What's So Funny?
There seems to be some confusion lately about what is and isn’t funny. So as a public service, working with a team of tireless researchers, your Curmudgeon has assembled the following comprehensive unofficial list.
These things are funny: pickles, tubas, seltzer bottles, rubber chickens, plungers, toupees, guacamole, polkas, llamas, oven mitts, bagpipes, bananas, hedgehogs, meerkats, pogo sticks, yodeling, tutus, telenovelas, the Yiddish language, curling (the sport), monkeys, Jello, sleep masks, bounce houses, bubbles, narcolepsy, infomercials, Zambonis, yo-yos, false teeth, proctology, performance art, lederhosen, cartoon sound effects, four-legged pets (except for horses—completely humorless), shaving cream, mascots, turrets, haggis, sidecars, frogs, off-key singing, porcupines, goats, paint by numbers, dental floss, garden gnomes, man buns, ice dancing, the words “scuttlebutt,” “malarkey,” and “bamboozle,” kangaroos, hula hoops, Snuggies, mistaken identity, pies in the face, and Astroturf. Also funny are the following dialects: Scottish, German, Russian, Puerto Rican, Southern, Brooklyn, Boston, Swedish, Australian, Jamaican, Castilian, and sometimes British.
Oh . . . and people. People are funny. Not all people. Just most. The funny ones include hillbillies, hipsters, plumbers, nudists, ballroom dancers, drunk people who don’t know they’re drunk, little kids with lisps, selfie-takers, mimes, hand models, mall cops, Dungeons and Dragons players, out-of-touch rich folks, oversensitive artists, judgmental in-laws, old New York Jews, plate-breaking Greeks, Chinese people who sound like they’re screaming at each other when they talk, white people with no sense of rhythm, black people who give their kids weird names, snobby French, humorless Germans, straight guys attempting to out-macho each other, gay guys attempting to out-femme each other, paunchy middle-aged dads attempting to be cool, techies, poets, giggling babies, life coaches, trailer park dwellers, convention attendees, people with too much plastic surgery, insanely fanatical sports nuts, stamp collectors, birdwatchers, vapers, fortune tellers, psychiatrists, little old ladies, little old men, hobos, conspiracy theorists, vegans,
magicians, tourists, ribbon dancers, members of the Polar Bear Club, and people who actively look for opportunities to feel offended.
Yes, many things are funny. But not everything. So where do we draw the line? I’m drawing it here:
While senses of humor may vary (ranging from mine to wrong), some things are simply not funny, full stop. In addition to the IRS, the DMV, and me stubbing my toe, there’s this:
Anything that’s ever been referred to in the question “Can’t you take a joke?” is most certainly, inarguably, one hundred percent not funny. Also highly unamusing: finding humor in a real person’s pain, hardship, defeat, or illness, or having a good laugh about oppression, racism, sexism, or violence happening to a real person*. Frightening people isn’t funny. Preying on the weak isn’t funny. Jokes that have to be explained weren’t funny in the first place. Inside jokes are funny, but only to the insiders. Oh, and puns. Puns aren’t funny. (It’s my blog; I get to make the rules.) (My editor insists that puns are funny. Oh fine—occasionally, they are. But not as often as people think. [Mine are hilarious. Ed.] For more on that, see “Getting Carded”)
If you find that your sense of humor is miscalibrated in either direction, the Curmudgeon strongly recommends looking within for some serious reflection. If you find yourself laughing at someone losing her home in a flood . . . or not laughing at a baby monkey dancing a polka . . . there is something wrong with you. This world needs both compassion and humor. Sometimes they’re the same thing . . . and sometimes not. But we should vigilantly guard against eliminating either for the sake of the other. And we should vigilantly guard against eliminating either for the sake of the other. Your eyes do not deceive you. I said that twice.
As for me, I’m going to keep mocking myself and my fellow humans, knowing that sometimes a good ribbing is evidence of love, acceptance, and true fraternity**. Funny how that is.
*I specify “real person” because they’re who we should be concerned about. Fictional characters, it turns out, aren’t real people. And that’s why we can laugh at amnesia if it happens to a character on a TV comedy but not if it happens to your favorite aunt. Try to keep that in mind.
**Of course, when I mock people for talking during theatre, abusing the English language, yelling into microphones, vaping, and anything else I’ve criticized in this blog, those comments are intended as harsh judgment, criticism, and mockery. Nothing fraternal about them.