Monday, August 22, 2005

Have you heard the one about...

We ordered blinds for all of the windows in our new house. The installer showed up Sunday afternoon to install them. I said something to him about how it was too bad, because the neighbors were enjoying the show. The installer looked at me blankly and mumbled something about what did the neighbors have to do with him installing blinds.

Humor is wasted on most people. Of course, humor is an extremely subjective thing. For example, when Tess told me that someone was coming over to install blinds, I said, wouldn't it be funny if someone who was blind opened up a business installing blinds? They could call it "The Blind Installing the Blinds." Then it dawned on me that maybe I was the only one who would think that would be funny and not in poor taste. And it raises a pretty good philosophical question: If I am the only one that thinks something is funny, is it really funny?

I suppose that is like one of those "If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound" type questions. Everyone will have a slightly different answer. But it does make me think. Why do some people think certain things are funny and others do not? What are the basic elements of humor?

For instance, what is funny about a pie in the face? When I was in college, I took a speech class. One of the assignments was to give a five minute speech to the class about any topic. I chose humor. I talked about jokes and the Three Stooges and then ended the speech by hitting myself in the face with a cream pie. I got a B+ because I went over the five minute time limit. I believe I did get a laugh. But I also learned that you can't breath with banana cream up your nose.

But why was that funny? I personally think it was funny because it was absurd given the context of the pie being smashed in my face. It was unexpected (at least to the rest of the class...I knew the pie was coming). I think most absurd, out of place things are funny. I think much of life is absurd, so I think much of life is funny.

I also think subtle, absurd humor is the best. The British are the masters of subtle, absurd humor. I think Douglas Adams, the author of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was a comic genius. I also love Monty Python. To this day, I can quote from the Holy Grail and crack myself up every time.

So, literal people, like the guy who was there to install blinds baffle me. Take this joke: A horse walks into a bar and orders a drink. The bartender asks him, "Why the long face?"

That is a stupid joke, but it cracks me up. It cracks me up because it is stupid and I recognize it as such. A literal person, however, listens to the same joke and asks, "Why was a horse allowed in a bar? And why was it depressed?"

I don't related to literal people. Engineers tend to fit into this category. It's a left brain, right brain kind of thing (though I can never remember which side controls what). And I'm not saying that people who think like engineers aren't important. I admire people who can focus on formulas for building bridges that won't collapse. They serve a purpose. But don't invite me to your parties.

I suppose humor is basically a personal thing. I mean, those people sitting on the bus laughing for no apparent reason obviously are privy to a private joke the rest of us have missed. But I do firmly believe that the survival of the human race depends upon our ability to laugh at the absurdity of existence.

So I guess I'll hang a sign over my blog that reads, "Lighten up all ye who enter here."
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