The Nature of Comedy

With the recent outcry over South Park’s latest episode in which apparently (I haven’t actually watched it) Steve Irwin attends Satan’s Halloween dress up party with a stingray sticking through him, I’ve been thinking about the nature of comedy. What is comedy, what makes it up, are there places that comedy shouldn’t be taken, are there ways that comedy shouldn’t be tackled, and are there answers to any of these questions?

While comedy is normally funny, it oftentimes gives insights and shows the holes in our society. Comedians such as George Carlin often attack subjects with a certain anger, yet worded and timed so perfectly nobody can help but to laugh (“But [God] loves you. He loves you, and He NEEDS MONEY! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more. Now, you talk about a good bullshit story. Ho-ly Shit!“). Meanwhile, Jerry Seinfeld attempts to show you the humor in everyday things (“Have you ever had milk the day after the date? Scares the hell out of you, doesn’t it? The spoon is trembling as it comes out of the bowl. ‘It’s after the day! I’m taking a big chance! I smelled it, you smelled it, what is it supposed to smell like?'”).

Are there places comedy shouldn’t go, and are there ways it shouldn’t be treated? While George Carlin is famous for his 7 Words routine and believes that comedy is about finding where the line is drawn then crossing it, Seinfeld says that while there are no subjects that he will not tackle, there are ways in which he will not tackle them. In Jerry Seinfeld On Comedy, he also calls heavy profanity the “great shortcut” of comedy and as such won’t use it. Are shortcuts be avoided, or should they be used when appropriate? Are they ever appropriate?

While I don’t mind a few choice words here and there to spice up the overall effect as someone like Demetri Martin will do, somebody like Dane Cook just gets annoying. After a few minutes you realize that he’s not actually saying anything funny, but it’s so laced with well-timed profanity that you’re tricked into believing that it actually is. You can only stand so much of that.

Is it the comedian’s job to filter out overly offensive material? Or should it just be saved for the right audience? Most comedy, on some level or another, is offensive to somebody. All comedy makes fun of something or somebody on some level, but are there levels that are too high?

And will I ever stop asking questions without providing answers?

Boy Scouts != (do not equal) People with a Sense of Direction

Yesterday morning I loaded up my airsoft gun, slammed some CO2 in that thing, and took off for some little island in the middle of the Willamette River. All together there were eight people, 10 guns, 4 bags of Cheetos, a cooler with approximately 63.2 cans of soda, a radio, and two canoes. Oh yeah, and 7 oar/paddle things. The weather? About 100 degrees.

Now, many of you are probably thinking that to carry all of this upriver using only two canoes, multiple trips would be a must. You’re probably right, but that would take longer. And besides, once the first load gets there, who’s going back? Not me.

The canoe I was in had no major problems. We hit a few low spots at first, but after that it was smooth sailing. It looked like we might have a little problem with some small rapids, but we were able to steer clear of the rocks.

The other four in the other canoe had a completely different story, however. As we landed at this mile-long, 50 to 100 yards wide lump of sand, I turned to watch their progress. They were on the complete other side of the river, knee-deep in this polluted water, pushing and pulling the canoe, trying to get past the rapids. When they thought they were safe, they pushed off and started paddling. They got to the middle of the river when they realized that they’re paddling forward with everything they’ve got, and they’re not moving forward. So they turned the canoe towards the island, trying to go straight for it.

The problem? They were now going backwards. By the way, did I mention that most of the people in that little plastic boat were Boy Scouts?

So after we were all safely on this miniature oasis, we made our way to the “campsite,” being a little clearing with a picnic table in the middle of it. Apparently, these people had been here before with their Boy Scout troupe and built some paths and made a “campsite.” I figured these guys must know the island pretty well by now.

We’re playing our first game, and my team comes into contact with a few of the enemy. I pull out my glorified, 350fps piece of plastic and pick off one of them. Unfortunately, I get hit in the hand soon after (lucky shot, I’m telling you–so what if I was just sitting on the beach).

As such, me and my victim make our way back to the distinguished “campsite” and all of that Mountain Dew. We start off on the path, when somewhere along the line we sort of loose it. We’re in the middle of this grass stuff in between 5 and 6 feet tall, and my victim is ahead of me, leading the way. He decides that the best course of action would be to blaze his own trail. This doesn’t sound like the most brilliant plan to me, but I figure that since he was one of the people who built this campsite he must know what he’s doing…He is a Boy Scout after all.

And besides, if you think that I’m going to go back by all by myself and to try to find the real path, you gotta be nuts. At least he’s in front so that I don’t have to break down all of that grass. I follow him around for a little while, when it becomes clear that he doesn’t exactly know where he’s going. We head for the river on the east side of the island (OK, I admit it–I actually have no clue what direction it was, but we’ll just call it east for now) so that we can see how far up the island we are. Suddenly, the ground drops, and we find ourselves much deeper in this grass. That doesn’t seem to bother my brilliant guide too much, and he keeps on blazing. That is, until the ground dropped again.

This time, it dropped, and it kept on dropping. I was able to stop, but my victim/guide fell and was quickly sliding in the direction of the river. When he was able to grab onto something and stop, we realized that he had stopped about 3.4 feet away from a cliff dropping right into the great, polluted Willamette River. Wonderful.

Did we turn around and head back, hoping to perhaps find the real path again? Of course not. He still wanted to keep on blazing. Thankfully while blazing through we eventually came in contact with the real path. Upon this finding my not-so-helpful guide turns back towards me with, “See? The path. I told you I knew where I was going.”

It wasn’t until we were back at the campsite that I was informed by somebody else that my “guide” recently got lost at the last Boy Scout camping trip. I was also informed by another that if you go too far east, there’s a cliff that will drop right into the river.

Gosh, thanks.

Too bad the Constitution wasn’t written using a thesaurus…

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Boring. By using a simple thesaurus, this writing quality can easily be improved ten-fold.

We the partakers of the Joint Confusion, in order to form a more perfect society, establish reasonableness, insure household harmony, provide for the everyday argument, spam the general welfare, and lock up the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Disposition for the Joint Confusion of America.

I’d love to see Harry Blackmun even try to touch that one.

A dangerous statement.

Censorship is a distracting issue with which we should not even have to worry. Near the community in which I grew up in Norther Illinois, seventeen-year-olds cannot legally buy the Rage Against the Machine record. I wonder how much of it has to do with the people in power not wanting the virginal ears of seventeen-year-olds to hear the word (expletive) and how much they do not want them to hear, “Landlords and power whores on my people they took turns,” which is far more dangerous of a statement.

–Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine guitarist and Harvard graduate)
From Rock Stars on God by Doug Van Pelt

“Which is far more dangerous of a statement.”

It really makes me wonder, how often do Christians get so caught up in specific words that they miss the whole point? And why are many of them more offended by the Da Vinci Dode or a synonym for poop than they are by the fact that thousands of nonbelievers in Africa are currently dying of hunger and AIDS?

Lets look at a different type of scenario. Take one of my all-time favorite Creed songs, What’s this life for. Here’s the basic jist of it:

Hurray for a child
That makes it through
If there’s any way
Because the answer lies in you
They’re laid to rest
Before they know just what to do
Their souls are lost
Because they could never find
What’s this life for
I see your soul, it’s kind of gray
I see your heart, you look away
You see my wrist, I know your pain
I know your purpose on your plane
Don’t say a last prayer
Because you could never find
What’s this life for
But they ain’t here anymore
Don’t have to settle no goddamn score
Cause we all live
Under the reign of one king

There have been whole debates on this song, some even going as far as to question Stapp’s faith (google it). But that’s just messed up. I mean, were they even listening?

This song was written after a friend of both Scott Stapp and Mark Tremonti committed suicide. It’s been said (though I haven’t been able to verify it) that the last thing he said before killing himself was, “Now who’s gonna settle the goddamn score?”

This song responds to that by saying, “Don’t have to settle no goddamn score, ’cause we all live under the reign of one king.” It morns the loss of “souls” that acted before realizing exactly “what’s this life for.” For me, the whole point of this song is that the damn score was settled on the cross 2000 years ago.

Honestly, that’s more profound than most of the Christian music I hear on the radio. With or without the “swearing,” it’s also much more dangerous–but that’s a good thing.