What’s So Funny?
This post is not supposed to be funny. It’s about funny. That doesn’t mean it needs to be funny. This note follows a spirited discussion I had with my husband (a.k.a. #1 Fan) when he gently told me this post is not funny. Which made me launch into a belligerent, paraphrased Joe Pesci bit. “Funny, like I’m a clown? Am I only here to amuse you?” To which he responded, “Um, I love you.”
I take criticism well.
P.S. I am not having my period.
I’m making my kids watch Looney Tunes. I own the four-disc DVD set and they can call them out by name. Mom, can we watch the frickin-frackin guy? Yosemite Sam it is then. Of course, I realize they now may be more apt to drop a 300-pound anvil on someone’s head. And, sure, I worry about that. But I’ll be damned if they ever tell me Clifford the Big Red Dog is funny.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I had three everynight prayers:
1.) Please God let her be healthy. Extra digits are fine. Just don’t let her have to spend life in a hospital room.
2.) Please God let her have compassion. Please let her care about all of humanity. That includes the 31% who are complete assholes and don’t deserve to share oxygen with us, let alone be allowed to cut in line at Target just because they have two items and are oblivious to the fact that I have a screaming toddler in my cart. Where was I? Oh, yes — compassion.
3.) Please God let her have a great sense of humor. She doesn’t have to be funny. She doesn’t have to be the one at the party telling epic stories. What I mean is, please don’t let her be the one in the greeting card aisle laughing at the dog licking its anus.
Then when I was pregnant with my son, I repeated items 1 through 3, except that just after “. . . at the dog licking its anus” I added “. . . at anything about a woman having her period.”
I’m always intrigued to hear about people’s earliest taste of funny. How do we know what’s funny? Is it learned, is it genetic?
Immediately upon being weaned from the breast, I was bottle-fed a steady diet of The Muppet Show, Three’s Company, Looney Tunes, Saturday Night Live, The Carol Burnett Show, Caddyshack, The Jerk and Meatballs. (I wish I could add to that Monty Python, but my parents were not that cultured.) These shows are not necessarily funny. In fact, I would not stand behind any of them as funny. At the time, they were funny. But at the time, I was a kid. Now when I watch them, I still slap my knee and think, Now that right there is funny! And I have no idea if they’re actually funny or if I’m just amused by the memory of them once being funny.
Funny means a lot to me. In many of my relationships, I can remember the pivotal moment where I thought the person was funny. I mean, really funny. A month after dating my husband, we were sitting in a coffee shop and he presented a secret handshake he had invented for us. It contained ridiculous hand gestures and miming. It ended with jazz hands. I knew precisely then that I would marry him.
And then there was the moment in 5th grade when I moved to a new school and sat next to Kelley. She was caught talking in class. As punishment, she was seated next to Benign New Girl. But we had just received our textbooks, and in it was a picture I found funny. (And I’ll stand behind that as funny.) And I made sure to point it out to her. And she thought it was funny too. And that pretty much cemented our friendship.
We declared ourselves Supreme Spazzes. We embraced all things funny. Most of these things were not funny, but that’s what made them funny. We held sleepovers and then fought sleep to watch ancient reruns of Saturday Night Live and the Canadian sketch comedy show SCTV. Yet we still awoke early in time for Pee-wee’s Playhouse.
We decided, in order to carry on our lifelong commitment to funny, we must pair off with SCTV cast members. I would marry Martin Short and she would marry Eugene Levy. Our new surnames would ensure we could continue with our future plans to open S & L Pet Supplies (hamster towns incorporated, if you will).
I’ll be honest, we were freaks. And I wouldn’t want to babysit me back then, let alone carry on a conversation with me. Not that I would understand one bit of it. When normal girls were off making up dance routines to Paula Abdul songs, we were off making up a secret language comprised wholly of things we found funny. (I can assure you, none of these things were funny.) Later, if there was time, we made up dance routines to Paula Abdul songs.
My formative years included revolving periods of being both ostracized and respected for my brand of funny. I earned enough collateral to coin slang words and phrases that were adopted into school dialect. One such word — schmenge [SHMAYN-gee] — continues on in the halls of my alma mater today.
Some people are engraved on team trophies or hall of fame plaques. My living legacy is schmenge. I’m quite proud of that.
But then, I took a gamble and blew it all. It was coming up on our winter break, and we were to vote on the annual movie to watch on the last day of the semester. I decided to go for something obscure and formed a massive lobbying campaign to vote in The Apple Dumpling Gang. I seemed to remember it was funny. I hadn’t seen it since I was 6. When I was 6, I ate playdough.
So I put all my money down on red and hoped it’d pay off big. Just wait until they see this funny. And my classmates took my word for it — it must really be funny.
The day before winter break, a day when kids are typically giddy and drunk on impending freedom, 150 eyes stared somberly at a screen, watching men dressed as saloon girls, riding horses backwards, and a whole lot more of this crap:
A good litmus test for funny — if even 8th graders don’t think it’s funny, it probably isn’t.