What It Takes To Make You Laugh

Getting you to laugh is serious business in this country. Almost anyone can make you cringe at their pain, but not just anyone can make you laugh at their humor. When you watch Shakespeare’s Caesar crumple from the blades being plunged into his body, you feel pain; when Jerry Seinfeld tells a joke you may or may not feel like laughing. Be it a standup like Jimmy Fallon or a Muppets movie by Jim Henson or a Peanuts comicstrip by Charles Schulz, the classic warning is true: “Tragedy is easy, comedy is hard!”

Why is this?

The recently deceased hit author Tom Clancy said it well: “The difference between fiction and reality is fiction has to make sense.” In the real world, there is so much non-sense it is hard for a comic to select exactly what will get a laugh. Bob Newhart once told me: “I don’t say funny things; I just see the world in funny ways.” His friend and opposite, Don Rickles, finds humor in his rape & pillage attack on pompous personalities as does Lisa Lampanelli and Mike Epps. Other professional comics like Bill Cosby and Billy Crystal take the time to tell stories. More politically inclined comics like Bill Maher, Jon Stewart and Lewis Black wryly suck the humor out of the madness in current headlines. Red Skelton was a gentle clown about his world, George Carlin an angry analyst about his, and Jack Benny samply made fun out of having others make fun of him.

Pomposity is always a guaranteed source of laughs, as we feel badly if an old woman slips on a banana peel, but laugh easily if it’s a bejeweled queen. Wife and ethnic jokes were once funny; today we’ve been educated right out of their once-upon-a-time humor. As for dark comedy, it’s grown in favor especially among the young whose taste for guffaws is no longer as socially sensitive as earlier generations.

So, what makes us laugh? If anyone really knew, everyone would be headlining in Vegas. Until that time, just look in the mirror. Especially just before breakfast. Now THAT’S funny….

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