Archive for the ‘Laughter’ Category

Service of Laughter, a Salve for the Soul

Monday, November 20th, 2023


Image by Eva Michálková from Pixabay

I saved sharing highlights of this October interview on Scott Simon’s NPR show, “Weekend Edition Saturday,” to enhance moods for Thanksgiving week.

Simon interviewed the Keegans—Michael and Elle—about their book, “The History of Sketch Comedy.” Michael defined comedy as “salve for the soul” and “this thing is so silly it could be called ‘I can’t believe you went there.’”

How far is “there?” Could Mel Brooks have made “Blazing Saddles” today? No. Brooks told the authors that he couldn’t have made it in 1974 either but according to his contract he got final cut. Had cuts been up to the studio, it would have been a very different movie.

Comedy must be funny and uplift. Elle asked is it coming from joy or do you laugh because you are uncomfortable?

I learned what is meant by a blackout gag. According to the Keegans, “The blackout is a 30 second joke to keep an audience on their toes.” And Google defined “the gag [as] a kind of joke in broad, rapid-fire slapstick comedy. The term is derived from burlesque and vaudeville, when the lights were quickly turned off after the punchline of a joke to accentuate it and encourage audience laughter.”

Some examples:

Jack Benny’s iconic response to “Your money or your life” was “I’m thinking it over.” The authors said that the gag was a product of a made-up feud between Jack and his friend comedian Fred Allen.

A similar faux feud today is between Jimmy Kimmel who has made a “thing” of repeating apologies at the end of his shows saying that he’s run out of time so Matt Damon will be on another night.

Here’s a blackout gag by George Burns and Gracie Allen:

George: How do you like kissing?

Gracie: I don’t

George: Hugging?

Gracie: Nope

George: What do you like?

Gracie: Lamb chops

George: Do you like eating them alone?

Gracie: “No”

George: What do you like with them?

Gracie: Mashed potatoes.

What makes a bit fall flat? “Lack of commitment. If a person stays at the same level and they don’t explore the concept they are talking about–it doesn’t go anywhere–you don’t get more laughs.” And if the setup is too long, the gag better be good. Also, the authors said, “comedy jail is different from pun jail.”

Who are your favorite comedians? What are some of your favorite blackout gags made by friends or professionals?

Service of When to Be Frivolous

Thursday, January 27th, 2022


Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Some friends refuse to look at the news; others do so in small bits and still others have the TV on all day long. Between relentless destruction by the family of Covid viruses; Ukraine on the verge of war; inflation explosion; stock market craziness; missing products on shelves and in car dealership lots, and in NYC, innocents or police being killed or maimed by gunfire and citizens tossed on subway tracks–who wants to keep up?

That’s why Joseph Pisani’s article in The Wall Street Journal caught my eye. He wrote “Green M&M’s Fashion Makeover Is Covid Comfy but Not Everyone Is Happy.” He started with: “The green M&M has a new look. Not everyone is impressed. 

“The problem? The once-sexy cartoon candy seems to have been stripped of her mojo, some say. Online chatter objected to her makeover to sneakers from high heeled boots and to her pose which ditched the traditional one hand on her head, and another by her hip.”

In the 673 word article, [not counting headline and photo captions], the manufacturer responded: “The changes are part of an effort to make M&M characters more inclusive, Mars said Thursday. The company tweaked the looks of five cartoon candies and dropped the Mr. and Ms. prefixes for the cartoons to put the focus on their personalities, instead of their genders, it said.”

For two days “Green M&M” trended on Twitter. First thought, “Do some people have nothing better to do?” Second thought, “What kind of person gets caught up with characters in commercials?”

I’ve been to memorable memorials and funerals where laughter was an essential element inspired by the deceased. It felt good and appropriate.

Do you seek out lighthearted stories these days or do they strike a false note? Should there be more or less of them at a time of turmoil? Do you think “not now?” or “bring them on–please!”


Image by lisa runnels from Pixabay

Service of Fakes: Phony Laughter Doesn’t Cheer

Monday, July 20th, 2020

The first “fakes” post in 2016 was about food. A bunch of others followed on various aspects of fakery mostly published in 2019.

Laughter has been a most welcome part of my life. If I’m at a restaurant and see people at an adjacent table doubling over in hysterics I enjoy the scene even if I don’t know what’s tickling them. However just as I don’t like the aftertaste of faux sugar–I’d rather not have any diet ice cream, cookie, yogurt or soda–I don’t react well to pretend laughter.

Since the pandemic started, the weekday morning talk show hosts I listen to on a commercial NYC radio station increasingly roar at nothing hoping to achieve a cheery atmosphere. I realize they are trying to mitigate these calamitous times but their mirth is phony and the triggers childish–often mean-spirited–hardly worth a mild chuckle. NPR isn’t exempt. On one of its Saturday morning programs involving a host and a few participants the grating, forced mirth of one of them, shrieking at every sentence uttered by the others, pierces my eardrums and annoys me in equal measure.

I laugh all the time without being prompted by soundtracks while watching programs on Netflix such as “West Wing,” “Call My Agent,” or “The Gibson Girls;” favorite vintage movies like “Auntie Mame” on Turner Classic Movies or while reading a book–The Gentleman from Moscow these days.

An exception may be the late night show host-comedians Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers or Jimmy Kimmel. They might need an audience soundtrack as their pandemic format suffers without the jollity of a live audience.

Does hearing someone laugh–even if the person is faking it–cheer you? What makes you laugh these days? Is there anything that you should like or appreciate that you don’t because it’s ersatz or fake?

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