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Is a joke a joke if it's not funny? - The Paranoid Android
...musings of a mechanically depressed robot...
paranoidandroid
paranoidandroid
Is a joke a joke if it's not funny?
I've been visiting a random assortment of "humour" sites today (the last post came from a good site).  I have yet to see a good "battle of the sexes" humour page.  I'll admit there are some funny jokes detailing the differences between men and women - but as soon as the word "battle" is included it degenerates into a slagging match where the target sex is generalised as inconsiderate and stupid.

For example - The following points out a difference in the way men and women act (stereotypically):
RESTROOMS:
Men use restrooms for purely biological reasons.  Women use restrooms as social lounges.
Men in a restrooms will never speak a word to each other.
Women who've never met will leave a restroom giggling together like old friends.
And never in the history of the world has a man excused himself from a restaurant table by saying, "Hey, Tom, I was just about to take a leak. Do you want to join me?"

This is obviously an American writer as we Brits do not generally refer to "Restrooms" - but the stereotype transcends the continents.  I don't think either of the sexes are bashed in this joke... and I am amused by the way the difference between them is pointed out.

The following was taken from the same website:
How does a man have the power to make a woman happy?
By remaining a bachelor.

Why do men die before their wives ?
They want to.

If your wife keeps coming out of the kitchen to nag you, what have you done wrong ?
Made her chain too long.

Did you hear about the man who won the gold medal at the Olympics?
He had it bronzed.


There were plenty more where they came from...  I find all of the above examples, and 99% of the rest of the jokes on those pages unfunny.  There is nothing clever in them, there is little shock value, hell there is little value of any sort.  These sound like they were penned by someone recently dumped and needing revenge.

Part of Misty's degree required her to write a paper about humour... and she told me about the "fill in the blanks" type of joke.  These jokes are a generic formula where the "victim" is changed to suit the purpose of the joke teller.  An example from above is the Gold medal winner.  Locally that joke would probably be in the form of the "Irish" Joke... based on the premise that the Irish are not that bright.  It could easily be changed to a "Blonde" Joke as they too are stereotyped as stupid.  I have come to the conclusion that any joke that can be changed in this way is not a good joke.  I'll be working on a proof of this at some point in the future.

This prompts the question "What is funny?"
The dictionary says "Intended or designed to amuse." (at least in the sense that I mean it)... but that doesn't tell us what makes something funny funny.

For me funny is what happens when a train of thought is de-railed.  This is usually caused by looking at something from a unique angle or a shocking revelation.  Someone said that all humour involves pain... I'm not so sure about that - but a lot of humour involves pain - someone else's pain of course!  Our own pain is rarely funny... at least not at the time.  The pain can be physical (watching someone fall in one of the many "send in a video" shows on the TV) or emotional (all fill in the blank jokes above cause pain to the "victim" chosen).  There is a special word for deriving pleasure from others pain (or misfortune) - Schadenfreude - one of my favourite words!

I prefer surreal humour which is rarely about pain.

Surreal humour is not just a de-railing of your train of thought - it's turning the entire train into a duck.  There is a thin line between surreal and stupid.  Earwigs making chutney is surreal.  Earwigs flying planes is stupid. Okay - so who clicked the link?

Funny is also about wordplay or puns.  The English language has many words for one thing, and one word can many things. This can lead to double entendres.  Punning can be the worst form of humour and yet still be funny.  This seems to be its own little paradox; because it's supposed to be funny and isn't it becomes funny.  If there was a way to trap the power of this paradox we would be able to ditch all fossil fuels.

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Comments
brightspot From: brightspot Date: March 21st, 2006 06:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Surreal and wordplay or pun humor is often referred to around here as "British Humor". If it is wry, sarcastic and ironic and takes more than two brain cells to understand, it's "British Humor". Most folks are too st...err...lazy for "British Humor", and they tend to belittle those of us who love it. People say "intellectuals" like it's an insult, that's pretty funny.

Monty Python? British Humor (only, really in that case! LOL!). Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? OMG, that was *so* considered British Humor here. So many people I know didn't get it. What was the one show - Boys in the Hall? Forget it. Yellow Submarine? Yeah. Totally beyond the local population.

What do they enjoy? Something About Mary (half of which I *really* didn't see the humor in). Meet the Fauckers (sp?). Anything with Jim Carey. Physical comedy, body function humor. What's obvious.

One of Lorelei's favorite shows is Drake and Josh. I despise that show because the fact the fact that Josh is the good boy, he ALWAYS gets messed up in that show, and nasty, selfish, slut-like Drake gets everything. I don't find that amusing. I find it degrading in a way I don't like.

Good thought provoking post!
paranoidandroid From: paranoidandroid Date: March 22nd, 2006 11:01 am (UTC) (Link)
I did enjoy some of Something About Mary (beyond Cameron Diaz :x ) - the whole "caught in the zipper" scene had me equally bent double in imagined pain and laughter.

There is a certain irony that the only English actor I know in that film (Lee Evens) played the least funny part (in my opinion) - the guy on crutches.

My top five comedians would have to include Bill Hicks and Steven Wright - both highly intelligent and thought provoking comedians from your side of the big pond... so the British claim on all that is surreal or clever in comedy would be a false one.

Just for the record - the other three would have to be Eddie Izzard, Spike Milligan and Bill Bailey.

British "comedians" basing their entire act on abuse and bad language are not in short supply - we just don't let them leave the country much so our image as the "clever funny people" wont get damaged! ;)
brightspot From: brightspot Date: March 22nd, 2006 11:36 am (UTC) (Link)
British "comedians" basing their entire act on abuse and bad language are not in short supply - we just don't let them leave the country much so our image as the "clever funny people" wont get damaged! ;)

That made me giggle first thing in the morning - good job!! Not an easy task. Something about the mental image of vulgar, base comedians pleading to visit Ohio...... ;o)

I didn't mean that *I* believe that all good surreal, clever comedy is from your side of the pond...only that that's the common thought here. Whether they're American or not, in Ohio, they're referred to with much disdain as those British Humor people...highbrow and hoity toity. It's a farmland thing, I guess. ;o)
wan1 From: wan1 Date: March 21st, 2006 07:09 pm (UTC) (Link)

Funny is as funny does.

Mostly I think it depends what mood you're in (or how much drink has passed your lips) as to what will amuse you. Taken by surprise, the simplest "joke" can touch the spot. I find that, often, the funniest are real life stitus.

Fyffe Robertson, a Scottish reporter,was staying at a rather swank hotel in the Highlands. On noticing an extremely small portion of honey on his breakfast tray he called to the waiter and said "I see you keep a bee!"

Cracks me every time!!!

paranoidandroid From: paranoidandroid Date: March 22nd, 2006 11:05 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Funny is as funny does.

That is a fantastic joke - the best part is he probably made it up on the spur of the moment.

I have been caught by suprise by funny lines that were not intended as so - and those are the ones that slay me the most.
tabby_of_doom From: tabby_of_doom Date: March 22nd, 2006 04:38 am (UTC) (Link)
I've never said to another woman, "Come, my friend. Come and make wee with me. We will have grand conversations that the men-folk must never know about. Come and share sisterhood with me in the bathroom."

So it's not funny when men make remarks about women going to the bathroom together.

I'm not pandering, but that remark from your friend about the smidge of honey and the one bee--chuckle-worthy and witty.

Blonde jokes are boring. Jokes about the Irish and the Polish are redundant.

I've always liked a good joke at my expense. You don't have the right to laugh at others if you can't laugh at yourself. Personally, I like laughing at others, so I'll take a good ribbing if I deserve it.



paranoidandroid From: paranoidandroid Date: March 22nd, 2006 10:49 am (UTC) (Link)
I've heard men talk in the toilet. It's unusual and generally frowned upon. I have been out with a mixed group where a single woman sent to the toilet alone... but that is also not a common occurrence.

I think the difference in toilet etiquette is largely a matter of layout. In your average female facility there are a bunch of small rooms (for the use of) and a communal wash area. The male facilities are more open - there is no separate area to wash up. When sharing an area with someone relieving themselves it puts a damper on any urge to converse.

That explains, in part, the difference in willingness to converse - but not the "necessity" to go in pairs.

Getting back to the humour - I can see how this might be considered "mocking that we do not understand."

I agree that self depreciation jokes are sometimes the funniest.
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