Thursday, October 29, 2020

Joan Rivers on Johnny Carson

My YouTube feed keeps showing Carson guests, with is self-reinforcing as I eventually find one to click on, inviting more of the same.  It is likely that it started with my searching for Jonathan Winters routines, as Carson had him on a lot.

This is interesting on another level, as much of the comedy just falls flat now.  Comedy is often tied to its moment and weakens rapidly thereafter.  Yet there were not only long strings of grins and chuckles, but a few moments where I laughed out loud, which I do often in conversation, but seldom when watching or listening to anyone these days. Modern comedy is geared much more to the smirk or chuckle than to the guffaw, a trend that has been gradual but consistent.  It accounts for the contrasting popularity of Borat, which is mostly offensive and unfunny, but so willing to try for the outrageous laugh that when it succeeds it is deeply refreshing.  Laughing until our sides hurt is no longer common.

There has been increasing talk over the decades about the death of comedy because of political correctness. I read a modern young cultural intellectual claim that this was always bemoaned in every generation and is simply not true.  He is so wise, so observant, and so entirely wrong.  The complaint may be  thirty-five years old but it is not forty-five years old, and the drumbeat has increased throughout my lifetime. The world will have to change considerably before the guffaw comes back as anything but a a 2-minute occasional. Even the chuckle has changed, as much of comedy is now "you agree with me, don't you, those people are stupid," without much effort to build to a punchline so much as just keep up a steady stream of reassurance to the audience that those other people are ridiculous.

This is also part of why the older comedy falls flat for us.  It was more punchline-centered, so when it doesn't work, 30-90 seconds of the routine is just lost.  British humor used to be characterised by the ridiculous situation that went on to increasing laughter but often did not build to a climax and just limped along at the end. Still quite funny, just different. Yet both British and American humor seems to have met at an unsuccessful middle at this point, with the weaknesses but not the virtues of either style.

1 comment:

Brad said...

Great clip. They mentioned something that was ubiquitous at one time and now I can't remember the last time I saw an example...
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