If the humor in David Sedaris’ Dress Your Family in Corduroy in Denim reminded me of anything else I’ve ever seen or read, it would definitely be That 70’s Show. The show is literally based upon what happened in the everyday lives of teenagers in the 1970s, and the theme of the show essentially states what happens in every episode: “Hangin’ out, down the street, the same old thing, we did last week…” While many theories of humor, including the incongruity and superiority models are used throughout both the show and the book to create humor, the common thread in each of these is the audience’s ability to relate to the material.
Perhaps my opinion that the show and Sedaris’ book are connected is unduly influenced by the fact that I couldn’t separate Red Forman and the Father in Sedaris’ book in my head. Red’s voice was literally imported onto the character of Sedaris’ father. Whenever the father in the book used the word “ass” I started cracking up as it brought to mind the image of Red calling someone a “dumbass” or threatening to make Eric (his son) “wear his ass as a hat.”
I think the obvious reason why both Sedaris’ book and That 70s Show cause people to laugh is that they easily connect into our lives. Not everyone is gay, but almost everyone has a father that might make them feel a bit emasculated every once in a while. Not everyone has been whacked in the mouth with a rock by a popular kid, but most have at least been in a fight or been rejected by a group. The reason that this sort of humor hits its target is because it utilizes universal situations to forge a connection between the characters and the audience. When Red calls his son a dumbass, frankly it brings to mind memories of my father rejecting me in one way or another. Another aspect of why this humor works is that especially with the fathers it allows the audience to say, “Holy crap, I’m so glad my dad wasn’t that much of a hardass.” It’s an example of the superiority model at work. We rejoice in the fact that things weren’t as bad for us.
In contrast to the stories in Tales of the Tikongs or Candide these stories were remarkably mundane and universal. They are funny not because they are ridiculous, but because they are average and we all experience them in some way or another. In the telling of these stories, Sedaris makes us remember our own pasts and laugh at them with him.