Conversations as you get older so often seem to include variations on the phrase "it was different when I was younger." Its true about everything after about age 30. Before 30 you can tell yourself you are still one of them. But after 30 you start becoming one of us *she rubs her hands together and cackles gleefully*
For instance we didn't use calculators in school, we actually learned math. And you've probably seen the email joke that makes the rounds every six months or so about how we entertained ourselves and didn't expect instant gratification* at all times. (Note the asterisk; you'll need it later.) I made the discovery recently that there's another way our generation differs from theirs ... and our parents from us and so on. Humor.
I was watching Jeopardy the other night. You'll have to stay with me on this one; there's a train of thought I promise. I was watching Jeopardy and it was Celebrity Week so they had been having famous people on, competing for charity. The Celebrity Jeopardy shows are much more relaxed and not to be taken too seriously because these folks are entertainers, not scholars, and like to grab the limelight whenever possible. But a number of these folks had acquitted themselves reasonably well through the week. So anyway, this one night they have 3 people who do comedy. One was Martin Short, of whom I am not a huge fan; but that's a personal taste thing, not a critique. And this chick who does a sitcom whose name I can't recall but I did know who she was at the time. And the last player was some comedian I'd never heard of.
Like I said, I'm not a Martin Short fan, I think he's a bit over the top as a rule. But he was pretty low key that night. And the chick was pretty funny. Then there was the last guy who was just OUT THERE. The Three Stooges acted less foolish than he did. And I'm watching him and thinking "I don't get it." But here's the thing, I didn't know him but he was a 'celebrity' so clearly a lot of people do. And a lot of people must find him funny or he wouldn't be a 'celebrity.' Logical, right? And it got me to thinking that probably the generation after mine thinks this guy is a stitch.
They have this guy. And the previous generation have (Not "has." "Have" - because most of us are still around) Saturday Night Live alumni. And my parents' generation had Bill Cosby ... well still do because he's still around, too. And actually I think he's pretty funny, myself. And their parents had Hope and Benny. And if you don't know who they are, look them up. And as we all know so many comedians today resort to foul language and what I think of as 'shock' laughs because people laugh more at the shocking language than at the humor. But that's a value judgment and I'm showing my age so we won't go there.
But think about what's really different about each of these comedians. Yes the topical humor is different because its different times and comedians today are a lot more daring. Well so is sitcom TV. Judgment call again but I personally think a lot of it doesn't belong in the family hour. Okay, apparently I am going there. Hey its my blog, and if I can't be judgmental here, where can I? But ... follow the bouncing ball because we're actually still on the same train. (Yes I mixed my metaphors; deal with it.)
What has actually changed about the way comedians do humor over the generations? Today's humor is more "in your face." Not just the language, but distance to which they will go to get the laughs. SNL sort of started that, really. If you look back at Steve Martin and the gang, their humor resembled my 4th grade class with all the boys snickering over a planet called Uranus. It was a bit juvenile. Hey I'm not dissing it because SNL was really really big with the high school crowd, my crowd, when it first came out. They weren't as crass as a lot of the comedians of today's generation, but it wasn't our parents' humor either. I'm at a place in the middle because I grew up with Cosby-esque humor but came of age with SNL. I'm straddling the line. Maybe that's why I can see it. The Hope's and Benny's had a more subtle humor. It hit you a few beats after the joke was told. The humor was sometimes topical, and yes they poked fun at the VIPs and current events of the day; but they were subtle about it. You had to think about that joke for a moment. You had to engage that part of your brain.
Yes I'm still on the same train. Keep up.
Cosby was/is more topical and a bit more daring. Not risque, but he uses material the Hope's and Benny's wouldn't have. However his humor is subtle as well. It builds up. They aren't one-liners but rather sophisticated because you have to stay with him to get to the punch line. And sometimes it takes several minutes to get there. Kind of like this blog.
Saturday Night Live was my generation's Three Stooges. There wasn't much subtle about it. They smacked you over the head with the humor and were very blunt about the VIPs and topics they were taking on. It was often physical in scope and left little to the imagination. You didn't have to wait for the punchline or wait for the joke to hit you.
Stay with me. We're almost there.
So how did this guy from Jeopardy differ from SNL, Cosby, Hope and Benny? He was completely lacking in subtlety. He made Martin Short look dignified, okay? His humor didn't build up, you didn't have to wait for the punchline, and activating any part of your brain was not necessary. If he had held up a flashing sign saying "laugh NOW" he couldn't have been any more obvious. If Hope and Benny were a tap on the shoulder, this guy was a 2x4 upside your head. No waiting for the laugh. *INSTANT GRATIFICATION
(TADA! Told you we'd get there.)
Its not really the fault of the comedians. Because we are in an age where we (well its really more they) expect instant gratification. And the comedians are delivering. They're just giving the audience what they ask for. Big return with little effort.
So its not them, its us. Okay not us, but them. You know what I mean. Sorry this took so long. But I'm one of us. I like the subtle build up, and I appreciate delayed gratification. Especially if its yours and not mine.