In a totally unrevealing essay titled (no joke…heh), “How Funny Does Comedy Need To Be?,” published in culture web magazine Vulture, a young writer poses — and then answers — a question only readers of Vulture will ever actually seriously ponder:
So what is comedy without jokes? It’s post-comedy.
Like post-punk or post-apocalyptic literature, I guess. In fact, this writer says as much while attempting to understand what is funny. It’s like reading the ramblings of a sociopath trying to understand empathy: intellectually, he understands that other people have these strange emotive outbursts, but he can’t feel them himself. So he seeks to scientifically understand human emotion, which of course can’t be done. You kinda have to feel it to really know what it is:
Like post-rock, post-comedy uses the elements of comedy (be it stand-up, sitcom, or film) but without the goal of creating the traditional comedic result — laughter — instead focusing on tone, emotional impact, storytelling, and formal experimentation. The goal of being “funny” is optional for some or for the entirety of the piece.
Anyway, the kids are apparently under the impression that comedy is dead and they want to harness and express themselves using whatever comes after a genre or time period when everything’s been done and used up, but there are still remnants of that dead thing that people liked. So you keep the pieces and create something new. That’s what young people (I don’t even know if they’re called millennials or post-millennials or what) think about involuntary laughter — a hallmark of comedy: that it’s been used up and is no longer relatable, but they’re determined to keep the remnants of “funny” and bore you to death with their art house deconstruction of the once human emotion of mirth.
Here we are. A lot of comedy over the last few years isn’t funny, and there are no signs that things are getting any funnier. These things don’t exactly happen by coincidence. In a fractured media landscape, where ratings have become less important, and more viewers are cutting cords, the industry must rely more on buzz to draw viewers to their content. For comedy, however, this is influenced by three factors that shape the nature of comedy criticism: (1) What’s funny is more subjective than what is dramatically resonant, so it’s harder to reach a consensus of what is the funniest show, as opposed to the show with most well-drawn character or most ambitious storytelling that just happens to be a comedy; (2) Historically, comedies have been seen as having less artistic merit than dramas. Just look at the Oscars; (3) Because of a historic aversion to analysis (comics say that it ruins the joke), comedy comparatively lacks a history of formal criticism, which leaves it more often judged by what it says than how it says it. As a result, serious comedies/stand-up specials are more often given positive reviews; in turn, networks are more likely to buy comedy that fits that mold.
My eyes glazed over after the first parenthetical number. It’s like talking about the perfect steak but never eating it. Because eating it might have a sensory affect and make you lose control and actually enjoy something for a minute.
No wonder our politics, music, relationships, careers, sports, etc. seem to be cynical and joyless lately. Because the kids have forgotten how to laugh. And apparently, if this Vulture writer is indicative of their general inclinations, they’re perfectly fine with that.
Of course, they’re wrong. Involuntary laughter is powerful precisely because it’s involuntary and uncontrollable, and there will always be funny things to laugh at.
More and more, for me, those funny things are articles like the one in Vulture. As long as there are kids to write about the death of comedy, I’ll always be laughing, and comedy will never die.
So, thanks Vulture writer, for being hilarious. You give me hope.