Politics Thursday: The Subjectivity of Humor
I'm reminded of the subjectivity of humor every time I watch The Simpson's or Family Guy with my wife. I regularly laugh out loud at the ridiculous and childish jokes, while she sits stone faced wondering why we're wasting our time watching something that is so clearly not funny. While we both find Friends and Seinfeld funny, I laugh alone when I laugh at evil monkeys and flaming moes. But, this being Politics Thursday, I'm here to write about Political Humor, not cartoons.
It's been interesting reading all the different reactions to Stephen Colbert's closing remarks at the White House Correspondents Dinner last week. Most interestingly is how completely convinced everyone is that Colbert was either funny, or he wasn't funny, as if one person gets to decide what's funny. People are 100% sure Colbert was either hilarious, or a total idiot. Was he funny? I don't know, but I think it's the wrong question to ask. I'd rather ask, did he make you laugh?
"Funny" is incredibly subjective, and yet there's no shortage of people lining up to declare Colbert the most or least funny guy in the country right now. e.g., Richard Cohen: "He wasn't funny." 750 words on how and why Colbert was not funny. Cohen and everyone else who decided Colbert wasn't (or was) funny got it wrong. Either Colbert made you laugh, or he didn't. If you laughed you probably thought he was funny, and if you didn't then you probably didn't think he was funny, and you're probably a neocon and dead inside. (See, there, now I'm being funny.)
If I was to make a list of why Colbert was funny I'd use most everything Cohen listed as well. While Cohen says Colbert was being "rude", a "bully" and using "mixed metaphors" and "lame and insulting jokes" and was therefore not funny, I'd say that's exactly what made me laugh. He was rude, he was insulting, and some of the jokes were lame, but that's exactly what made me laugh.
I can't say if he was funny, or not, but only that he made me laugh.