Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Quite Humorous

Quite unexpectedly, I thought of the movie Airplane! the other day. I have several favorite comedies, such as Dodgeball, Young Frankenstein, and Airplane!, that I have rolling in the back of my mind, so that I have some sort of comic relief as I go about my day. Today someone around me was randomly speaking of gladiators, and I immediately thought of Airplane!.

Peter Graves, in a role by now iconic, once asked a young man in the film if he enjoyed gladiator movies. The line worked because Peter Graves, among others in the film, was a 'serious' actor, and stated all of his lines with the appropriate gravity. The entire movie was truly all about the straight face, the serious look, the literal interpretation. (I've actually wondered what an autistic person would think of the movie--if it would be funny to them as well.) Airplane! seemed to take itself very seriously, and the result is still hilarious to the educated today.

At the risk of sounding like a snob, I believe that it is necessary to have at least an average intelligence in order to understand the many aspects of comedy. It just doesn't pay to be ignorant of what is going on in the world, from a comedic standpoint. A lot of comedy, for instance, relies on an awareness of pop culture. Justin Bieber jokes can be funny--if you know who the heck Justin Bieber is. If you have not yet explored the auto-tuned joy that is today's pop music, those jokes will mean nothing to you. The same is true of jokes about Twilight--if you don't know what the references to "Team Edward" mean, those jokes will leave you nervously confused instead of laughing. Ignorance is not bliss in these awkward situations. Sometimes it's possible to fake it, but that is not often.

When I was a kid, I was very literal. I was the perfect "straight man" for my father, who fancies himself quite the jokester. I often did not 'get' jokes my peers told me because I interpreted what they said literally. I heard a joke about the phrase "cast iron sinks", and didn't actually 'get' until two weeks later when I suddenly realized that the word 'sinks' was not a noun in the joke, but a verb. It was also difficult for me to accurately interpret the facial expressions of the person telling a joke when they were trying to keep a 'straight' face. The visual information that told my brain that a person wasn't being serious wasn't there, so I didn't realize there was a joke being told. So I was sort of a sucker, and my peers enjoyed playing tricks and practical jokes on me.

Yet I can remember understanding references to pop culture long before my peers, who were way too interested in their G.I. Joes and Barbies to pay attention. In fact, I often ended up explaining jokes to my classmates because they had no clue. I felt that it was my duty to educate them and set them on the correct path. This was probably one of the reasons I was not ever considered for Prom Queen. People don't really enjoy having their ignorance pointed out to them by others. Once I understood this small but important fact, my dating life improved dramatically, and over the years I've learned to keep my mouth shut.

"Surely you can't be serious," you might say.

"Yes I can," is my reply. And don't call me Shirley.


  1. I was also one of the first of my friends to understand comedy and pop culture references like you're describing. glad you wrote about this today :)

  2. Anyone who can appreciate the humor in Airplane is a friend of mine.

  3. I've never seen airplane, but I will look into it now for sure
    Happy Q day!


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