The Changing Face of Humor

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, wrote an interesting post entitled Humor as as Seasoning. He brings up an interesting view on the way society has changed what we accept as funny. I agree with his points.

Things that I found very funny 10 – 20 years ago (American Pie, Saturday Night Live) I now watch with little more than a chuckle, if that. Today things that give me a good belly roll are more interspersed with drama, action or something else. Even the comedy “classics” such as the 3 Stooges or Laurel and Hardy are no longer enough to keep most people from changing the channel.

There are a new breed of classics; however, that have incorporated the recipe that Scott has voiced. Some of them have been around for a long time and are a testament to the vision of the driving force behind them. Think about some of the older movies that you would probably watch again. For me the list includes flicks such as American Graffiti, The Princess Bride and Grosse Pointe Blank. I’m sure you have your list too.

The thing that these movies have in common is that they use humor as an enhancement for the movie and I believe that in 20 years I’ll still enjoy these movies as much as I do today.

So why is that? Why don’t the faddish, straight out in-your-face comedies have the longevity? I think it is because these movies that use “humor as a seasoning” reflect reality more. We relate to them because life is drama, action, tragedy, or just boring same-old, same-old with smatterings of comedic moments. I think these filmmakers had a vision that mimic what we know and live in to some degree or another and that is what sticks with us. Most of the movies that I think of in that light a lot of the people that I know feel similarly about from an entertainment point of view.

I think that’s also why shows like Seinfeld were so successful. It was a show about nothing after all! But nothing, sprinkled with funny bits is an average day for many of us. Of course the trick is to take the funny bits further otherwise we would quickly become bored.

Grey’s Anatomy is a great example. Here is yet another drama about doctors. Oh god, please no! But wait, these doctors are dysfunctional, like real people! They can be callous and compassionate, brilliant and idiotic all in one day. Sure, the stories are more extreme than normal life, but not by too far of a stretch. There’s comedy in there again. I think this one could last.

Scott goes on to talk about the decrease in sitcom popularity while “reality” TV is on the rise. I tend to think that this is another fad. It is different, and it attempts to sprinkle reality, comedy and other things together; however, it is too contrived. The thing about watching something like Boston Legal is that we know it isn’t suppose to be real, yet there are aspects that remind us of reality. Contrast that to a typical “reality” show like The Bachelor. Here’s a show that is suppose to reflect something we might relate to, yet it feels overly contrived.

In the end, I think that is what will prove the fad aspect of these shows. They simply feel too fake when they are penned as “reality,” whereas the “humor seasoned” shows fell more real when they are suppose to be fake.

Just my two cents. What are your thoughts?


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