Innovations in Comedy
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Explored in this article are several of the most notable ways comedy has innovated over the years.
The pie-in-the face gag
- Old: Bob gets hit in the face with a cream pie.
- New: Bob gets hit in the face with a cream pie. Bob dies.
- What's changed: This is what is referred to as “dark comedy.” That means it should make you think. The first hypothetical is merely a gag, with no substance to it at all. Our Bob merely experiences some minor humiliation and a bit of a mess to clean up. It elicits some chuckles, but otherwise nothing is gained or lost. In the new, innovative form of comedy, Bob is not only embarrassed, but is also dead. This is still funny, but for a much different reason: it reminds us of our impending mortality, while not being all wordy about it. Plus, it provokes much thought in the viewer, such as “What if I got hit in the face with a lethal pie?”, or the much more enlightening “What if I hit my boss in the face with a lethal pie?” Ultimately it enriches us, and makes our laughter much more real.
A man walks into a bar
- Old: A man walks into a bar. He asks the bartender, “You serve shrimp here?” “Of course,” the bartender responds, “We had Mickey Rooney in here just last week!”
- New: Ben Stiller walks into a bar. Nothing particularly funny happens. The movie makes $130 million domestically.
- What's changed: One of the biggest improvements in comedy over the years is bankability. The old joke is clever enough, but are there any big names? No: last time Mickey Rooney was a draw was 1941. Now, all you have to do is attach Ben Stiller to the joke, crank out a script and take advantage of a grotesque marketing budget, and you've got yourself a box office smash. Sure, it's nothing you'd want to watch yourself, but when you're counting the hundreds of dollars you've earned from product tie-ins you'll be the first in line when the studio wants a sequel.
- Old: Larry, Curly and Moe run into a pole.
- New: Jessica Alba runs into a pole.
- What's changed: Comedy has always lacked sexiness. Until now, that is. In the past, ugly old guys like the Three Stooges ran around the movie screens, hitting each other with hammers and falling to the ground. Funny, perhaps, but not at all arousing. Substitute the Stooges with a star from the pages of Maxim, and not only is it totally funny, but it's also really hot. Let's just say that if one was to expose Moe's panties in a zany way, the reaction would involve vomit, not drool.
- What's changed: In Twain's day, being funny was not a pre-requisite for humor. How else could a “humorist” write something so lame? And on top of that, he's making light of George Washington, a true American hero and possibly the greatest human ever to exist in this or any dimension. And on top of that, nobody knows what the fuck he's saying. The new comedy is witty and to the point, and most importantly, has pictures. The satire is all there: immigration policies are dumb and George W. Bush has big ears. It's obvious, and nobody (including the satirist) has to think that hard, if at all. In fact, taking the thinkwork out of political humor is possibly one of the best and most helpful innovations the comedy world has seen.
- Old: “Sock it to me?” - Richard Nixon, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In
- New: "Education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. And if you don't, you get stuck in Iraq." - John Kerry
- What's changed: Richard Nixon's quaint little “joke”, made in an attempt to improve his likability in time for the election, was edgeless, basic and, perhaps worst of all, not even written by him. John Kerry, on the other hand, writes all his own stuff. His fearless, stinging satire of the Military-Industrial Complex was certainly not for everyone, but for those intellectual enough to understand the complex nuance of his witty remark, it was cause for riotous laughter and the sharing of fine wine. If he had delivered it before the 2004 election, he would have undoubtedly secured the votes necessary to make up for the votes he lost to fraud.
- Old: What's the deal with women? Am I right, fellas? They're all like "You think I'm fat, you jerk!" Ha ha! I'm tellin' ya, folks, sometimes it's like they're from a whole other planet!
- New: Chicks... dude, they are like evil. Like evil robots. BZZZT BZZZT BZZZT! SHA-ZAM! Then they karate chop your nuts, like HI-YA! But like, only figuratively, right? Other wise they'd get arrested by the police. EEE-OOO EEE-OOO EEE-OOO! (The comedian does a 360-degree spin while making gun noises)
- What's changed: Frankly, this area of comedy was already pretty good. But with recent innovations, now it includes cool noises! Both of these hypotheticals offer unique and personal perspectives on an issue that people identify with, and both are intelligent, original commentaries on human nature. Now, it's even more hilarious and hip thanks to extensive use of onomatopoeia and the word “robot”.
- Old: A man gets hit in the groin with a baseball. His friends laugh.
- New: A man gets hit in the groin with a baseball. His friends record it on video and put it on YouTube. Thousands of people laugh.
- What's changed: Sharing brilliant comedy with the world has become increasingly simpler. In decades past, such a piece of well-crafted and smart humor would only get to be appreciated by a select few. Then came America's Funniest Home Videos, which gave exposure (and $10,000) to the best examples of this esoteric art. Not to mention, it included the comic genius Bob Saget. But it was still hard for aspiring groin-based comedians to get their work to the masses. YouTube gave many of these visionaries the venue they needed to get the recognition they deserve. Now the world can relish in the embarrassment of others with much greater ease.
- Alternative A man gets hit in the groin by an airbag explosion, and got airborne for 2 seconds. His friends laughed and laughed.
On-line encyclopedia parodies
- Old: They didn't exist.
- New: They do exist.
- What's changed: Oh, wait... “innovations.” My mistake.