Being Married; Being Hanged
April 23, 2012 § Leave a comment
One of my main goals in starting this blog is to combat the notion that there are subjects outside the realm of comedy. I don’t believe the world is divided into matters of laughing and no-laughing or that there exist any situations best approached with your sense of humor blindfolded.
Of course, this isn’t the gravest misconception in our society, which is why I’m blogging about it in my spare time instead of occupying somewhere. One can imagine a children’s blockbuster in which jokes are outlawed and secret police listen for laughter; a land where one brave boy must place his palm perfectly into the pit of his arm to simulate flatulence, a ripping rumble that travels the world, teaching us all how to smile again.
Thankfully, we don’t live in such a world, and my inclination to take things a little less than seriously most of the time has only ever landed me in minor trouble: in school, I learned which teachers took a good pun as evidence of engagement with the material and engaged a little less with the material of those who didn’t; the mostly-serious, overly-somber, and easily-offended have never lasted long among my close friends; and whenever a boss has asked me to take the job a little bit more seriously, I’ve just waited to continue commiserating with my coworkers until he was gone (and added his name into the punchlines).
So I’ve never felt like my comedic stylings were outlawed—just censored or circumscribed. What makes it feel so stifling is that I I’ve most always wanted to learn much, be friendly, and work hard—those things just feel both easier and more complete with a little humor. Since I feel humor is a way of lightening our situation without denying it, stopping laughter has always seemed like a double silencing to me: “Shut up so we can all pretend we’re not here.”
As a result, I’ve felt this silencing most concretely in the realm of my life where I have no aim besides making our lives more joyously bearable and honestly clear: my writing. Time and time again, in seminars and workshops (though never outweighing my positive experiences), I struggled against the opinion that humor and true “serious” art are in opposition. I agree that humor is surely seriousness’ opposite, but couldn’t understand why seriousness got sole claim to the truth. It was the rawest, truest parts of my work that always seemed to demand—and provide—the most humor, but I was never sure quite how to explain this to my more sober professors and peers.
Thankfully G.K. Chesterton explains it all in Heretics:
A critic once remonstrated with me saying, with an air of indignant reasonableness, “If you must make jokes, at least you need not make them on such serious subjects.” I replied with a natural simplicity and wonder, “About what other subjects can one make jokes except serious subjects?” It is quite useless to talk about profane jesting. All jesting is in its nature profane, in the sense that it must be the sudden realization that something which thinks itself solemn is not so very solemn after all. If a joke is not a joke about religion or morals, it is a joke about police-magistrates or scientific professors or undergraduates dressed up as Queen Victoria. […] men are always speaking gravely and earnestly and with the utmost possible care about the things that are not important, but always talking frivolously about the things that are. Men talk for hours with the faces of a college of cardinals about things like golf, or tobacco, or waistcoats, or party politics. But all the most grave and dreadful things in the world are the oldest jokes in the world–-being married; being hanged.
You can see that I’ve taken the blog’s title from the quote and hopefully, someday soon, you’ll be able to see that it’s sentiment is the driving logic behind much of my writing. A joke is nothing frivolous; when a subject makes us laugh, it must be of grave importance.