Sunday, April 30, 2006

Comedist Sunday School

For an introduction to Comedism, the new religion; passages from The Comedist Manifesto, our holy book; Comedist support for evolution and gay marriage; how Comedism was founded; and a note on the War on Comedy, see these links.


We talked about knock-knock jokes earlier in the week and asked why we teach them to children when they really aren't that funny. In fact, the reason we teach them to children is the same reason they aren't that funny.

Remember how a joke works, there is a set up that sketches a situation that the listener thinks she understands, then along comes the punchline and the listener realizes that she was really supposed to understand the situation in a completely different way. The humor is in the transition, the time when the listener's brain is forced to try to see the world in two irreconcilable ways. We noted last week that humor requires the granting that there is always more than one way to see reality and this is fundamentally opposed to fundamentalism.

What the knock-knock joke does is to bring out the structure of the joke and make it a formalized part of the linguistic exchange. Every part of the joke is made explicit.

A: "Knock-knock" (read, I'm going to tell you a joke)
B: "Who's there?" (read, o.k. what's the set up?)
A: "Dwayne" (read, think of the normal situation in which a person is at the door)
B: "Dwayne who?" (read, ok, I'm thinking of the situation in which a person is at the door, but now give me the punchline so I can think about it differently)
A: "Dwain the tub, I'm dwowning!" (read, it wasn't a person's name, but a command given by someone with a speech impediment, isn't that funny?)

We teach children knock-knock jokes because they wear the intricate structure of a joke like an exoskeleton; the form that is usually contained on the interior is on the outside. In order to teach children how to tell jokes, we teach them to tell highly structured jokes first because joking is a sophisticated means of communication that requires training and linguistic sophistication. Knock-knock jokes are not funny because the structure is brought out to such an extent that we all know when the punchline is coming, we expect it. The timing of a knock-knock joke is telegraphed, something that in a normal joke is a bad thing. We surrender the virtue of timing, a crucial element of the joke, to teach the structure.

But while we need to teach children to express themselves like adults to be funny, they teach us to see the world like them. Children are funnier than we are. Children live in worlds in which there are not the rigid boundaries that we need jokes to help us shed. They are always seeing reality in multiple ways. When my wife's grandfather passed away years ago, her niece, quite young at the time, asked my sister-in-law where he was. She was told that "His body is back at their house." With innocent curiosity, but no revulsion, she asked, "And where is his head?" The thought of decapitating our recently deceased is horrible for us adults. Descerating a body, we would scream. But for children, whose world is fluid in ways we could only dream of, things are always open. True humor is a combination of adult linguistic sophistication and child-like openness to a world of multiple senses. Humor is a comedic joining of opposites.

To celebrate this, here is a knock-knock joke, a child's joke that ought not be told to the children.

A: Knock-knock.
B: Who's there?
A: Fornication.
B: Fornication, who?
A: Fornication like this, a black tie is optional.

Irreverend Steve