Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Humour Me Back!

It’s funny how being funny has become so hard.

Humour’s easy when you don’t have a conscience. A homophobic comment here, a racist remark there, a sexist jibe here and you’re done. The odd anecdotes about fat people and too-narrow aeroplane seats won’t ever go amiss either. There’ll be people judging you, certainly, and people hating you if you take this route, but there won’t be people not sniggering.

Humour’s easy when you’re not prudish because like in everything else, sex sells. You don’t even have to try, really. Why, I distinctly recall chuckling away at my class ten biology teacher’s totally dry description of the human reproductive process. Make that small mental step up to American Pie, and you’ll see the nearly limitless comedic potential here. Pity prudishness is hereditary and contagious.

And then there’re toilet jokes. Everybody disparages them, but it’s astounding how the most tasteless joke about methane-induced global warming can lead to uncontrollable laughter. In a room full of suits. Sigh.

It’s OK if you can’t do any of the above, or even if you’re about as witty as a rock, really, if you’ve got a mouth dirty enough to corrode one. Write up the most unimaginative rant ever, but pepper it with the choicest collection of profanities you can think of, and you’ll have got yourself an audience, and one in splits. I’ll concede a point here. Well, two actually – you can get creative at insulting somebody’s mother, improbable as that sounds, and if you can get creative at something it may even qualify as a legitimate art form. Second, it’s possible that your audience is not laughing at what you said, but at you.

I never could do all of that, but I don’t recall ever feeling witless. Surely you can’t run out of things to joke about? I mean, aren’t there an endless supply of Bong jokes to feed on, for example? There are, and I still regretfully recall the good old days when I could churn twenty stereotype jokes a minute, but I’m cut off now because Kant happened. Yes, Immanuel Kant.

(Did you laugh? Perhaps unintended humour is an area I can work on, because that wasn’t a joke. Wait no, the contradictions are obvious. I can’t work on improving something that can only be mastered by being perfectly awful at it. On the other hand, I can still master just the appearance of unintendedness right? I’d have to hide this from my brain because of course it’s my brain that the ‘unintended’ bit applies to, so I’ll have to wrap my awareness of the fraud in a cloak of subliminality. That’d still… Right, back to Kant.)

Kant said anything you do must be universalizable: before you do something, imagine how the world would look if everyone did what you’re thinking of doing, and if you like that world, do it. You can see the appeal of this idea as a moral guide. You’d never murder and jump red lights, for example.

Anyway, the moment I started putting myself in the shoes of the people I was making fun of, the jokes died. They didn’t struggle and writhe, kicking and lashing for hours before finally going limp. One fine day something switched off, and they were just… gone. Half the light of my world was taken away from me.

The deaths didn’t end there though. At about approximately the same time – or perhaps earlier, too many catastrophes have fuzzed my memories – my ability to crack what I call ‘ignorance’ jokes was flushed down the toilet. The name’s sort of self-explanatory, but if you’re dumb, these are the jokes you tell other dumb people about things you don’t understand, but – here’s the trick – they don’t either.

‘You know – apparently we were all fish once. Then, just like this – cue wild gesticulation that’s halfway between flapping and clapping but ends with a snapping of the fingers – we transformed into us.
‘Har har.’

You could laugh at this joke and still not be dumb if - it's the Jedi nous trick again - you’re laughing at them rather than the joke itself. (Lots of people don’t dig evolution. They probably dig their noses though, snotty lot that they are.)

Even this doesn’t work for me because of er.. compassion. If you want to joke about other people, you cannot be a nice guy. Especially so if you’re laughing at their perceived stupidity. You want an offence-free show? Sorry, that joke’s out.

Wait, wait. What about in jokes? You know, those about memes, xkcd, and that DSA lab on a cold December’s evening. Ah, good old in jokes. Half the stuff I laugh at, I laugh at because I think most other people don’t get it. Don’t ask me to explain. All I know is that this works.

The caveat is obvious: you need an in group for in jokes. If your in-group goes away and you’re stuck with an out-group that only talks Biggg Boss, the best joke about Python swallowing your heart will at best draw blank looks. (At worst: solicitous looks. You know they think you’re a retard.) Naturally, you’ll withdraw gracefully from the conversation and focus on the food, maintaining a sombre dignity all the while.

Alright, here's my last attempt: nonsense jokes. People generally don’t understand the funny in random gibberish but laugh anyway. In fact, I firmly believe nonsense jokes are the perfect jokes. You laugh because you don't get the joke!
Nonsense jokes are like highly specific in jokes that appear ‘in’ to everyone who hears them. It’s hard to spout nonsense all the time and appear sane though, and that's not good for - let me sort out your priorities - your love life.

You see where I’m going here, don’t you? Falling off a steep cliff that’s where. Falling into an endless, humourless dark that’s darker than pitch. It only gets darker when I run into happy, grinning people paragliding who console me with this:

‘You only have to speak a four letter word, son, and you'll get all your powers back. Since you appear mentally challenged I’ll give you a clue. It doesn’t start with an L.’

(Self-deprecation always works.)