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Humor and the Belly Laugh: How Slapstick Makes Us Laugh
I almost peed my pants
I was choking on my food, with tears of laughter, as I read the scenario and responses posed by Terri Meredith in the ‘humor’ department of entertainment. Although this question was posed 13 months ago, it is as funny today as I’m sure it was one year ago. That’s the great thing about humor-it doesn’t fade with time or lose its ‘in’ moment. True humor can live forever.
The Genius of Chaplin
And a hardy, har har, to you too
Do you ever find yourself in a humorous or silly situation in which you wondered how you landed there? Well, Dame of Comedy, Lucille Ball was famous for taking an ordinary event, i.e. a candy factory, and turning it into an epic slapstick situation.
Some people do not care for slapstick. Perhaps they feel it is ‘stupid’ and below their intelligence. I feel that way about the Three Stooges. I don’t find anything funny about three grown men knocking each other on the head or twisting each other’s noses, which is ongoing throughout these classic episodes, yet my father, brothers, and millions of other people would disagree with me. So, it’s a matter of preference: I find their antics offensive; others find them hilarious. Just as I love Jerry Lewis’s old movies, as well as Lucille Balls predicaments, and others find these comedians boring.
I have my theory about what makes slapstick tickle our funny bone and that is the identification that we find in the presentation. We connect with the circumstance that the buffoon finds himself in and, although we can laugh and point fingers at the absurdity of the exaggerated event, thinking that we could never be in that situation , yet, there are times that we do find ourselves in what I call, ‘the Lucy Ricardo’ moment.
Charlie Chaplin is deemed the comedic genius of the silent films changing the direction of comedy with his famous featured films: The Gold Rush, The Circus, City Lights and Modern Times. Using mime, gags and slapstick, Chaplin created the character: The Tramp and entertained audiences for decades. His early influence was Gabrielle Maximillien Leuvielle, or ‘Max Linder’, which was his stage name, a French comedian born into a wealthy Catholic family.
Other great comedians during the early and mid twentieth century were: Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Harry Langdon, Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.
Humor Example #1
What makes slapstick funny? The absurdity of the situation in which the characters find themselves and the depth of the trouble that unfolds. It is never a simply solved problem. Rather, the character will try to ‘outsmart’ the antagonist and thus, like the stain on the carpet that keeps spreading, get her into a bigger mess.
I go to the bank where I enter the ‘drive thru’ service. I remove the tube for my deposit and it slips from my hand. It was a ‘Lucy Ricardo’ moment as I froze in my seat gazing down from the window. Attempting to open my door, it hits the metal tube carrier because I had driven too close, (for obvious reasons). I decide I will have to drive forward, exit the car and retrieve it that way. As I do so, I hear the tire hit the tube and it goes flying across the drive and onto the grass next to the building. Again, that deadpan stare and a slow turn to look at the long line of cars behind me watching…and waiting. As I hurry to pick the plastic tube up I start to giggle, realizing that all of the bank tellers are staring out of their picture window watching my antics. I can’t stop giggling because of the absurdity of the situation. I don’t bother backing my car up to complete the transaction, but merely walk to the tube carrier, insert the tube and finish my banking outside of my car, while waving to the ladies in the bank.
Always looking for a laugh:
Golden Moments in Comedy
In each of our lives we have our comedic moments. Sometimes it is an individual within the family who seems to be the ‘clown’ getting the intentional laugh from other family members, like my three year old grandson, Alex, who apparently has acquired Uncle George’s ability to be the ‘class clown’ even before he enters school!
Sometimes it appears as if a whole family is involved with situational antics, such as the wonderfully endearing Griswold family, led through situation after situation by Papa Griswold, Chevy Chase. In my marriage to husband, John, there was never a dull moment and he fondly dubbed us, ‘The Retardos ’, a play off of the ‘I Love Lucy’ sitcom: the Ricardo family.
In response to Terri’s question: ‘What is the funniest thing you’ve witnessed, but couldn’t laugh outright because it would have been rude.’ I would have to say is the story about my husband, bowling, and Michigan winter.
Humor Example #2
It was a typical winter storm in Michigan. Freezing rain had been falling steadily in late afternoon and covered the ground in a thin layer. I was grateful the kids had already arrived from school and I was finishing my shift. As I pulled into the driveway and precariously made my way up the front walk with the mail, I was grateful there was nowhere to go that evening.
Shortly after I had started dinner, my husband pulled up and came into the house through the garage entrance, avoiding the slippery steps of the front porch. Before I could greet him with his meal he swept through the kitchen, gave me a quick peck on the cheek and, with bowling balls in tow, headed for the door.
An avid bowling enthusiast, John was a big guy and he carried the double bowling bag with ease. He was also on three leagues a week and I would frequently threaten him that one day he would be driving up to the house and find those bowling balls rolling down the driveway and into the street. He would just laugh-he had a wonderful, raucous laugh.
An argument ensued between us as I warned him of the storm conditions, pleaded for him to stay safe and cancel, and suggested that no one is going out in this weather-these are emergency road conditions.
He wasn’t buying any of my sensibility attempting to convince me of the valiant gesture he was making for the team. “They’re counting on me”; “Of course the alley will be open”; and, (my personal favorite), “Everyone’s going to be there”, what was he, twelve?
I had already changed from my work clothes into my pajamas and robe and had been looking forward to a nice, family evening snuggled around our fireplace. But, before I could warn my hardheaded husband about the ice on the front steps he had stepped onto the porch.
“Look out…” were all the words I could yell watching in horror as his foot hit the ice.
Do you remember the old Road Runner cartoons where the anvil comes slowly falling from the sky? It was like a Fred Flintstone cartoon, (John being Fred, of course). He took one step, lost his footing; his legs flipped out from under him and for a brief second his two hundred and fifty pound frame hovered in the air before landing smack down on the cold concrete, his head narrowly missing the edge of the step.
Running to his aid in my bathrobe and slippers, I attempted to suppress the laughter welling up inside of me as I pictured the hilarious scene I had just witnessed. Neighbors stopped chipping away at the ice in their driveways to watch as I struggled, slipping and sliding, to help John stand, now moaning, “Oh, my back…Oh, my head”.
I did not fare well with the suppression and all one could hear was, “oh, John…giggle, giggle… are you alright…giggle, giggle.” He was mad at me about that for a long time.
Soaking wet, we finally got into the house, where I checked him over for any head trauma. I offered to drive him to the ER for an X-Ray, but he refused and told me he was going upstairs to change out of his wet clothes leaving me, once again, to dish out his meal. Just as I set the plate on the table and turned to call him to eat he was entering the kitchen dressed in dry clothes and jacket, bowling bag in hand.