Monday, April 13, 2015

Silly, Stupid


I have a Beatles song stuck in my head.

Wait, no. That is neither what I wanted to say, nor anything problematic.

What can a funny person do about those among us who have overly simplistic notions of humor?

I have a creatively analytical mind, which is to say that I'm terrible with numbers, but I love categories. I can also very easily come across as an unrepentant asshole who claims things like "I have a creatively analytical mind" and furthermore an asshole who actually thinks that self-deprecation will endear him to anyone who sneers at such a statement. The world around me is neatly organized chaos. I just want you to like me.

The obvious answer to my above question is "nothing. Deal with it, crybaby." But perhaps what's happening right here, in this mess of narcissism and futility that I call a blog, is me "dealing."

It seems as if a lot of people mistake silliness for stupidity. There are multiple forms of silliness, as there are multiple forms of stupidity. But I want to be clear about the differences between silly and stupid. When I try a new bourbon I like and jump up and down like a schoolgirl, giggling with dopamine glee, I'm not being an idiot. When I try to turn left at a red light, because my original plan was to turn right (and, hey, turning right on red is acceptable), I'm not being silly. In both instances I display a lack of common sense, and I may appear foolish.

I think there is such a thing as serious silliness. But maybe that's just me being silly and stupid. For example, when I applied to the University of Tampa's MFA in Creative Writing low-residency program, I had to write a letter detailing something of a statement of artistic purpose. In this letter, and also whenever I'm asked what I ultimately want to be doing with my life, I say that I strive "to be a professional asshole." It got sillier. You might think sending a letter like this to a graduate program is ill-advised. I don't think you are necessarily wrong. Regardless, I now hold an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Tampa.

Frequently, I interact with people who seem to think that all (or just most) humor is inherently cruel. These people now hate Trevor Noah. Some of them are sociopaths, and only laugh at cruelty. Most think that because a joke is being made, it can only degrade and dehumanize all subjects involved. There are degrees of degradation. I had a guy on a tour (remember how I'm a tour guide? Good times.) take umbrage with my banjo joke. It's a an innocuous and innocent jab at an abundance of banjos in a particular part of the tour (the intro video). There are no fiddles, no tambourines. It's all banjos for at least six minutes.  He felt "alienated" because he likes bluegrass music. What I said following the video that drew so much of his disdain was "Did you guys like the video? Were there enough banjos for you?" What I imagine he heard was "Banjos suck, right guys? Anyone who likes banjos must be a rednecked piece of inbred swamp scum!"

This was always an issue when I did the Comedy Walk. If one person was really offended, they made everyone else on the tour carry their buzz killing burden. This took the form of silence; the only laughter was visibly stifled by hands over mouths.

It doesn't happen often, but every now and then I am what I suppose you could call "offended" by a joke told by a standup comic. I might think it's too simplistic, or that the punchline is a weak letdown after a long, wordy setup. Perhaps I belong to a category or class that is being lampooned. If I've laughed earlier in the set, I'll have no fear that I will laugh again. Who am I to expect every joke to make me laugh?

With that, I certainly don't expect every joke I tell to land. Of course, if I'm trying to use humor at all, I'm going to alienate humorless dolts. I guess I'll just never get people who don't get it.

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