Sunday, December 15, 2013

Hee Hee Hee...
Something about Humor

All educated people we are visually impaired to a higher or lower degree because education relies on words more than on observation, to the point that we are taught acronyms to help us remember things that could better be remembered through observation. A well known example is ROY G. BIV to remember the sequence of the colors of the rainbow. We memorize the sequence while we lose the ability to visualize the rainbow.

Old age strips us of this education which relies on words, while the ability of visualizing is not restored. Well-educated people, who relied a lot on words, do quickly become part-time-idiots. If Alzheimer's disease were investigated from this perspective, some progress would certainly be made.

Not much humor so far, huh? I pointed to this because humor is, as I see it, a combination of words and images, even if the joke relies only on words, as it is with stand-up comedy. We laugh to the extent that we are unexpectedly brought to "see" something that goes beyond the average meaning of the words.

Look at this image:

The funny caption for the image would be: *Frog Walking a Dog*. The “It says it all” caption is: *Frog Walking a Dogfish*. I used the dull caption knowing it is dull.

We know very well that we cannot make everybody laugh at our jokes, no matter how good our jokes are. The larger the audience, the lower the standard. And if we try to lower our standard, still we will be unable to reach the sense of humor of those who are less sophisticated that we are. We can’t communicate with everybody and we will not fool the less educated by pretending that we are “one of them”.

The saying too often quoted: *Speak to people from the level of their understanding* is a hoax. We will be able to speak to people only from the level of OUR understanding. When we try otherwise, they might laugh but they will not be sincere. If we want to evaluate the quality of our humor we should train ourselves to listen to our audience’s laughter. It can bring us some sadness, though.

What I have investigated in the last seven years (since I started this Froggy Blog) is primarily the humor in cartoons, which by definition are good or bad according to this law:

"A good cartoon is one that does not make sense if you watch at the images but you can’t read the words nor it does make sense if you can read the words but you can’t see the images."

It is the combination of the two that makes the fun –and the story. Of course, because we are trained to read words quicker than we read images, we miss a lot when we read good cartoons, unless we slow down.

Mind that there are cartoonists like Quino who have reached great excellence in cartooning without words (which is very good so his cartoons need not to be translated). Nonetheless we “see” the words even if there are none [click to enlarge].

I have noted, reading political cartoons in the last seven years, mainly through the website that they rely more and more on tags. You might even see a drawing that represents President Obama, and written on it you have the word “Obama”! This is made for various reasons (with the hope to stretch its commercial life, with the hope to reach a vaster audience, because editors are dumb) but the only result is to take all the fun away from the cartoon.

Humor is like being breast-fed: the infant needs to put a lot of physical effort to suckle the milk from the breast. Apparently, part of the satisfaction comes from the effort of suckling (many muscles are involved) which is rewarded by the milk flowing in the mouth, in the throat, and filling the belly. Humor is the same: it needs an effort from our part if we want the reward of the laughter. It might need only a minuscule moment of effort, nonetheless an effort is needed. If we are given all the story on a tray, it won’t make us laugh.

I took the breast-feeding example on purpose, although it is not everybody’s experience (and even if it were, it is a forgotten one) because it tells a lot about the basic human condition: no striving, no satisfaction.

If we look at Bill Watterson’s unsurpassed *Calvin and Hobbes* we might note that the art is simple but very elegant and purposeful. He almost never shows off although he worked a lot on the art. I think this is another important thing: to be funny we must keep ourselves humble. Bill Watterson said that all his success, even after years and awards, was still a surprise to him: somewhere within him he still drew his cartoons to entertain his wife.

As for Charles Schulz, in an interview (here is the full text, but in Italian) he says this: “I don’t think that you can write a comic strip on a typewriter. I think you are robbing yourself of the ideas that come from drawing”. [By Rick Marschall and Gary Groth, Nemo, #31, Fantagraphics Books]

Since I read this I really made a frog-leap! I stopped planning and gave in to doodling. It is a way to reach the Unconscious, where all the (funny) stories grow. Give a look at this Frog Strip: [click to enlarge]

We see that there are feathers around Mr. Owl. They are there to visualize that Mr. Owl flew very quickly. But since the feathers were fun to draw, I added more in the following strip, thinking that it might lead to something interesting, because nothing is drawn without a purpose.

Than it happens that one feather falls on the head of Miss Princess, were it is trapped by her curly hairs. At that point I remembered that in *The Conference of the Birds* the Hoopoe speaks about a feather of the Simorgh, and the feather is the spark of the Birds’ quest, as it kindles the desire to reach the Simorgh.

While I am not saying that this is particularly funny, it is of interest for those who read the image and it is likely to lead to a few gags. Also, it is certainly consistent with the story I am telling in these Frogs’ cartoons.

To summarize, what I want to say, is that humor springs from the unconscious: if we try to harness it, we will get very poor results.

It is said that horses can cross rivers, but they drown (with the rider) if the rider tries to make them cross the river where he wants them to. The horses have an instinct which tells them where it is possible to cross the river. This might be miles away from where the rider would like to arrive, though.

This is, I think, the main risk with humor: we do not know what will come out of us and where it will bring us! So it is not always safe to improvise. But the fun is always on the other side of the river.

That's All, Folks! :-)

No comments: