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Jokedom: Funny ha ha -- Funny perculiar

Waiting for Godot
Joke factories are all over the place. Humour making is a major industry. At no previous time in human history have we been offered -- and I say this without a hint of irony -- so much to laugh about. On a day to day basis we consume so much manufactured, professionally made comedy that it's a lifestyle essential.

How else can we be expected to get through each struggling week?

But there's funny...and there's funny.  We can all manage a titter or guffaw but aren't we drowning in comedy, living as we do in Jokedom?

This ready access to humour -- driven so much by television and film -- may be a social plus but the demand for so much of it packaged to suit a seemingly insatiable market, may mean that while we're getting so much more we may be enjoying it less.

It's not as though humour is an addiction. You don't have to watch any sitcom to get your fix for the day. Taste and preference do rule us.

But take it from me --a person who has been laughing for decades -- there seems far less substance to comedy today.

It is rule by joke factory.

In the production houses of Hollywood, teams of writers think this stuff up under the same workplace rules as anyone else. Jokes just don't happen -- they are often worked at before they are written on the cue card or shooting script.

Take Friends as an example: people sit around, drink coffee and tell jokes. Or Two and Half Men -- two and a half men sit around, talk about sex, and tell jokes.  For variety the 'situation' is played with. But the jokes keep on coming. It's production line stuff.

I'm not saying there's no humour in this or that it isn't funny. But like the delivery of so much  stand up, there's no special point to it. It's just jokes --any jokes -- designed to make us laugh. A moment of laughter.

That's the package.

The irony is that there is  funny
... and there's funny.

I'm not arguing for social conscience humour. I'm arguing for humour that has social context. That reflects the world we coexist in so that the humour generates its own relevant narrative, a comedy that lasts beyond a series of staccato one liners.

Here are five comic examples -- gems I think -- from British television: The first two are from the sixties -- At Last the 1948 Show -- and the second pair  are from Monty Python and Fawlty Towers  in the  1970s . The final example is a segment taken from Blackadder (1980s).


What I'm about is trying to confront the question of why are these examples so darn good? Of course we can reference the skill of the acting and the writing, but for all their immense creativity one thing that stands out for me is that they were engaged in a different quest than the writing of a series of often unconnected jokes.

Story ruled...and a story that was explored to its utmost. It was squeezed. It went somewhere.

While I'm not sure where I'm going with this I'm working on the hypothesis that humour which relies so much on the absurd has become such a serious business that we inhabit an absurd world akin to that of Waiting for Godot  where, as we wait out our lives, we are sentenced to be entertained by a succession of jokes that lead no where. It's a sort of perennial sick joke  in itself, and we're the brunt of it.
"The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh."
- Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot
[To be continued:This is the first part of a series on humour.]

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