The other day I was watching a Golden Girls rerun. One of the characters, (Blanche, the oversexed Southern belle) spoke this line: "I'm as nervous as a virgin at a prison rodeo." I fell off my chair laughing. I find the show even funnier today than when it was in its original run. The four ladies around whom the show is built are total pros who understand comedy timing and delivery. Throw in a talented group of writers who "get" the characters and know how to write for them and you have, in my view anyhow, one of the funniest shows ever on television.
I got to thinking about what makes people laugh. A sense of humor is absolutely necessary if one is to get through life intact, and yet, we don't all find the same things funny. I think too that our sense of humor changes as we get older. For example, when I was a kid I never missed a Red Skelton show; I thought he was hilarious, yet when I see old clips of the show today, I cringe to think I ever found him funny. Same goes for Jerry Lewis, The Three Stooges, Milton Berle and other performers I've outgrown. They were all physical comedians, and that type of comedy, with a few exceptions, (John Belushi, Steve Martin, Kevin James) just leaves me cold today.
It's hard to put into writing what I find funny. Certain people as diverse as Jackie Gleason, Woody Allen, Steve Allen, Rodney Dangerfield, Carol Burnett, Richard Pryor, Bob Newhart, Eddie Murphy (before he fell in love with himself) Lucille Ball, and Lily Tomlin can usually be counted on to make me laugh. There is also a company of second bananas who ring my bell: Art Carney, Ted Knight, Don Knotts, Jerry Stiller, Vivian Vance Harvey Korman, and Tim Conway. There is no common denominator that all these people share except that they make me laugh. There are many others, but these folks come to mind this minute.
As a kid I was addicted to certain cartoon characters, and these I have not outgrown. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, Wile E. Coyote, Tweety and Sylvester, Elmer Fudd, and The Tasmanian Devil were (and are) all favorites. Saturday afternoons of my childhood were spent in the balcony of the Colonial Theater in Brooklyn where, in addition to two feature films, they showed 21 color cartoons. I think my own sense of humor was developing at that time, and there was no greater joy for young Jimmy than to watch the look on Wile E. Coyote's face as that mail-order Acme Roadrunner Bomb blew up in his face. There was also a memorable cartoon featuring the fabulous Michigan J. Frog, a singing amphibian, that I found to be a classic.
Comedy is where you find it. Charlie Chaplin is widely considered to be a comedic genius, yet I find his films to be infinitely sad. On the other hand, sometimes the most serious situations can produce laughter, or so-called comic relief. We find ourselves needing to laugh to mitigate the powerful emotions some dramas can evoke in us. Comedic lines that paint funny images can come at us from anywhere. The other night I was watching a show called "Justified" written by the great mystery writer Elmore Leonard. It's about a U.S. Marshall in Harlan County, Kentucky dealing with a unique collection of backwoods crooks and con men. It's usually a pretty violent show, but in this episode, one of the rednecks says to another: "You're so dumb you have to blow a whistle while you take a s**t so you know which end to wipe."
Now that's funny.
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