Saturday, January 16, 2010

What Counts as a Joke?

My Comedist Brethren and Sistren,

I have a theological question for everyone this weekend. In Comedism, nothing is as holy as the joke. but the question is what counts as a joke.

The standard structure of a joke has two parts. First is the set up. Set ups are narratives that have two interpretations, a primary interpretation that you naturally think of when hearing it and a secondary interpretation that you generally don't think of. then you get the punch line whose purpose is to make you realize that you've been misunderstanding the situation in the set-up and that you need to completely reinterpret it or some part of it. The laughter comes when your brain is trying to merge these two interpretations to make sense of both simultaneously, but can't.

There are some jokes whose set ups are notoriously long and the fun of the joke is how long they go on before you get to the punch line. Sometimes this is to divert your attention away from the ambiguity that will be played on, sometimes it's to make the joke complex, other times it's just to have fun messing with the listener. But how long can the set up be and have something still count as a joke?

Extended narratives that do not seem like jokes at first glance have this exact structure and my question today is whether they should be thought of as jokes. Movies that are not billed as comedies like The Wizard of Oz, The Sting, and The Sixth Sense all lead you down a path and then give you the punch. Books, especially mysteries like Murder on the Orient Express, also fit in this category. Even songs like "Dixie Chicken" have this structure.

So, are these jokes? Can you think of others?

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve

Can you think of others that might or might not be?