Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Freud and Allen

Depression is anger turned inward,  Sigmund Freud


Humor is the escape valve of anger,  Wade Porter


Humor is pain plus distance, Alan Alda, line  written by Woody Allen




My wife was angry with me over my lampooning of her in yesterday’s blog. Worse than that, she said that the things I had written about her were “mean”. People have called me lots of things, mean is very seldom one of them, so that comment stung. It got me to thinking about the nature of humor.


No one can fully define humor, it is too varied and too subtle. It is like trying to define “nature”. In the movie Crimes & Misdemeanors, Alan Alda plays a pompous humorist who defines comedy as “pain plus distance”. The Woody Allen character , hired to make a documentary of the Alda character, has these words coming out of the mouth of a jackass in his “film within a film”, but pain plus distance does define a portion of comedy. People seem to laugh at tragic things, as long as there is considerable distance from the event. The further back the event, or the less painful the event, the easier it is to laugh at. In fact, we often characterize jokes as “sick” because they describe a painful event too close to its actually taking place. No one really gets offended if you make a joke about the Titanic sinking. But back in 1906, I presume that it was not so damn funny. Likewise, if I had written yesterday about something my wife had done twenty years ago, instead of the day before, she would have seen a lot more humor in it.


Not all humor involves pain. It can involve irony, perspective and word play, among other things. The funniest joke ever made on this planet “ The Penguin says, “No that’s just a little ice cream. “has no pain in it at all, unless you are truly worried about the Penguin’s car problems. But more and more, humor, at least in our country, seems to involve pain. I personally think that that is anger coming out. Some of it is self loathing but some is pure anger. This is a good thing, but it can be overdone. The curiously respected  American humorist ,Don Rickles actually transferred his  anger from laughter at hypothetically painful events to direct insults of people based on their appearance, race or heritage. It was despicable humor, and as a 14 year old I thought that it was hilarious. Of course, at the age of four, I thought that the word “do do” was hilarious, I outgrew that too. Ironically, Rickles humor was a throwback to humor we, as a society had allegedly outgrown. The kind of humor that allowed 19th century Londoners to pay to tour the Bethlehem Hospital for the Insane in order to get a good laugh.


Rickles had discovered that you can deal with pain turned inward by using the escape valve of humor. Although in Rickles case, the valve blew up in his face. Even if he would never admit it. Apparently, mine did the same yesterday. I had fallen into the same trap others have. Just because something is true does not mean that it does not hurt when handled in a humorous way. I don’t like being called “fat”. This is a long way to go for an apology, but if you are still with me Rayda, sorry !


Blogger Paul D. Frazier said...

Artistotle, in the Poetics, stated that tragedy makes people look better than people usually are, and comedy makes people look worse than people usually are.

"All humor," said a famous pyschologist, "All humor is cruel."

And when you tick off your wife, if you know what's good for you, you had better beg for forgiveness, which the rest of us will find humorous.

2:06 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home