Is it POSSIBLE to tell a joke without pissing SOMEONE off? Well, yes – but only if you use ABSTRACT humour. F’rinstance, the great surreal comic, Steven Wright paints pictures of absurdity in our minds that depict events that could never happen to anybody (for an example of what I’m talking about, click on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5ErMolRE8M&feature=channel – but not YET – I’m TALKING!)
But while Mr Wright’s humour is GENIUS, it is just ONE kind of humour – and it’d be a pretty poor pass if it was the ONLY one. We need diversity. At its best, humour explores the human experience, the human condition and addresses our fears.
But while the nature of what is funny has perplexed people since the days of court jesters, nowadays we have an ADDITIONAL wrinkle to worry about – bloody POLITICAL CORRECTNESS.
Now this writer would be the last to sanction humour that would attack people’s race, colour, age, sex or sexual preferences. That’s just cruel. But we are all different and that difference is something to be CELEBRATED – and humour can be a way to DO that.
But any humour that deals with REAL things is ALWAYS going to disturb SOMEONE. Example: “A man bought a new hat, but as he was walking along the road, a gust of wind blew it into a garden, where a dog leapt on it and ripped it to shreds. Just then, a second man came out of the house and the first man ran over to remonstrate with him. ‘Look at what your dog did to my new hat,’ he ranted, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ The man replied, ‘Well – nothing. Dogs will be dogs – and your hat blew into MY garden. Act of God, mate.’ ‘Oh, I see,’ said the first man, ‘That’s your attitude.’ ‘No,’ replied the second man, ‘It’s YOUR ‘at ‘e chewed!'”
Harmless enough, you might think – and even funny, if told by a professional. But somewhere in an audience of a few thousand, you can bet there’s SOMEONE who has recently had a dispute with a dog-owner that lead to VIOLENCE being visited on them. THAT guy WON’T laugh.
But what can you do? EVERY story a comedian tells will strike a nerve in someone.
Another thing. Sexist humour was endemic for decades. Women had to laugh at jokes that belittled them, or be considered “bad sports”. Then along came PC, feminism – and for a while, “reverse-sexist” jokes became popular. However, after a time they just became SEXIST – but directed against MEN. After a period of moratorium, these jokes should have bitten the dust too. Failing that – in the “post-ironic” period – BOTH types should have been allowed.
So where does this leave us? Well, thankfully, comedy is left alone by the censor, these days. The humour invented by Lenny Bruce is do-able almost anywhere. Nowadays, the AUDIENCE is your censor – and a skilled gag-smith can usually turn a gag that gets groans around anyway.
Therefore let us remember – humour is universal. It comes in many forms. So keep your mind OPEN to ALL its variations.
Oh, and for Americans – “humour” means “humor”.