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.

Comments

Some people make you laugh and you respect them and other people make you laugh and you think, you're an idiot and have no class.

One kind of humor is the the kind where you pick on people. It's not funny to most people when you pick on people who are down. It's funny to pick on the Desperate Housewives because they are hip and doing well. It's not so funny to pick on Bush because his numbers are in line with Nixon.

I'm with Carrie. Men seem to be more interested in broad humor or physical humor of just plain silly humor; women prefer ironic or sophisticated humor, more subtle stuff.

However, I watched the Colbert thing; and I'm far from a neocon (or dead inside, heh heh), but I didn't think it was funny. The delivery was deadly and the timing was awful too. I'm completely with the man (i.e., I think Bush deserved everything he was dishing out, plus some), but in my estimation, Colbert didn't hit the mark.

Some of Colbert's jokes were funny (e.g., the Hindenburg line made me laugh, so did the glacier joke), others weren't. Some lines made me laugh, but it was an I-can't-believe-he-said-that-to-the-President's-fa ce laugh, not a that-joke-was-really-funny laugh.

"I can't say if he was funny, or not, but only that he made me laugh."

Well said.

As for all the pundits - well every one needs a livlihood.

It's kind of weird, though, to effectively compare picking on the President of the United States to picking on formerly-popular kid who got pantsed in gym class. I mean, sure, his numbers are down, but he's the *President*, one of the most powerful men in the world, and he has a reputation for never listening to criticism. There's a point where somebody's got to say some things, and Colbert was given the opportunity.

(I thought Colbert was scathing and on-target, which is different from funny.)