I’ve always considered myself kind of a funny guy. Whether many people will agree with that is open to debate. I remember my mother coming home from a parent/teacher conference once and being very disappointed in me. One of my teachers, Mrs. Pearson, had described me as “not working up to my potential” and being more interested in being the “class clown.” If I’d had my wits about me, I would have retorted, “I resemble that remark,” but all I did was sit there in ashamed silence. Having stood in Mrs. Pearson’s shoes later on in life, I realized that there’s nothing worse than a young punk who’s playing to the crowd disrupting things by trying to be funny. Regrettably, I have to say she had me pegged, but it was more of a defense mechanism. The class bullies used to beat me up so bad that I figured if I used humor to amuse everyone, they’d leave me alone. It didn’t work.
Mrs. Pearson’s classes weren’t the model of control, either. Even though I sat fairly close to the front, there were so many students that she often lost track of what was going on in the classroom. One time, while she was conferring with a bunch of students up by her desk, one of the bullies, Ken B., who sat in front of me, jumped out of his seat, pinned me in my desk, and head-butted me three times. Mrs. Pearson never even noticed. I had a hematoma the size of an egg on the side of my head. Had she noticed, I’m sure she would have reprimanded the punk for the “funny business.”
Only I didn’t think it was so funny.
Perhaps a look at the concept of humor is in order. What is appropriate activity to make someone laugh? I’ve never cared much for slapstick humor. The Three Stooges never appealed to me. Having been bullied in my younger days, I never thought it was funny for someone to slap someone in the face or poke him in the eyes. The Stooges played things for laugh, and their punches and pokes were obviously the product of trick photography, but for me, hurting someone has never been a laughing matter. More recently, I recall seeing a Will Farrell movie trailer in which two stupid politicians were involved in a close election. In the trailer, one of them throws a punch at the other, who ducks. The punch then connects with a small baby being held up for a kiss. My immediate reaction was, why would anyone think a man hitting a baby is funny? The same thing follows with the movie, Hangover 3, in which one of the laughs purportedly comes from a giraffe’s extended head colliding with an overpass as the animal is being transported in a vehicle. Cruelty and abuse aren’t sources of humor for me. Needless to say, I refused to see either of the movies, but I wonder why this type of so-called humor gets a free pass in our society?
Political correctness has further complicated matters and created an unevenness in our perceptions. For instance, it’s appropriately considered vulgar to joke about a woman being raped, but people routinely snicker over the mention a man going to prison and getting a big cellmate named Bubba. I actually remember a female judge issuing this warning in open court to a young, male defendant, to the amusement of the onlookers.
Parody can be a source of humor, but it’s only effective if one knows what is being parodied. But once again, stooping to mean-spirited mocking doesn’t amuse me in the least. That’s one reason why I stopped watching the late night talk shows. These comedians seem to know no bounds, and became less appealing when they started mocking our presidents. I’ve never subscribed to mocking the person in the Oval Office. He (or perhaps soon to be, she) is the leader of our country and the free world, and we only make ourselves look weak to our enemies by making fun of the Commander-in-Chief. I support whomever is in the office, whether I voted for that person, or not. As President Obama said to those who didn’t support him, upon his election, “I’m your president, too.” I see these comics as something akin to those schoolyard bullies who tortured me in my youth. They are essentially cowards who tend to pick what they consider “safe targets.” I still remember Dr. Phil taking it to David Letterman, who had been running selective clips making the TV psychologist look idiotic. Dr. Phil confronted Letterman in a face-to-face visit, and the comedian looked like a bully who’d been knocked on the seat of his pants. I was glad to see it. Like I said, I’ve never liked bullies.
Perhaps primum non nocere―first, do no harm, should be the base line for humor. If you want to poke fun at someone, make fun of yourself. Remember the great Jack Benny’s running gag about his stinginess? He was exceptionally generous in real life, but he knew the value of a comedian casting himself as the fall guy. The bottom line for me is, there’s nothing funny about hurting another, especially when it’s masked as so called humor.