Thursday, November 11, 2004

“Come to think about it, most people like a good laugh more than I do, but that's beside the point!”

The Movie: …And Now for Something Completely Different, 1971 (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin, screenwriters; Ian MacNaughton, dir.)
Who says it: Graham Chapman as The Sergeant-Major
The context: The Sergeant-Major is protesting the movie’s increasing silliness, and warning the film-makers to shape up.
How to use it: To defend yourself when you don’t think something is funny.

"You have no sense of humor" is the conversational equivalent of a tactical nuclear weapon. It's impossible to defend against, because everyone knows that the people who brag about their sense of humor are the ones who don't have any.

I once asked a friend who's a child psychiatrist how babies decide something is funny; how do they know enough to recognize the absurd? He said, "Babies laugh when something is surprising, but not scary." That sounds right to me, especially since it's still the basis of most of what I find funny. (Jack-in-the-boxes: scary, not funny. Clowns: scary, not funny. Why in the world do parents inflict these things on their children?)

But I'll admit that my sense of humor depends a lot on my overall mood, and even more on whether the humor's at someone else's expense. I don't think "Crank Yankers" is funny; these people didn't ask to be called by deranged puppets. I don't want to hear overaged frat boys' allegedly hilarious stories about the times they humiliated civilians. (Okay, I did laugh at Old School. Anyone who can't laugh at Will Ferrell is past saving.)

Today's rant has no real point, except that I wish I could have dredged up even a scrap of humor for any of the conversations I had yesterday morning: with the insurance adjuster who'd made no effort to call me in the six days since my car accident; with the phone company representative who still can't hook up my phone, having no disconnect order from the previous tenant; with the moving company that has most of my worldly possessions in an unhitched trailer somewhere in the California desert.

Three months from now, when Dizzy and I are comfortably installed in the Water Street apartment and enjoying all the wonders of technology, this will be funny. But that's another quotation for another day (Alan Alda in Crimes and Misdemeanors: "Comedy is tragedy, plus time. Tragedy, plus time.").

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