Musing on Amusement

Why am I so suspicious of laughter?  Not that spontaneous kind that bubbles up from a lively conversation or a shared observation of life in its many tricky forms.  No, not that kind.  I’m thinking of the canned variety, the forced ho ho ho of a dodgy looking Santa, or a comedian laughing at his own jokes.  Maybe it’s too many hearings of The Laughing Policeman on Two Way Family Favourites as a child?  Too many occasions of not seeing the joke and sitting stony faced in a room filled with empty hilarity?  Or more often seeing the joke coming a mile off and knowing that it won’t be funny when it lands like a dead bird in my lap?

Why is the analysis of comedy much more entertaining than the comedy itself; the intellectual endeavour more engaging than the damp squib silliness that results?

Why, when someone asks me to explain that piece of unhelpful writing advice show don’t tell, do I always use humour as my example?  If I read a description of something as ‘hilarious’ (or that theatrical review cliché ‘rolling in the aisles with laughter’), that’s an example of ineffective telling, as my automatic assumption is that something entirely unamusing except to an idiot has occurred, and I am bounced out of whatever world the writer was attempting to create.  In contrast, if I read a scene which brings a twitch to the corner of my mouth, then that is genuinely amusing, and the author has shown me something funny, and I have stayed in their world.

Is ‘funny’ even an objective measure?  Why do so many people insist so doggedly that X and Y are funny, apparently allowing no room for a different opinion, brooking no debate?

Maybe I could do a PhD on why comedy isn’t funny.  Would there be a market for that, I wonder?  I could have lots of good arguments along the way – so long as I didn’t have to go to any stand up comedy gigs. The last one of those was less than successful for all concerned.  It really wasn’t my fault the compere interpreted my hard fought for ‘neutral face’ as antagonistic.  I should just have relaxed into looking as bored as I felt.

I’m working hard here to avoid falling into another rant against the conformity of so called alternative comedy, canned laughter and the herd mentality…… Just so long as no-one tells me I simply have to see XYZ as ‘they’re really funny, honestly’.

Life might be so much easier if I were easily amused.  There would be so much more to watch on television for a start.  I might have to confess, though, that I spent six days at the Edinburgh Festival and didn’t see a single comedy act; apart from the fat fellow off one of those boys clubs TV shows who took the taxi we got out of at Bristo Square.  He was wearing a surprising amount of eye liner for a big bloke at 4 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon, Edinburgh notwithstanding.

Is that funny?  Interesting, incongruous perhaps, but no, not a titter, not even a twitch.

Let’s think instead of times that I have laughed, or had to bite the inside of my cheek to stop myself…… that wedding of two young lawyers where the vicar progressed slowly, sliding inexorably, no way to stop him, from talking about how well they would have been trained in resolving disputes towards the topic of divorce.  Even when I gained control of my own suppressed laughter, I could feel the wooden pew shaking where someone further up the row was failing in their own attempts.

Or that Russian production of Anne of a Thousand Days where Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey dressed in tight lycra, striped to the waist and fought each other with whips….over the future of the Church of England.

But then, neither of these were comedies.

I always sound like a real misery.  Can’t tell a joke; doesn’t like comedy; gets bad tempered in a farce.  Just so long as no-one starts to counsel me about the fact that I do have a sense of humour.  We’ve been down that road before, when I had to endure a whole week of effective communication training being positively encouraged any time I said something remotely amusing.  It’s hard to tell someone so seriously sincere and yet so lacking in basic intuition that you were joking.

Leave a comment


  1. The stuff of nightmares…

  2. ‘Funny’ definitely isn’t an objective measure, but I don’t generally find people any more or any less dogged about what is and isn’t funny than they are about the validity of the immaculate conception. Clearly you like your funny as dry as possible!

    • That’s an excellent analogy. Beware comedy bigotry…. I think it’s the artifice I can’t stand. I want my humour to be spontaneous not planned or staged.

  3. Catherine

     /  September 19, 2013

    I think it’s a litte harsh on the Laughing Policeman – but thanks for reminding me about him, as I’ve just been chucking along to him briefly on YouTube, not having heard him for years ( )


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