Why Funny Matters
I want to take you on a little trip through the land of Funny as it were. I hope you have some time for reading this because the videos and stuff I picked have more to say than you might think when at first you see what they are. My intent is to unravel "funny" as it means to me, to give a glimpse of it as it reflects on conditions of humanity, on philosophy, history, family and art. Ironically, I doubt what I am going to write, as in actually type into this, will make you laugh. That is the work of the videos, links and things I am going to quote, and why you should watch them as they come up.
Funny matters. Funny is a tie that binds people in many ways. People who make us laugh improve us. People who take the time to make us laugh, as in point their wit right at you or at me, take the time to lean into our world and craft a moment of joy for us. They care and they want us to know. People like that matter. Now, I'm not talking all types of funny, but I probably do mean most. I mean, there's funny, hah hah, and then there's funny that counts for something more. The kind of funny that touches you, moves you or says something powerful. That's the kind of funny that has always fascinated me.
Funny as Love
An example of early funny in my life was my great grandma McAlpine, Grandma Mac we called her. Grandma Mac took the time to be funny for us, my sister and I, when we were around three, four and five.
Grandma Mac was like a thousand years old from where my sister and I sat because, well, she was born in 1890. Her skin was a puddle of translucent parchment, mottled with spots in all shades of brown and hanging loosely from bones you could almost see. Her nose was a tiny thing, porous looking and bright pink at the tip like a frozen strawberry almost thawed. Her face was blotchy and her hair was short, curled gray and thinning atop her head which always jiggled a little even when she was sitting still.
Whenever we went to visit my mother's parents, Grandma Mac was there. We were the only children in the family at the time, so you can imagine how boring those visits got to be. Except for great Grandma Mac. In the whole houseful of adults - aunts, uncles, great aunts, great uncles, parents, grandparents and whoever else - Grandma Mac was the one who took the most time to make us laugh.
Whenever we'd arrive at my grandparent's house (maternal grandparent's not great Gradma Mac's) for some holiday or another, first thing we children had to do was to give hugs and kisses all around. This ritual was strictly enforced by our parents. Well Grandma Mac was always sitting in the same place, sort of propped up on a couch in the front room, every time we arrived. My sister and I would always try to get to her as quick as we could because she was funny and she always gave us cash. Then, she'd hug us and, making sure my mom wasn't looking, she'd stick her dentures out of her mouth a little ways, just stuff them half-sideways past her lips with this sort of clunky wet plastic sound as they clicked off of each other noisily. God that was hilarious and my mom would turn and see us laughing our asses off. Of course by that time Grandma Mac was sitting innocent and mature on the couch and just smiling to my mom with a perfect, straight toothed smile, her dentures perfectly back in place. My mom would tell her, "Don't give those kids money, you'll spoil them," so as soon as my mom left, Grandma Mac would give us each an extra ten dollar bill.
Grandma Mac was in her nineties, so she couldn't get around or mess with us too much. But Grandma Mac was always watching us, my sister and I, and whenever we came scampering into a room where Grandma Mac was, her pink rimmed eyes would dart around the room from behind her glasses, checking for witnesses, and then out came the clicking teeth. We'd scream in delighted horror and go on about our play. Even at dinner time she'd do it to us and we'd end up getting warnings about how children should be "seen and not heard" from our dad because we were snorting too loudly into our napkins every time she busted out her teeth. There's just something hilarious about a ninety-four year old woman flashing her false teeth at you from between fancy candles and across a luxurious thanksgiving spread. There's something that says, "I love you and I know that you are here." That's the kind of funny I am talking about.
Funny and Charismatic even if Ridiculous
Funny as Confidence
Funny also seemed to me a sign of something I should aspire to. Funny people started to appear as I moved through my childhood years that had huge impacts on how I viewed the world. I have some of these funny people embedded in the core of who I am. People like the crew at Warner Brothers who put out all the Bugs Bunny cartoons. Bugs Bunny and Foghorn Leghorn made me laugh, and in doing so, suggested what confidence and charisma should look like in the person I hoped I'd grow up to be.
(The clip below--from "Bully for Bugs"--illustrates Funny as a means for dealing with adversity. Bugs is flawed, makes mistakes, is over-confident, loses battles, but NEVER loses his confidence or sense of Funny. Who doesn't wish they could be as cool as this? Frankly, viewed properly the cartoon this clip is taken from is a metaphor for life.)
"Stop steaming up my tail."
Steve Martin could tell a story, even a dumb one, and make it funny.
Eddy Murphie is a master story teller (and he cusses, so get over it).
Funny as a Means of Delivery
Other funny people during those formative teen years for me were comedians. Steve Martin's "Wild and Crazy Guy" and "Let's Get Small" cassette tapes served me over an entire summer in a capacity other kids saved for Queen or Kool and the Gang. While my peers were doing chores or hanging out by a pool to "Celebration," me and my best friend Chris were listening to Steve Martin. About that time I found Eddie Murphy and Tim Stivers too. My sense of timing when I speak to this day has echoes of the timing and delivery learned from those three guys.
Funny as Philosophy
Today I still look to comedians to help me spot what's really going on. Comedians have a way of seeing that I think is valuable to society. Not all of them mind you, but there are many who do what I consider to be some pretty good philosophy, the late George Carlin high among them. I learned a lot about questioning what you hear and see from these people, still do learn how to see. "Seeing" is not just something you do with your eyes. Studying comedy is enlightening, and besides, I really like to laugh.
Funny as Immortality
People that could make me laugh, people that are funny, have had a huge impact on my writing life. If anyone's seen many of my hubs, they know that the names of guys like Oscar Wilde, Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain come up a lot. Turns out that the confidence and charisma that resonated with me in characters like Bugs Bunny and Foghorn Leghorn manifests itself as genius in men like these. That's when I began to realize that funny was powerful. When I read the transcripts of Wilde's trial for indecency I almost died laughing (which I think he would approve of even though he got screwed over so hardcore). Funny wasn't just how he wrote at the world, funny was how he lived. Same goes for Benjamin Franklin. Read his autobiography, it's hilarious. And Mark Twain? Wow, was that guy ever NOT funny?
I am a great & sublime fool. But then I am God's fool, & all His works must be contemplated with respect. - Mark Twain
Come on, how is that not the perfect attitude?
Humor and its twin daughters, sarcasm and satire, have not only served the cause of society for eons, they give authors immortality. Think of Candide, by Voltaire or "A Modest Proposal" by Jonathan Swift. Everyone has read those. Everyone. Think about that. These guys were so funny that not only did their wit impact the world, we still read them today. Everyone has read them. That's freaking amazing. That's immortality.
(If you haven't read them, both those links go to full text versions. Not to mention the prices in the Amazon capsule are like for a penny and three dollars on this stuff. I don't expect you to read them now, but you should read them. They will improve you a tiny bit as a human being. Funny like that becomes a part of you.)
Funny as Genius
Shakespeare is the one that brought it home to me, belatedly I admit. I never knew how funny that guy was. Frankly, teaching Shakespeare in high school is being done so poorly now. I think some of the teachers don't even like him anymore; it's like they don't understand just what that guy really did. I remember liking Falstaff well enough my junior year (a kinship I still hold, even more so today... three cheers for Falstaff and three more for old Sir Toby too) but we really didn't get that much. My kids are getting even less. But Shakespeare has had a lot of impact on me, and I believe will continue to do so increasingly over the rest of my life as I begin to fathom more and more of what he did and how funny he could be, how deeply funny. Many of you know I love to drop the occasional rant in hubpages, and some of you even think they're funny too. Hah. Here's funny:
This is one line from Much Ado About Nothing, (to catch you up, the character Benedick is ranting about how much he hates the Lady Beatrice):
. . . she speaks poniards, and every word stabs: if her breath were as terrible as her terminations, there were no living near her; she would infect to the north star. I would not marry her though she were endowed with all that Adam had left him before he transgressed: she would have made Hercules have turned spit; yea, and have cleft his club to make the fire too. Come, talk not of her: you shall find her the infernal Até in good apparel. I would to God some scholar would conjure her; for certainly, while she is here, a man may live as quiet in hell as in a sanctuary; and people sin upon purpose, because they would go thither; so, indeed, all disquiet, horror, and perturbation follows her.
Now THAT is a rant. My rants got nothing on this. I mean seriously... "A man may live as quiet in hell as in a sanctuary; and people sin upon purpose, because they would go thither?" How pissed off do you have to be at someone to commit sin just so you can go to Hell to be away from her? And the rest, the allusions up there, Hercules, Até and Adam's lost paradise and all the ramifications so invoked, all those ideas unfold into how much rancor Benedick has worked up, the concepts inflating the volume of this rant so amazingly it's truly awesome. Who thinks of something that awesome to say in a rant? Answer: A freaking genius. Shakespeare is so damn funny I can't believe I didn't worship that dude when I was younger. The only thing that pisses me off is that I begin to realize I'm probably missing 90% of his jokes out of ignorance. (God, I hope not more than that.)
Funny as Power
Plus, I learned in one of my college Shakespeare classes about "the fool" in history. I always thought that the "fool" or "jester" was a clown. You know, like a circus act or something to sing songs and amuse people. Well, that's not really true. That's what happens to us when we watch too much TV. The fool used to be one of the most influential people in the kingdom. A fool was a person of such respect that he was the singular person in the land allowed to criticize the king. Think about that. In times where kings could just have your head lopped off with a wave or their hand, and often did, these men, rulers by "divinely wrought" power, understood the need to have someone willing to tell them the truth.
Fools were not stupid or clumsy or dumb, at least not usually. They were masters of tact and perspicacity. They were insightful and worldly and had to be very, very wise. They had to find ways to speak to a king in the guise of entertainment and to convey with a laugh things that, frequently, the king didn't want to hear. But things all kings, or at least most, understood they needed to hear. Fools could say things advisors wouldn't dare, because fools could make it seem absurd. Of course it was just a joke. Right? But the king only laughed on the outside. He was paying very close attention because the trusted fool was showing him the mind of the people and the attitudes from abroad.
This is a great version. I watch it a few times every year.
Great fools actually travelled from kingdom to kingdom and were welcomed by many kings into their court. They were necessary and held in very high regard. Read Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, or check it out at a playhouse or on DVD. Watch what Feste, the fool, really does. Watch who really is in control of things in that play. Shakespeare didn't just make Feste like that randomly. That's what a good fool did.
(Watch this clip. Olivia is essentially a "king" in this story. Observe what Feste, the bald dude, can get away with that no one else can. The stuffy guy in the suit next to her is supposedly a trusted advisor, but look what liberties the fool can take. Look at his power.)
... plus Helena Bonham Carter is hawt...
Funny as a Way of Life
Anyway, my point is to say that humor started out as a signpost of love in my life. The people that seemed to take the most interest in me were the ones who took the time to find me in life's singular moments and craft a laugh for me. Both my grandpas and especially my great Grandma Mac. My mom is pretty funny too. All of them were funny when I was little and as I was growing up, and they put the need to be surrounded by funny into my very soul.
Laughter was the soundtrack of my youth, and it was wielded well by images - cartoon and real life - that seemed in control no matter how bad a situation might have become: how much difference is there between Bugs Bunny dealing with the bull and Winston Churchill dealing with WWII? (I wasn't alive during WWII, but I hope you see my point.)
And now, through comedy clubs and literature and history, I seek the sound of laughter as a way of finding out what counts. Listen to what's funny and you will often find the truth, if not all of it, at least an important part.
Laugh at yourself. You are funny. If you don't think so, you're missing almost everything.
And besides, funny feels good. When my kids are down or feeling anxious in some way, I try any way I can to make them laugh. Just to make them smile is the greatest reward I ever get. And they make me laugh all the time too. They are funny. Funny is why we love kittens and puppies as much as we do. Funny matters.
Find someone you love and make them laugh. It's like hugging them from inside.
Links: Hubs that have made me laugh and random other stuff.
- "Ok Ladies, What's in your Bra?" by Rochelle Frank
I'm sorry but animals in your bra is funny. Given Rochelle's awesome writing style, this is just a laugh out loud hub.
- "Top 10 Hairstyles to Die For...or From" by B.T. Evilpants
Another funny hub from the jackalope. Product of a hubmob project, this hub turned out to be freaking fall down funny.
- "How NOT to euthanize a hamster" by Spryte
Another hubmob inspired product, this is just flat hilarious. This is what I was talking about when I wrote that "funny" is about human experience.
- "New Apple iBoob Breast Implant Set to Explode!" by Christoph Reilly
iBoobs and, even funnier, iPads. This is nothing more than sick knavery, and Reilly needs to be slapped, but it's still funny. (I love when I get to pretend I have the high ground.)
- Night Elf Cyber in the Tramway
This is for World of Warcraft players who might have missed this gem. If you don't or haven't played WOW, you probably won't get a lot of this.