Some People Just Can't Take a Joke

Mel Brooks once joked, “Tragedy is when I stub my toe. Comedy is when you fall into an open manhole and die.” Brooks understands humor.

"Funny" is the joy we feel when we see someone else suffer. Not noble, perhaps, but that’s who we are. We happily anticipate the Little Tramp pratfalling on that banana peel clearly visible in the middle of the street; and when he notices it and carefully walks around it, we feel a twinge of disappointment. But then, with his attention still fixed upon the offending peel, he steps backward and falls into a manhole and we explode in laughter.

We laughed because we didn’t see it coming, and because we knew that it was all a setup and Charlie Chaplin really wasn’t injured in his fall. Funny is when someone suffers an unexpected injury or exaggerated insult which does no real harm.

The quandary of the comedian is how to torment somebody without offending anybody. As far back I can remember, comedians solved this dilemma by ridiculing themselves, or their families or friends, or fictitious characters. Jack Benny made fun of himself by playing the miser to perfection. (Robber with a gun: “Your money or your life.” Long pause. “Well?” Benny, angrily: “I’m thinking about it!”). Bob Hope pretended to be a narcissistic coward whose only weapon was the wisecrack -- a role later adopted and adapted by Woody Allen and Bill Murray. Bob Newhart portrayed a self-doubting psychotherapist trying to dispense self-confidence to a bunch of loonies. Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers mocked their husbands. Johnny Carson skewered his fictional characters -- Art Fern, Floyd R. Turbo, Aunt Blabby, and Carnac the Magnificent.

These old-timers followed three rules: One, they never took themselves seriously. Two, they never hurt anybody. And three, they never talked about politics or religion -- because of rules one and two, and also because it would’ve spoiled the act. They wanted only to make people laugh.

Bill Maher threw the rule book away. For years on "Politically Incorrect" and "Real Time with Bill Maher," he has habitually offended half the country with a message that amounts to: You Republicans (or occasionally You Christians) are really stupid! The persecution of Republicans continued on The Daily Show with their stable of leftist political comedians: Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Trevor Noah, Larry Wilmore, and Samantha Bee. We didn’t laugh, but neither did we whine.

As bad as this was, schticked-off Republicans couldn’t imagine how much worse it would get when Donald Trump became President. Americans have always poked fun at our Presidents, but some comedians have become so unhinged with Trump that they’ve forgotten what’s funny and what isn’t.

Kathy Griffin holding a bloody Trumpish head wasn’t a Trump joke. It was an ISIS joke, and anyone who thinks ISIS is a laughing matter is way out of touch. Stephen Colbert’s reference to Putin’s…. holster wasn’t a Trump joke either. It was a gay joke, and when did gay jokes become fashionable? Griffin and Colbert not only offended good taste, they also offended good comedy. They weren’t funny.

It took a noncomedian to remind them what real humor is. On July 2, President Trump released a video of his WWE takedown of CNN. The sight of our President dressed in coat and tie wrestling and punching a guy whose face is covfefed by a CNN logo, then getting up and walking away unfazed, is hilarious. Part of what made it so funny was that Trump played an exaggerated version of how some people already see him: Trump the Terrible. With the comedic instincts of Jack Benny and Bob Hope, Trump made himself the butt of his own joke and invited us to laugh at him. He doesn’t always take himself seriously.

But the addition of the CNN logo made the skit political, and the left take themselves too seriously to laugh at a joke that’s directed at them. Humorless political reporters whined and declared Trump’s joke a call to violence against journalists, and CNN hosted panel after panel to detail the terrible injuries they had suffered. (I wish just one panelist had stared at the others and said slowly, “You know this is funny, don’t you? It is really funny.” Could the other panelists have stopped themselves from cracking a smile? I don’t think so.)

Needless to say, someone put the shoe on the other foot. Allahpundit at Hot Air remarked, “...Obama posting something like this about Fox News would have caused actual aneurysms among some conservatives.”

I don’t think so. If Obama released a video of himself pretending to beat up somebody, Sean Hannity for instance, that would be even more hilarious. By a lot.

Mel Brooks once joked, “Tragedy is when I stub my toe. Comedy is when you fall into an open manhole and die.” Brooks understands humor.

"Funny" is the joy we feel when we see someone else suffer. Not noble, perhaps, but that’s who we are. We happily anticipate the Little Tramp pratfalling on that banana peel clearly visible in the middle of the street; and when he notices it and carefully walks around it, we feel a twinge of disappointment. But then, with his attention still fixed upon the offending peel, he steps backward and falls into a manhole and we explode in laughter.

We laughed because we didn’t see it coming, and because we knew that it was all a setup and Charlie Chaplin really wasn’t injured in his fall. Funny is when someone suffers an unexpected injury or exaggerated insult which does no real harm.

The quandary of the comedian is how to torment somebody without offending anybody. As far back I can remember, comedians solved this dilemma by ridiculing themselves, or their families or friends, or fictitious characters. Jack Benny made fun of himself by playing the miser to perfection. (Robber with a gun: “Your money or your life.” Long pause. “Well?” Benny, angrily: “I’m thinking about it!”). Bob Hope pretended to be a narcissistic coward whose only weapon was the wisecrack -- a role later adopted and adapted by Woody Allen and Bill Murray. Bob Newhart portrayed a self-doubting psychotherapist trying to dispense self-confidence to a bunch of loonies. Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers mocked their husbands. Johnny Carson skewered his fictional characters -- Art Fern, Floyd R. Turbo, Aunt Blabby, and Carnac the Magnificent.

These old-timers followed three rules: One, they never took themselves seriously. Two, they never hurt anybody. And three, they never talked about politics or religion -- because of rules one and two, and also because it would’ve spoiled the act. They wanted only to make people laugh.

Bill Maher threw the rule book away. For years on "Politically Incorrect" and "Real Time with Bill Maher," he has habitually offended half the country with a message that amounts to: You Republicans (or occasionally You Christians) are really stupid! The persecution of Republicans continued on The Daily Show with their stable of leftist political comedians: Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Trevor Noah, Larry Wilmore, and Samantha Bee. We didn’t laugh, but neither did we whine.

As bad as this was, schticked-off Republicans couldn’t imagine how much worse it would get when Donald Trump became President. Americans have always poked fun at our Presidents, but some comedians have become so unhinged with Trump that they’ve forgotten what’s funny and what isn’t.

Kathy Griffin holding a bloody Trumpish head wasn’t a Trump joke. It was an ISIS joke, and anyone who thinks ISIS is a laughing matter is way out of touch. Stephen Colbert’s reference to Putin’s…. holster wasn’t a Trump joke either. It was a gay joke, and when did gay jokes become fashionable? Griffin and Colbert not only offended good taste, they also offended good comedy. They weren’t funny.

It took a noncomedian to remind them what real humor is. On July 2, President Trump released a video of his WWE takedown of CNN. The sight of our President dressed in coat and tie wrestling and punching a guy whose face is covfefed by a CNN logo, then getting up and walking away unfazed, is hilarious. Part of what made it so funny was that Trump played an exaggerated version of how some people already see him: Trump the Terrible. With the comedic instincts of Jack Benny and Bob Hope, Trump made himself the butt of his own joke and invited us to laugh at him. He doesn’t always take himself seriously.

But the addition of the CNN logo made the skit political, and the left take themselves too seriously to laugh at a joke that’s directed at them. Humorless political reporters whined and declared Trump’s joke a call to violence against journalists, and CNN hosted panel after panel to detail the terrible injuries they had suffered. (I wish just one panelist had stared at the others and said slowly, “You know this is funny, don’t you? It is really funny.” Could the other panelists have stopped themselves from cracking a smile? I don’t think so.)

Needless to say, someone put the shoe on the other foot. Allahpundit at Hot Air remarked, “...Obama posting something like this about Fox News would have caused actual aneurysms among some conservatives.”

I don’t think so. If Obama released a video of himself pretending to beat up somebody, Sean Hannity for instance, that would be even more hilarious. By a lot.