying a lot of humor, and explain why certain types of jokes will not often be told in the presence of women, and even why some men think women don't have a sense of humor. For example, the so-called dirty jokes. Not because they are dirty jokes, but because they are jokes based on hostility towards women, and women might not find that funny. In a reversal, note also that women might not tell certain types of jokes in the presence of men, and that this does not mean those types of jokes are not told.

Fourth, talk about the privileging the whole humor discussion has given to "jokes", the kinds of things which require a long preparatory statement and then some sort of a reversal. A very linear and in some ways a very predictable type of joke, and one which falls flat a lot. Other types of humor are every bit as important in my view.

There should be more points to the outline but that should get someone going.

Something else that this discussion brought to my mind is how I have to fight the humor wars with one arm tied behind my back, if I want to avoid insulting a whole bunch of people in some form of hostility-based humor. It isn't just humor wars that handicap me in these ways: Just imagine a reversal of Hitchens's column, something that would bash all men while pretending to praise them. Such a reversal would never be published in Vanity Fair.

Which is funny, I guess.