My 1st submission the paper refused to print
What’s So Funny?
The following column contains material that may not be suitable for all viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.
I’m a funny guy, but looks aren’t everything.
The preceding one-liner, though not that funny, contains three elements essential to verbal humor: (1) the punch line is unexpected, but (2) it is logically consistent with what come before, and (3) the logic is somehow, for lack of a better word, askew, and therein lies the craft. Just saying “I look funny,” isn’t in itself funny.
Try it out on any joke you’ve heard and see if those criteria don’t apply.
Jokes can be quite funny with just those elements, but in order to be really funny, comedy has to have a forth element; it needs to be dangerous. It has to make the audience say, “I can’t believe you said that,” and the very funniest material walks the fine line between, “I can’t believe you said that,” and, “You shouldn’t have said that.” Too much of the latter and people get angry. Toying with that anger is funny.
What is dangerous changes with taste and time. Bob Hope’s sexual innuendo once was dangerous; Richard Pryor was dangerous; Dave Chappell is now. Lenny Bruce has been dead going on half a century and he’s still dangerous.
While I arrived at this theory of comedy in my own spare time, I’m willing to bet there are people who’ve academically analyzed the subject and formulated a similar hypothesis. I’d give you odds on it, but I’m not going to find out for myself because that would require some research, and I’m lazier than I am funny.
Now, Mr. Millsaps, (you may be saying) I think you might want to reconsider confessing in the newspaper that you’re lazy. Your clients might read it. Can’t be good for business.
Oh, but remember I’m a criminal defense attorney, and my clients aren’t going to read a newspaper piece unless it accompanied by an artist’s rendition of themselves. And furthermore, you’re not going to tell them, because you’re not going to talk to them. If you did, it might go something like this:
Client: Give me all yo money or I’ll shoot yo a*# , matter afack, I may shoot
yo a*# anyway ‘cause you the ugliest m%#*f^*# I ever seen.
You: Oh yeah, well your lawyer’s lazy.
O.K., now that was a little dangerous.
That was a joke! (We’re just having fun with you Mr. President.) Most of my clients are actually very nice people. The one’s who pay me.
Probably the funniest jokes are those that arise out of material that is ostensibly not funny, hence more unexpected, more likely to be dangerous, but some things just cry out for humor, and what they lack in quality they make up for in quantity, for example, the line in the drug commercial that says, “Erections lasting more than four hours, though rare, require immediate medical attention.” It’s already funny; just poke it and jokes come spewing out.
1st Nurse: Which one is Mr. Jones?
2nd Nurse: The guy with the hat in his lap.
M.D.: What seems to be the problem, Mr. Jones?
Mr. J.: Well Doc, it’s hard to talk about.
M.D.: You can tell me; I’m a doctor.
Mr. J.: Well, see, I’ve had this erection for over four hours.
M.D.: You call that an erection?
Mr. J.: It’s not funny man. I need you to help me get rid of this thing.
M.D.: What do you think we’re running here? A massage parlor?
Mr. J.: They said on T.V. you could help.
M.D.: O.K. Any idea about what caused this problem?
Mr. J.: It was a pill I took.
M.D.: And I thought you were just glad to see me.
Mr. J.: Cut it out! Are you some kind of quack? I need help here.
M.D.: O.K., let me see. Hmm. I got it. Here, take a good look at this shot of my mother-in-law in her thong bikini.
Mr. J.: Wow, Doc! She’s hot.
M.D.: You need to see a doctor man.