Monday, October 19, 2009

As funny as a funeral

I'm rather wrapped up in family disasters (my mother remains in a comatose state after a stroke) and not as focussed on writing or replying as I might be. I thought I'd turn to pet subject of mine, which is rather appropriate under the circumstances. Many people have tried to analyse humor and what makes us find things funny. What makes us laugh. One of the curious things coming out of all of that is that laughter is a reaction to the innappropriate. It's one of our ways of dealing with what should not be - whether it is a word meaning something inappropriate, or a word meaning something else besides the contextual setting, or a man walking toward the open manhole... (we know he is going to fall) and stepping straight over it and slipping on the banana peel on the far side. The predictable may be delightful, but it isn't funny. Which falls in line with my thesis - the funniest books - or the funniest books you remember are the ones where laughter is not constant. Where in fact -- like ADOLF HITLER, HIS PART IN MY DOWNFALL the story is quite riddled with tragedy. If you think about it, some of the great humor writers - Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Tom Sharpe - have elements of pathos and in the latter cases some real drama too. Ie the books run an emotional gamut and continue to surprise by shifting between the various 'expectations'. It's a hard trick to master. It was the failure to recognise this as a necessity that led - at least in part - to the 'humor collapse' of the late 80's - when from every publisher having jumped on the bandwagon and bought a bunch of 'humor' which in general was yawn-worthy (one man's inappropriate is another's boredom?) has meant that humor - which outsells everything else 6 ways to breakfast, lunch and supper WHEN it sells - has dropped off the aquisition radar.
It'll stage a comeback eventually, and we just hope that value of pathos in humor is appreciated this time around.
So who is funny? And why do you find them funny.

14 comments:

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

I've been following your posts about your mother, Dave. Just letting you know.

Douglas Adams, Pratchett and Tom Sharpe. Yes.

Saki, especially his story 'Shredni Vashtar' (spelling?) about a boy and his cruel Aunt. (Saki was raised by a pair of cruel Aunts, who would arrange an outing just so they could punish him by not taking him. Very Victorian.)

Fritz Leiber's 'Isek of the Jug', a satire on religion.

And I read the original Witches of Karess books and loved them.

Humour is a very Tetchy creature.

RJ_CruzeJr said...

I think that, in its most extreme form, laughter is a defense mechanism that gives the body an alternative to running through the streets screaming its lungs raw.

Some of the most humorous stuff I've run across have been Sir PTerry, Douglas Adams, Spider Robinson, and these Flint/Freer books about rats and pyramids

C Kelsey said...

Oh, if I want to be aboslutely certain of getting a laugh out of a book it will be by Ringo and Taylor, Bujold's Vorkosigan saga, or some guy named Freer. ;)

I'm sorry to hear about your mom Dave. I'll keep you and your family in my thoughts.

Anonymous said...

One of the funniest books I've read in a long time was Christopher Moore's A Dirty Job. I haven't picked up another one by him for fear it might not be as good. Weird, huh?

I also love Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. It's suspense, but it's funny stuff. The main character is adorable and well intentioned, but manages to screw things up terribly sometimes.

I believe that people find funniest what they can relate to. Most of us are well intentioned, but yet we screw things up on a regular basis. While we don't think it's funny, those standing around us may. Funny is a matter of perspective.

I personally love dry and sarcastic humor. I don't write humor as well as I'd like, but I sure envy those who do.

And, also, Dave, good wishes for you, your Mom and your family.

Linda Davis

John Lambshead said...

Dear Dave
Sorry to hear about your mother. My father went the same way.
John

matapam said...

Jim Butcher. Magical battle to the death - against the Billy Goats Gruff.

Janet Evanovich. Tense kidnapping, and the Saint Bernard eats the computer chip they need for the ransom.

Dave Freer said...

Thanks guys. This is taking 8-12 hours out of my day (5 hours drive) so forgive me not answering everyone. It's emotionally draining and I could use a few laughs...
St Bernards can eat computer chips... But a labrador would be expected to.

matapam said...

We understand, Dave.

JE has an true dog owners appreciation of what dogs will eat. If you need a fast funny read, she's highly recommended. Nothing to strain the brain, pure candy.

Kate said...

Pratchett, obviously. He's got a way of looking at things sideways and getting to the core of all sorts of things at the same time.

There's this fellow called Freer who's pretty good, too, and some writer by the name of Hoyt who doesn't write humor per se, but manages a lot of very funny writing anyway.

Tom Holt when he's on form, particularly the earlier books (Expecting Someone Taller), although not nearly as good as that Freer fellow.

Roald Dahl has some good ones, in the Victorian Grotesque style (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory etc).

Of course, one person's funny is another person's boring - or worse. I can't watch Mr Bean, for instance. It's like fingernails on a blackboard. But I adored Blackadder the Second and Blackadder the Fourth. And if I see in a book or anywhere else that someone is being set up to be made a fool of (as opposed to the normal lack of hap), it's lost me. I want to laugh with the characters, not at them.

Dave - humor is a way of taking the edge off the bad. My thoughts are with you and your family. When you're finished with them, could you please send them back? Good ones are so difficult to get these days :)

Amanda Green said...

Most of my choices have already been named and discussed -- Pratchett, Freer, Hoyt, Evanovich. Others I laugh at are the early Diane Mott Davidson "Goldy" mysteries and Anne George's mysteries (Murder on a Bad Hair Day, Murder on a Girls Night Out, etc). Evanovich, Davidson and George are light reads, quick reads and the sort I want those days I don't feel good and don't want to tax what few brains cells are occupied. Pratchett and Freer are the ones I study as much as I enjoy because their craft is so far beyond where I am and where I can every hope to be. Hoyt, well, what can I say? I want to be Sarah when I grow up as a writer ;-)

tanaudel said...

Sorry to hear about your mother, Dave.

I think one aspect of comedy is that it is rooted in contrasts - conflict, the unexpected, the way turning a corner and coming upon a breathtaking view can make you laugh as well as gasp.

A peeve of mine is the way a fairly serious show with occasional hysterical moments will become popular, realise the humour has something to do with it and then try to be that funny all the time - which it can't. It can only be that funny, that bright *because* of the shadows.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Dave. Humour is a funny thing. I always thing of it as a tension release - with the mental tension from a disconnect between two 'states'/logical premises that don't match - but a great physical tension release as well.

My heart goes out to you, Dave. After 18 months of visiting Mum in hospital here before she went, I know exactly how tough this can be. I hope your mother revives enough to communicate.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Dave,

Hugs. thoughts and prayers are with you.

Sorry not to have thoughts on topic. I have the flu. which means thinking not happening.

Sarah

Anonymous said...

A funny comfort read of mine is Patricia Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles. So what if they're children's books, they're delightful and hilarious. If you're looking for something easy and escapest, pick up Dealing with Dragons. Best wishes on your mother's health.

"Lady" Dawn