"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, February 12, 2018

Good For A Laugh–Why Everything Is Hilarious But No One Is Supposed To Notice

The comedian Bill Murray has recently noted that it’s hard to be funny in an era of identity politics. Life is a nature preserve where every animal is beautiful in its own right, unique and special, and an expression of the world’s diversity and majesty.  Everyone is perfect. There is no room for humor in compassion, and at least as far as  the writers of the Gospels and the Epistles are concerned, Jesus Christ never laughed once.  Yet he must have found something funny when he was growing up – Mary spilling gruel on the dog; Joseph missing a nail and banging his finger – but we’ll never know since the years from his birth until the age of 12 when he began preaching in the temple are a blank. He neither makes others laugh nor finds anything to laugh at.

Some critics infer from the tales of his journey from Galilee to Jerusalem that he must have enjoyed himself.  At the many banquets described in the New Testament, could he have always kept a straight face? Or not shared in a joke? Was there no bantering and joking between him and his disciples like there almost always is when men get together? Surely they must have told jokes about the Samaritans, the Romans, and the Greeks.  There was plenty to laugh at in the Old Testament, so why should anyone assume that humor disappeared in the New?  Was everything in the three years recorded in the Gospels such a serious affair? Surely, even a man on a mission as revolutionary as his could not have thought only of his Father, his being, and his divine purpose.  If God indeed created him as a man, then he must have given him room for comic pause.

Image result for images leonardo last supper

Concerned Americans wear this  mantle of concern, love for mankind, and compassion for others with honor and pride.  Jesus found nothing funny in doing God’s work, nor should they. Unfortunately, this proud mantle has become a wet blanket.  There is no longer any distinction between empathy and hilarity. 

Of course we all know that this isn’t so.  The world is filled with defects, departures from the norm so exaggerated that they are funny.   It is hard to ignore Mary Arkin’s strange symmetry.  Her eyes were awkwardly placed.  The carpenter’s level was off-kilter on the day she was made, and one eye was socketed in her face a good two inches above the other.   Mary was a lovely girl, sweet, kind, and generous; and if it hadn’t been for those misplaced eyes, she would have been considered attractive.  But try as her teachers might, there was no way to deflect attention away from that strangely misshapen face. 

Mary kept her chin up throughout childhood and adolescence thanks to her parents who admitted that God had been in too much of a hurry when she came down the assembly line and he had inadvertently given her an unusual appearance.  It was simply the luck of the draw, she concluded, nothing she could do about it; and besides, what was a set of slightly off-line eyes compared to the deformities she saw every day. 

Bobby Billups’ eyes were so close together that it was amazing he had any peripheral vision at all.  Betty Landers forehead was so big that she had half the hair of any of the other girls, so far back did it slope.  She did all she could to disguise it – floppy hair, wide headbands, and crazy hats; but she fooled no one.  Mary thought that only prize-fighters had cauliflower ears until Billy Hanks took his seat in Mrs. Thomas’ eighth grade English class.

Mary was unique not because of her strange eyes, but thanks to her precocious understanding that the world is full of freaks.  If looked at in the right way, life was indeed a circus side show.  If it wasn’t physical appearance, then demeanor.  Mr. Jenkins, the pharmacist – a man with Hollywood looks - had a facial tic so bad that it jerked his head so far back that he could look over his shoulder.  He snorted like an animal and blinked his eyes like a bird.

Image result for images movie freaks

People’s vanities are always the most hilarious.  Mrs. Peabody thought that she was God’s gift to men and yet none of them got closer than arm’s length.  They found her overbearing, impossibly vain, melodramatic, and intellectually empty.  Yet she entered every room with panache.  God had given her an exaggerated view of herself but had also given her limited social vision.  She went on from salon to salon without a clue. Mr. Harrison spread butter on his toast in little dabs and ate them in order.  At the gym there is Hamster Man, a pointy-nosed retired lawyer who runs the treadmill like a rodent on a wheel.  Jabba the Hut, a 400 lb. black man who displaces half the water in the whirlpool. Death, a grey, stalky woman with a fixed stare into some scary afterlife who pumps the ellipticals in a weird, stationary race. The Man Who Polishes His Balls, Water Man who stays in the shower for hours, and The Barking Scarecrow – a stringy woman of 70 who clatters up and down the stairs in her track shoes and bangs on about organic veganism to whomever will listen.

Take The Man Who Polishes His Balls. Before the man who polishes his balls gets into his gym clothes he could be a K Street lawyer, accountant, or dentist.  Even with his clothes off he is no more misshapen than anyone else. His only curiosities are his badly bowed legs, thicket of body hair, and slightly humped stride. It is when he finishes showering that the show begins, for then he starts to dry his balls – not the casual, practiced, indifferent rub; but a deliberate stropping.  With a hand on each end of the towel, he begins to whack away at his crotch like a shoeshine boy. Whippety, whippety, Whopp!. Whippety, whippety, Whopp!, first on one side then on the next.  Then, changing direction and angle and bent over from the waist, he snaps the towel back and forth up and down his backside.

Image result for image forties shoe shine boy grand central

“Be sure to get yourself nice and dry”, his father might have said, showing him the proper way to get at the nooks and crannies of his body.  “With a dry body you will never get a fungus or a rash.”
These innocuous, helpful, and practical words must have had a particular salience for the young boy.  Perhaps he was already a hypochondriac or had had a bad experience in the shower, or was simply prone to exaggeration.
By the time he was fifty, his scrotum had been so stropped and given such a frottage that it was like leather. Because he had lost so much sensation there, he was unable to tell whether or not he was really dry; so the time spent on whipping the towel in his groin increased until now stopping was arbitrary and prolonged.

The Barking Scarecrow is anorexic, loud, and needy. She barks instructions about proper positioning on the adductor machine, the best posture for working abs, lats, and tris; the shortest route between Falls Church and Montgomery Village; how to test for doneness on a roast chicken; and the number of miles she has logged for the week. It is hard to feel sorry for this barking, insufferable woman even when she is sitting on the bicep machine, positioned at the top of the stairs, disconsolately waiting for someone to talk to.  She struts like a model on a catwalk, but with an exaggerated jock-walk that has not an ounce of feminine allure, sexuality, or even grace.

Americans are losing their humor. That’s a given; but the fact that so many young people are losing theirs is bothersome. When Mary Arkin went to Harvard, there were no holds barred.  Humor – ironic, sarcastic, witty, acerbic, clever, and even mean – was considered the highest form of intelligence, and the ability to perceive and appreciate the smoke and mirrors, tricks and foibles, vanity, and absurd posturing of the human race, and to dismantle, disaggregate, and disassemble ever absurd bit was genius.
While Harvard has always been tolerant of geeks who keep their heads down and eyes on their equations, musical scores, or electrical wiring, it has always – up until recently – prized those who kept their heads up and looked around even more.
Now the campus like many others has changed.  The culture of diversity and political correctness has cast a dark and humorless pall over the university. Everything that is funny is off limits.  What is funny if human looks, attitude, and behavior are taken off the table?  If religion, sex, and food are no-fly zones?  What is left?

Some of the funniest comedians are mimics who have an uncanny ability to observe and to recreate oddities in speech and behavior.  All of us have our peculiarities, and mimicked with exaggeration, they can be hilarious.  It is our vanity that we think so much of ourselves; and if it weren’t for the comedians of the world, we would never it punctured.  It is funny the way Professor Talmadge clears his throat and adjusts his pens before every lecture; or the way Ms. Perkins smoothes her skirt like an old spinster before she sits down; but laughing at them is out of bounds.   Bling can be funny.  So can gay sashaying.  Ghetto-speak can be parodied and pilloried and so can Mr. Featherstone’s patrician Main Line Philadelphia accent – but both are unacceptable.

There is only one solace in this seemingly unstoppable purging of humor from the American scene – self-parody.   There is no way that anyone can take the excesses of political correctness seriously; yet, they do.

Microaggressive: Saying you're not a racist because you have black friends.

Not Microaggressive: Saying you're a not a racist because you have black friends who are also racist.

Microaggressive: To compliment an Asian person on his math abilities.

Microaggressive: Faculty of color mistaken for service worker.

Not Microaggressive: White faculty member mistaken for professor.

Microaggressive: Female doctor mistaken for nurse.

Not Microaggressive: Male nurse mistaken for heterosexual.

Microaggressive: Raising your voice when speaking to a blind student.

Not Microaggressive: Gesturing with your hands when speaking to a deaf student.

The ethnic jokes of the Borsht Belt comedians of the 40s and 50s are now considered crude, insensitive, and intolerant.  There is no such thing as stereotypes, critics say, so singling out a racial or ethnic group for them is to demean and degrade them.  Of course anyone laughing at Jackie Mason and Shecky Greene knew that there was indeed something to stereotypes and there was nothing wrong in parodying Jewish mothers or Italian fathers.  The Nineties Show In Living Color was the inheritor of outrageous, stereotypical humor and its sketches of gay men, Jamaican immigrants, deformed firefighters, slovenly black bums, and white trash were hilarious.  The producers knew that no amount of politically correct cover up was going to disguise reality.

Image result for images jackie mason

Nothing has changed in twenty years except that what was on limits then is off limits now. While the groups have changed, their stereotypical behavior does not.  Progressives, conservatives, black activists, environmentalists, justice warriors, gays, lesbians, and trannies have distinctive, recognizable, self-important traits; and when displayed by good comedians, their self-importance is punctured and everyone has a laugh.  The young Eddie Murphy and D.L. Hughly are the rare comedians who have been outrageously incorrect in taking them all on.

 D. L. Hughley Peabody 2013 (cropped).jpg

If there is one thing that distinguishes Man from the animals, it is a sense of humor.  All species have intelligence one way or another, survival instincts, territorial behavior, family structures, and much more.  What we have and they don’t is humor – a sign of high intelligence, mental agility, perception, and modesty.  When humor goes in the name of identity rights and political correctness, more than a few laughs are gone.  We become less human.

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