Try as I might, there is little in this world I find less funny than Anchorman. In these two minutes and twenty eight seconds, designed to tickle my funny bone and whet my apetite for more, the temptation to lol is absent and the possibility of lmaoing and rofling out of the question. But why then do I find frumpy Maeve Higgins and her sister having the banter while baking hilarious when Ron Burgundy’s string of faux pas invariably leaves me straight-faced? Is what you find funny not more than simply a matter of which way the cookie crumbles?
Cognitive Psychologists believe that what you find funny depends on your interpretation of the incongruous. Which incongruities in particular amuse you depend on the level of intellectual effort required to recognise the inconsistency. Let’s take Stand Up comedy. It’s thought that jokes about rape get a laugh not on account of particularly twisted audience members but rather due to their acknowledgement that a taboo is being flouted and that on top of that, the Unspeakable is being treated with flipancy.
I have been thinking a lot in the past few days about the things that do and don’t make me laugh. Sarcasm never does. The mental effort required ro recognise the blantantly incongruous: that somebody is saying the opposite of what they mean just doesn’t cross the threshold of intellectual toil necessary to cause me to chortle. (Each to their own I guess….. :NOT?!)
I am reduced to convulsions of laughter however by anything that approaches the Ridiculous, as long as it is left discreetly packaged in the Understated. Rape jokes don’t do it for me, but hidden camera shows, in which those taken in treat their pranksters (sometimes even consciously) with the sobriety appropriate to a genuine situation make me laugh. In these scenarios, you’ve got the obvious incongruity of the joker acting as something he’s not. In addition however, you have the intellectual pleasure of watching the punked-ee respond in accordance with the conversational and societal maxims they have imbibed through experience. Furthermore, the possibilities of their own moulding of the situation and the potential to ‘play along’ with the prankster leaves an element of unpredictability which itches my funny bone.
Speaking of the Unpredictable reminds me of the eighth wonder of the world: the apparent hilarity of a short clip that my parents watch without fail, every New Year’s Eve on Bavarian television. The clip is a black and white British sketch of the title “Dinner for One” and dubbed into German for maximum comedy. It portrays an imaginary dinner party given by a senile lady of royalty- status. The lady, imagining that she is surrounded by prestigious guests orders her butler to fill their glasses and heap their plates. The catchphrase of the dopey butler is the polite question:”Same Procedure as Last Year?” which is invariably answered by the delusional hostess in the affirmative. As well as that line, what makes my parents hysterical is the increasingly intoxicated state of the butler as he downs the drinks of the imaginary guests and falls repeatedly over the head of a tigerskin mat. Before I set off in hope of actual intoxication last New Year’s Eve, I watched with incredulous amusement as my parents came close to rofling off the sofa.
Given that I am pretty certain of my genetic relationship to those I call my parents, I cannot but conclude that there is no such thing as “Intelligent Humour”. What I can say without a doubt though, is that what you find funny is a representation of the way you view the world. And that may well depend on which way the cookie crumbles.