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January Group Writing: Renovating Humor

 

The surest sign of age is the loss of the vital powers that once came with ease. The mind may be the first thing to go, as my wife has been telling me for years, but weakening flesh is the cruelest harbinger of failing vitality.

I well remember the first unmistakable sign that things were slipping away too quickly to notice. We had a tree stump in the backyard that had to be removed. So, manly man that I used to be, I buttoned up my sleeves, pulled on a pair of gloves, policed up a long crowbar and a rock to serve as a fulcrum, and set out to show that stump who was who. I got the bar lodged underneath the stump, pushed down with all my might, and…the stump refused to budge. I grunted and groaned, kick and cussed for about twenty minutes, unwilling to accept my ignominy. Fortunately, my nephew dropped by and, seeing that I was in great distress, offered to help. Now Nate is a giant of a man and a kill trained Marine who’d served three tours in Iraq, so I figured he’d just add his muscle to mine. Instead, he wrapped his arms around the stump, let out a groan, and pulled it up roots and all.

I learned a valuable lesson that day: Better Nate than lever.

Yea. Yea. I know that’s a terrible joke. And probably old too. Really, really old. Dating all the way back to the days when people could laugh. You know, those halcyon days when people weren’t rushing in a perpetual panic towards the mental hospital, terrified that someone might find out they’d actually laughed—at anything. The clearest sign that a culture is falling apart is, coincidentally enough, also the surest sign that an individual is diving headlong into his own personal looney bin: The lost joy of laughing at himself, and yes, at others. Porky Pig the prophet.

Now I’m not interested in repeating the various complaints about political correctness. Nor is there space enough in this post to list the names of the people who’ve been ritually sacrificed because they dared say something actually funny. If you want to see how far humor has fallen, watch the first few minutes of Colbert’s show. Bitterness passes as his best material. And he’s raking in a boatload of dough on the misery he spreads in the hearts and minds of his servile sheep.

I don’t know if there are any studies on the question, but I do wonder whether the rising mortality rate has something to do with the collapse of humor.

I’m late publishing this post (hence the Nate joke). I spent most of the day fighting off a nasty headache. I found the cure by accident. I remembered a joke my brother told me years ago and laughed loud and hard. It is one of the greatest jokes ever, and one of the dirtiest. The headache drained away. I wonder if a similar treatment my cure the ills that are actually killing people.

When I was in college Steve Martin was at his comedic peak. I remember reading an interview he’d given to Playboy (I only bought it for the social commentary) in which he described his liberation from the darker reaches of his philosophy studies. As I recall, he described sitting at a laundromat with a friend discussing some big question and fretting over the details, when they both just stopped, looked at each other, and burst out laughing. Soon thereafter, Martin jumped to the top of the comedian hit parade. To be sure, Martin really had only one joke, as Rolling Stone magazine put it, and it was him. But he sure lightened the burdens of students struggling in the days when colleges actually expected results.

Aristotle wrote that “humor is the only test of gravity, and gravity of humor, for a subject that will not bear raillery is suspicious…” I take that to mean, screw you if you can’t take a joke. Philosopher Roger Scruton notes that only a rational being can laugh. Which, it seems to me, means “you’re screwed if you can’t take a joke.

I’ve written on the subject of laughter a couple times on Ricochet, the first time in a post asking, “Heard Any Good Jokes Lately?” There were about two hundred responses (thanks gang). But the jokes all dated way back to the days when people felt free to laugh. Are there any new jokes? About anything? Or have we yielded the battlefield to the politically correct psychopaths in our midst?

I read somewhere that most new jokes are dreamed up by men (and maybe a few women) in prison. I’ve been in prison (I was a lawyer, man, which probably means there’s a cell reserved for me), and while prisons are not an obvious proving ground for lighthearted banter, the cons have plenty of time on their hands to come up with some fresh material. But as humor has left the culture, maybe even the offenders are afraid to offend.

I have no idea how to restore the sane ground found only in humor. But Professor Scruton believes that “what is needed…is a seriously rude, arrogant, and well-educated class of journalists, who would lend each other support in ridiculing the pretensions of the censors.” Seems like a good initial strategy, even if the wall of perpetual outrage still stands.

I’d propose a second line of attack, though it could cost a lot of lives: follow the lead of the late Mike Royko, and tell an offensive joke in mixed company. And when people gasp and cover their ears, and tell an even more offensive joke. Keep piling it on. Eventually, when all the pent-up rage, anger, and psychotic energy bursts, they might come to understand that life is too short to take things so seriously.

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There are 38 comments.

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  1. Coolidge

    One night I was driving the car from one interstate onto the next, and flashing in my headlights was a busted brown bag of concrete off to the side of the ramp. In that moment it looked just like a deer in an overcoat hit by a car. And then I realized how stupid that was. I mean if he could afford an overcoat, he could have paid for a taxi.

    That’s the only joke I ever made up.

    The funny part is it really happened.

    • #1
    • January 9, 2019 at 4:16 am
    • 16 likes
  2. Contributor

    Let’s humor @mikerapkoch; lighten up and laugh. If you need a primer on humor, however crude in mixed company, may I suggest The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel?


    This conversation is part of our Group Writing Series under January’s theme: Renovation. There are plenty of dates still available. Have a great home renovation story? Maybe with photos? Have a terrible home renovation story? How about furniture, or an instrument, a plane, a train or an automobile? Are you your renovation project, or someone else’s? Do you have criticism or praise for some public renovation, accomplished or desperately needed? Are you a big fan, or not so much, of home renovation shows? Unleash your inner fan or critic. We have some wonderful photo essays on Ricochet; perhaps you have a story with before and after photos, or reflections on the current state of a long project. The possibilities are endless! Why not start a conversation? Our schedule and sign-up sheet awaits.

    I’ll post the February topic and sign-up sheet mid-month. I’ll consider topical suggestions.

    • #2
    • January 9, 2019 at 4:20 am
    • 2 likes
  3. Member
    Mike Rapkoch Post author

    Flicker (View Comment):

    One night I was driving the car from one interstate onto the next, and flashing in my headlights was a busted brown bag of concrete off to the side of the ramp. In that it looked just like a deer in an overcoat hit by a car. And then I realized how stupid that really was. If he could afford an overcoat, he could have paid for a taxi.

    That’s the only joke I ever made up.

    The funny part is it really happened.

    The best jokes arise in the world of events.

    • #3
    • January 9, 2019 at 4:20 am
    • 6 likes
  4. Member
    Mike Rapkoch Post author

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    Let’s humor @mikerapkoch; lighten up and laugh. If you need a primer on humor, however crude in mixed company, may I suggest The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel?


    This conversation is part of our Group Writing Series under January’s theme: Renovation. There are plenty of dates still available. Have a great home renovation story? Maybe with photos? Have a terrible home renovation story? How about furniture, or an instrument, a plane, a train or an automobile? Are you your renovation project, or someone else’s? Do you have criticism or praise for some public renovation, accomplished or desperately needed? Are you a big fan, or not so much, of home renovation shows? Unleash your inner fan or critic. We have some wonderful photo essays on Ricochet; perhaps you have a story with before and after photos, or reflections on the current state of a long project. The possibilities are endless! Why not start a conversation? Our schedule and sign-up sheet awaits.

    I’ll post the February topic and sign-up sheet mid-month. I’ll consider topical suggestions.

    My wife and I watch the first season together. It was excellent. We started the second season, but it got a bit to girlie for me so Susan finished it off on her own. I do appreciate the underlying theme which, I think, is a common description of humor as built on a volcano of pent up anger. Rachel Brosnahan is an excellent actress.

    • #4
    • January 9, 2019 at 4:26 am
    • 3 likes
  5. Coolidge

    I heard the story in school. I guess you’ve all heard it. A guy was dying of a debilitating and painful disease that the doctors couldn’t identify. With a short time to live, he took a nice room in a fine hotel, got a film projector and borrowed every comedy film he had ever liked (Three Stooges and all) and watched them day and night, until one day he noticed he wasn’t in pain anymore. His doctors were amazed. He was cured. I think he wrote a book about it.

    I guess it was what we today call fibromyalgia. Laughter is the best medicine.

    • #5
    • January 9, 2019 at 4:28 am
    • 8 likes
  6. Thatcher

    EDIT: My rimshot appears to be broken.

    Mike Rapkoch: I learned a valuable lesson that day: Better Nate than lever.

    • #6
    • January 9, 2019 at 4:45 am
    • 6 likes
  7. Member
    Mike Rapkoch Post author

    Percival (View Comment):

    • Like

    Where can I get the sound track?

    • #7
    • January 9, 2019 at 4:49 am
    • 2 likes
  8. Thatcher

    Mike Rapkoch (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    • Like

    Where can I get the sound track?

    I’m not sure of the underlying work. Maybe someone else knows what video that was lifted from?

    • #8
    • January 9, 2019 at 4:51 am
    • 1 like
  9. Member

    Morning Mike,

    What a perfect way to start the day, “better Nate than lever” love it. If you ever heard Frank Muir or Dennis Norden on My Word (British show), here are two of their closing lines, “If you don’t suck seed, try drier grain” and “have you taken Lief off your census?”. And this is from a Mark Steyn Song of the Week on Frank Loesser, whose wife was known as “the evil of two Loessers” 

    If we look back at WWll, humor was everywhere, even during Vietnam we had all sorts or humorous shows and different types of comedians. So how did we become so fragile, or more narrowly, how did our most educated become so fragile? Do you think that experience with a certain type of physical work or difficulty, is a building block of humor? In Solzhenitsyn’s “The First Circle”, the zeks are making jokes often, some of them on the bitter side. Is this the latest link in the parenting chain where each generation has tried to shield its children from some of the difficulties that they experienced and these later generations have shielded their children from the rather menial or drudgery work that were more common earlier?

    • #9
    • January 9, 2019 at 4:58 am
    • 5 likes
  10. Moderator
    She

    Mike Rapkoch: If you want to see how far humor has fallen, watch the first few minutes of Colbert’s show. Bitterness passes as his best material. And he’s raking in a boat load of dough on the misery he spreads in the hearts and minds of his servile sheep.

    This.

    I call it “Garrison Keillor disease,” the seemingly inevitable bittering, over time, of folks who were once entertaining and amusing. YMMV, and I don’t know enough about Colbert to know his starting point or if/how far he’s fallen.

    All I know is that in the early late 1970s and early 80s, A Prairie Home Companion was a family event each weekend, a throwback for Mr. She to his childhood after the War, in which the family would gather round the radio for a comedy show, a variety show, or an adventure series. And we loved it. And then Garrison Keillor got woke, it just wasn’t funny anymore, and that was the end of that.

    David Letterman suffers from the same syndrome. As do many others.

    PS: I woke up this morning after a lengthy and complicated dream, the main plot driver of which was my inability to remember my social security number. I’m 64, and I’m still trying to decide if this is one of those moments when I should be “laughing at myself” or if I should start to seriously worry. Oh well. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi. Whoever she was.

    • #10
    • January 9, 2019 at 5:10 am
    • 15 likes
  11. Contributor

    Percival (View Comment):

    Mike Rapkoch (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    • Like

    Where can I get the sound track?

    I’m not sure of the underlying work. Maybe someone else knows what video that was lifted from?

    Most likely by Aardman — The Pirates!

    • #11
    • January 9, 2019 at 5:35 am
    • 2 likes
  12. Member

    While he’s certainly not to everyone’s tastes, I find Norm MacDonald doesn’t give a rip about political correctness. Nor does Adam Carolla. I find them a refreshing antidote to the Kimmels, Colberts, and Meyers of the world.

    • #12
    • January 9, 2019 at 5:48 am
    • 8 likes
  13. Thatcher

    She (View Comment):

    Mike Rapkoch: If you want to see how far humor has fallen, watch the first few minutes of Colbert’s show. Bitterness passes as his best material. And he’s raking in a boat load of dough on the misery he spreads in the hearts and minds of his servile sheep.

    This.

    I call it “Garrison Keillor disease,” the seemingly inevitable bittering, over time, of folks who were once entertaining and amusing. YMMV, and I don’t know enough about Colbert to know his starting point or if/how far he’s fallen.

    All I know is that in the early late 1970s and early 80s, A Prairie Home Companion was a family event each weekend, a throwback for Mr. She to his childhood after the War, in which the family would gather round the radio for a comedy show, a variety show, or an adventure series. And we loved it. And then Garrison Keillor got woke, it just wasn’t funny anymore, and that was the end of that.

    David Letterman suffers from the same syndrome. As do many others.

    PS: I woke up this morning after a lengthy and complicated dream, the main plot driver of which was my inability to remember my social security number. I’m 64, and I’m still trying to decide if this is one of those moments when I should be “laughing at myself” or if I should start to seriously worry. Oh well. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi. Whoever she was.

    Colbert ran a three minute bit out into a 10+ year career.

    • #13
    • January 9, 2019 at 6:06 am
    • 3 likes
  14. Member

    Loved this post. Weird observation: some of the funniest comedians have fallen victim to misery – the talent of Jim Carey comes to mind. Another observation: Those old sit-coms are still funny today – timeless (depending on what you think is “old” it could mean I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners or Seinfeld….). My folks used to howl from laughter at night – I couldn’t get to sleep until Johnny Carson was over! Now look at TV…

    The problems with comedians as our @daviddeeble has described, doing their schtick to college-age kids is a challenge. You are right – a good laugh would take the stress off and they might find life more enjoyable.

    • #14
    • January 9, 2019 at 6:11 am
    • 4 likes
  15. Thatcher

    Mike Rapkoch: “what is needed…is a seriously rude, arrogant, and well-educated class of journalists, who would lend each other support in ridiculing the pretensions of the censors.”

    Nope. Now we have a seriously rude, arrogant, and well-educated class of journalists who are the censors.

    • #15
    • January 9, 2019 at 6:20 am
    • 7 likes
  16. Member

    Mike Rapkoch: Are there any new jokes?

    The thing that has been is that which shall be; and that which has been done is that which shall be done; and there is nothing new under the sun.—Ecclesiastes 1:9

    However, you can always swap out the ethnicities in the joke.

    • #16
    • January 9, 2019 at 8:24 am
    • 5 likes
  17. Member

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):
    I’ll consider topical suggestions.

    Depending on where you live, a good sunscreen may answer the call.

    • #17
    • January 9, 2019 at 8:25 am
    • 2 likes
  18. Member

    There is a very interesting book called “The Act of Creation” by Arthur Koestler. He notes that the moment when creativity hits is hard to detect, but spends some time connecting the creative “Eureka” moment to the punchline of a joke. Since recognition of humor is relatively easy, he then spends some time analyzing humor.

    He says that most humor is in the form of a matrix where the story starts on one plane in the matrix and the punch line connects to another plane. That is, the point makes sense in both planes and the humor is in the intersection. It really made you think.

    On a less cerebral front, last night my wife and I watched one of the “Redneck comedy tour” DVD’s. We were in stitches. They show (and Seinfeld is another example) the real craft involved in comedy.

    Back to the point of the OP – I don’t think there is any new comic that we like. I read the other day that there were complaints about Seinfeld not being sufficiently PC.

    • #18
    • January 9, 2019 at 8:31 am
    • 2 likes
  19. Member

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):
    Those old sit-coms are still funny today…

    You know what else is still funny? The old game shows. Shows like The Match Game or What’s My Line from decades ago. There is nothing like hearing the audience laugh as one of the What’s My Line panelists asks an unintentionally funny question as they try to elicit what a contestant does, like, “Might I be wearing the product you deal with?” of a guy who runs a diaper service.

    • #19
    • January 9, 2019 at 8:37 am
    • 9 likes
  20. Member

    Another one had Fred Allen asking a psychiatrist if he could use the contestant’s services. The audience laughed and laughed.

    • #20
    • January 9, 2019 at 11:36 am
    • 3 likes
  21. Contributor

    I realized one day that all my closest friends have a great sense of humor. When we get together, we always laugh–usually at ourselves or each other, or both!! Love the post, Mike.

    • #21
    • January 9, 2019 at 11:50 am
    • 5 likes
  22. Member

    Mike Rapkoch: Are there any new jokes? About anything? Or have we yielded the battlefield to the politically correct psychopaths in our midst?

    I’ve got a new joke for you; just dreamed it up this last month. *ahem*

    Do homeopaths rinse their dishes?

    Thank you, thank you.

    • #22
    • January 9, 2019 at 11:51 am
    • 2 likes
  23. Member

    Hank Rhody, Acting on Emotion (View Comment):

    Mike Rapkoch: Are there any new jokes? About anything? Or have we yielded the battlefield to the politically correct psychopaths in our midst?

    I’ve got a new joke for you; just dreamed it up this last month. *ahem*

    Do homeopaths rinse their dishes?

    Thank you, thank you.

    That joke is homeophobic.

     

    • #23
    • January 9, 2019 at 11:53 am
    • 8 likes
  24. Member

    Hank Rhody, Acting on Emotion (View Comment):

    Mike Rapkoch: Are there any new jokes? About anything? Or have we yielded the battlefield to the politically correct psychopaths in our midst?

    I’ve got a new joke for you; just dreamed it up this last month. *ahem*

    Do homeopaths rinse their dishes?

    Thank you, thank you.

    Send it back.

    • #24
    • January 9, 2019 at 11:53 am
    • 3 likes
  25. Coolidge

    Shouldn’t that be “Better Nate than lever?”

    • #25
    • January 9, 2019 at 12:29 pm
    • Like
  26. Member
    Mike Rapkoch Post author

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Shouldn’t that be “Better Nate than lever?”

    Yea. I changed it back to lever.

    • #26
    • January 9, 2019 at 12:42 pm
    • 2 likes
  27. Member
    Mike Rapkoch Post author

    WillowSpring (View Comment):

    There is a very interesting book called “The Act of Creation” by Arthur Koestler. He notes that the moment when creativity hits is hard to detect, but spends some time connecting the creative “Eureka” moment to the punchline of a joke. Since recognition of humor is relatively easy, he then spends some time analyzing humor.

    He says that most humor is in the form of a matrix where the story starts on one plane in the matrix and the punch line connects to another plane. That is, the point makes sense in both planes and the humor is in the intersection. It really made you think.

    On a less cerebral front, last night my wife and I watched one of the “Redneck comedy tour” DVD’s. We were in stitches. They show (and Seinfeld is another example) the real craft involved in comedy.

    Back to the point of the OP – I don’t think there is any new comic that we like. I read the other day that there were complaints about Seinfeld not being sufficiently PC.

    I read Koestler in college. I don’t remember if that was the book, but he had one of the greatest jokes ever:

    A woman is working her way through the grocery store when she happens upon a friend hunched over her cart looking very troubled. She asks her friend if everything is okay. The friend says “Not really. I’m worried about my son. The school psychologist called and told me my boy has an Oedipus Complex.” The first lady responds: “Oedipus schmoedipus. He’s fine as long as he’s a good boy and loves his mommy.”

    • #27
    • January 9, 2019 at 12:55 pm
    • 6 likes
  28. Member

    Thank you so much for the link to the joke thread. That is worth re-reading more than once!

    • #28
    • January 9, 2019 at 1:17 pm
    • 1 like
  29. Member

    Ricky Gervais is a working comedian who is very funny and not politically correct.

    His show, Life’s Too Short with Warwick Davies is hilarious.

     

    • #29
    • January 9, 2019 at 1:24 pm
    • 2 likes
  30. Coolidge

    I’ve heard people refer to an incident in Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land as giving the definition of humor. It’s been decades but it’s something like this: A young man doesn’t understand humor or laughter until one day he sees a chimpanzee in a zoo savagely beat another chimpanzee to death. At the end the man laughs uncontrollably, and from that moment on he understands humor: When something is so irrational, so impossible to understand the only thing the mind can do is reacts with laughter.

    I’ve never liked this definition. I look at children and they seem to really laugh mostly when they have been taught something, discover something or understand something that is new or that they didn’t expect. Like when they finally understand what 2+2=4 means, and then can extrapolate that 2+3=5. It seems to me their laughter is the reaction to learning something new. I wonder if that isn’t also the root of all laughter.

    • #30
    • January 9, 2019 at 1:35 pm
    • 5 likes
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