October 21, 2020

America can be counted on to take any good idea, or any bad idea, and absolutely run it into the ground.
George Carlin

O, laugh, laughers!
O, laugh out, laughers!
You who laugh with laughs, you who laugh it up laughishly
O, laugh out laugheringly
O, belaughable laughterhood - the laughter of laughering laughers!
O, unlaugh it outlaughingly, belaughering laughists!
Laughily, laughily,
Uplaugh, enlaugh, laughlings, laughlings
Laughlets, laughlets.
O, laugh, laughers!
O, laugh out, laughers!
Velimir Khlebnikov

Animator Chuck Jones once quantified the exact margin of error on one of his most famous jokes: Wile E. Coyote, when falling off a cliff, had to hit bottom exactly fourteen frames after he disappeared from sight. "It seemed to me that thirteen frames didn't work in terms of humor, and neither did fifteen frames. Fourteen frames got a laugh."
Ken Jennings, "Planet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture"

The ancient Greeks believed that the diaphragm muscle was the seat of humor appreciation, which is why the nearby armpits are the most ticklish part of the body.
Ken Jennings, "Planet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture"

Because a brief moment of happiness is pretty good. I also think that just focusing on making money and buying stupid things is a good way of life. I believe materialism gets a bad rap. It's not about the amount of money. Nothing's better than a Bic pen, a VW Beetle, or a pair of regular Levi's. If your things don't make you happy, you're not getting the right things.
The rest of the speech is even more bitterly sardonic.
'Every little bit helps,' as the old woman said when she pissed in the sea.

Certainly it's true that a little ironic distancing can work wonders as a coping device. At Groucho Marx's separation from his first wife, Ruth, for example, he told a joke. After many unhappy years, they had agreed to a divorce, and so she packed up the car and was leaving the house for the last time. Groucho put out his hand and said, "Well, it was nice knowing you . . . and if you're ever in the neighborhood again, drop in." Ruth laughed, and the tension was broken.
Ken Jennings, "Planet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture"

Finally, humor has the distinct advantage of overcoming power asymmetries: if protesters can drag a debate into the level of the ridiculous, the powers that be have much more to lose than they do. In his book Blueprint for Revolution, Serbian activist Srdja Popovic lists examples of what he calls "laughtivism": deflating authority in ways that are hard to retaliate against, because they provoke laughter instead of anger or violence: As the Italian situationists warned oppressive governments, "a laugh will bury you!" This line of protest seemed especially promising when it came to the thin-skinned Donald Trump. The marchers with funny signs may not have wounded him, but TV and Internet jokers realized that the president's massive ego, his own deluded mystique of mastery, was his greatest weakness. Jokes about the unimpressive crowds at his inauguration immediately produced defiant tweets and defensive press conferences. Jokes referring to White House aide Steve Bannon as "President Bannon" led to Bannon's swift demotion from the National Security Council, the New York Times reported. The leader of the free world could be manipulated into changing policy by pointing and laughing at him; this was either hopeful or horrifying, depending on your point of view.
Ken Jennings, "Planet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture"

But satire and comedy haven't had a great track record against totalitarianism. Popovic's student movement in Serbia did actually help to topple the government of Slobodan Milošević, who ended up dead in a Dutch prison cell while on trial for war crimes. But there's not a long list of powerful people brought low by jokes. Putin and Assad have so far managed to survive the Ping-Pong balls and Lego sets strewn on sidewalks by their unhappier citizens. "There are those who thought that we could laugh Hitler and Mussolini out of court," remembered theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, "but laughter alone never destroys a great seat of power and authority in history." This raises the possibility that subversive jokes might actually be counterproductive. What if they're just a convenient escape valve, a way for unhappy people to let off steam and feel better about their lot without actually fighting back against oppression?
Ken Jennings, "Planet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture"

Jokes are thermometers, not thermostats.
Christie Davies
(Ken Jennings references this while explaining how sardonic Russian jokes caused Lithuanian emigre and political science Alexander Shtromas to predict the fall of the Soviet Union as early as the 1970s, but that the jokes didn't actually bring down the party.
Cold night in Fenway...