History of the Joke

I caught this show today: History of the Joke on the History Channel. I recommend it with some reservations. Two hours of comics dissecting ‘the joke’ – why it’s told, how it’s told, etc…. explaining humor is tough and the show has some good insights and facts with several dozen comics talking into the camera but only about half qualified to even begin to offer their opinion. Oh well. Lewis Black was the host – he’s considered funny because he rants and is the ‘angry comic’ (cuz there are not enough of those, right?). He’s funny sometimes but he’s a one-trick pony.  I turn the channel whenever I see him on tv. His delivery is better than the material (true of most comedians). Most comics are one-trick ponies but the ‘angry comic’ who is mad at the government, people, traffic, airplane food, etc. annoy me the most (no, they don’t make me angry). It comes across as more of an act (which it is), more character acting and less comic. And, one last point on this, someone on the show even pointed out that saying something funny was better/tougher than having the audience agree with the comics point-of-view on any particular controversial subject (easiest example – I cringe when I hear comics make jokes about, say, politicians and the audience claps – not laughs, but claps, because they agree with the comic.  Wonderful. It’s gone from stand-up comedy, to stand-up agreement. How exciting! I read somewhere recently someone’s observation (on Slate, I think) that if the audience is clapping, they’re not laughing. Receiving laughter should be the goal of the comedian. Not applause. But that’s a topic for another day.

The show on the History Channel:  the set-up for this show’s analysis of ‘the joke’ – as delivered by the stand-up comedian – is kinda flawed.  Stand-up comedy has gone beyond the standard joke in many instances (like the agreement comics, or better, impressionists, storytellers, etc) -there’s just too many types of comedians and too many ways that comics hit the funny bone – this show was about the basic material of the joke – the tension, the use of the joke to discuss sensitive topics or to allow the comic to deal with whatever issues they want to deal with.  It kinda reminded me of the documentary “The Aristocrats” that came out a little while ago which was amazingly unfunny for a movie about the world’s dirtiest joke. The History of the Joke is a better use of your time.

One thing that struck me -I think I heard in the show that  ‘the joke’ goes back to 5 BC (or was it 50 BC). Apparently they carbon-dated someone’s set-list and determined this fact. Amazing technology! Prior to 5/50 BC, the humans walked around, jokeless. Homo Jokeless was the species, of course.  A stupid assertion to say ‘the joke’ has been around since x-time – now – obviously knock-knock jokes can be traced back to the first door and not any earlier, but the joke, in general, probably is tougher to pin down. I am sure somewhere, in some cave, some dude turned to his friend and said, in a strict -Neanderthalic, ghetto accent “yo momma so fat, she makes her clothes from wooly mammoths” (or something more clever, hopefully – you get the idea).

I’m sure it’ll be aired again on The History Channel because that channel repeats itself.