Wednesday, April 21, 2010

wrap up

I think that the most important thing I’ve learned in this class is the ability to have a more open mind about what constitutes humor. I didn’t really think about it but I guess I’ve always had a really limited view of what I considered funny, and forcing myself to think about a lot of different examples of humor, and asking myself to think about why they are funny, has made me reconsider what comedy I am able to appreciate. I never would have thought for a second that I would ever say that anything written by Tyler Perry, for instance, was legitimately funny, because I was always adamantly believed his humor not to be my taste. I never in a million years would have picked up Principles of Uncertainty, because I probably would have dismissed it as dumb and artsy; but that ended up being one of my favorite books we read, and funny in a very strange sort of way that I never would have experienced if I never had to force myself to read it. Talking about humor in everyday onversation, it’s easy to dismiss what other people say or reference as not funny. The people in our class all have extremely different senses of humor. I remember one of the first classes within five minutes of each other I raised my hand and said “I think that if something is funny, it can’t be mean,” and Sara raised her hand and said something to the extent of “I don’t think any humor that degrades anyone is funny.” Those are two really different perspectives on humor, and I am sure that during our respective 20 years on the planet me and Sara (and everyone else in the class) responded extremely differently to the different types of comedy we encountered in the world. Talking about examples of humor with about 30 people all with similarly differing perspectives has made me realize something about how jokes work; jokes don’t exist in a vaccum. You can’t look at a joke and immediately judge how it works (and in some ways, I think, even how funny it is) because there is so much more a part of it that makes that joke different in each specific situation it exists in. What the person thinks the intentions behind the joke are, the existing relationships between the speaker, the listener, and the target, or the various different perceptions of any of these things: all of these are part of the joke. When I hear a joke, even if it’s derogatory towards myself and pointing out something pretty “mean,” so long as the joke is funny, I always just assume the person thought of a funny observation, and shared it to make people laugh. This doesn’t really offend me. Sara though, for instance, may hear the very same joke, and think someone is trying to put someone else down, to make themselves better than their target, basically to be a jerk. Understanding that there are hundreds of different, equally legitimate, reactions to every type of comedy, has helped me to appreciate the many different types of humor we have read this semester that I otherwise wouldn’t. I think this ties in really well as I read Diary of a Wimpy Kid, a book that I had my mom send me from my little brother’s book shelf. While I was borrowing from my 10 year-old brother’s canon of literature for my college class was my mom’s go-to source for a joke at our family easter party whenever a relative asked how my last semester was going, I also kind of thought of Kinney’s book condescendingly. Reading “children’s humor” was a good last book for me to read this semester, because I was able to think about it in a way I probably couldn’t have if it had been one of the first books we read. I could read about Greg’s attempts to impress girls avoid movies, and climb his middle school’s social ladder despite the best friend that is so beneath him with an open mind, and appreciate Kinney’s humor more authentically. I think I used to limit myself too much with what kinds of humor I liked, so the fact that I now could laugh so hard at a book that has a primary audience in elementary school I like to think shows a somewhat beneficial change in my approach to humor.

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