The Set-Up, the Punch, The Set-Up, the Punch

The other day at the breakfast table I asked our second-grade grandson if he ever liked to have a coupla smokes before breakfast and he ‘got’ right away that I was joking. A four-year-old might not have gotten it but you wouldn’t try this with a four-year-old.

What’s funny is practically a science when you get thinking about it.

People laugh when they’re getting tickled, yes, but younger siblings the world over know that being tickled led does not, in anyone’s universe, mean that you’re having fun. Tickling can be aggressive, even mean. In my book any tickle that last longer than two or three seconds is just one person trying to show dominance.

So what’s funny, would YOU say?

Some people think puns are funny. I am not one of them but that’s fine, that’s cool.

Some find animal photos funny when the animals are seen doing human things, like when a dog looks to be driving……

It’s funny when the mighty are brought low; Aristotle saw this long ago, and I believe the Three Stooges would agree. (Just think of all those stuffy gents and dowagers they were always upending.) The big laughs in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night come when the pompous head steward shows up in Act Four festooned like the decorations at a pre-schooler’s birthday party, all because some happy lowlifes have forged a letter leading him to think Milady wished to see him thus dressed.

Kurt Vonnegut writes that all comic writing consists of the set up and the punch, the set up and the punch. An example: on the lecture circuit once, he said, “Those who believe in Telekinetics, raise my hand.” Ha! A good one!

What I find funny are unexpected images. If I tell a story that makes a reader smile. it’s because he or she can visualize the scene.

the unexpected is often funny, as I was saying on that Halloween post. It’s funny when the twinkly grandmother casually asks a seven-year-old about his smoking preferences. Incongruity is funny. In fact I know what, let’s cut to the chase: here’s Will Ferrell in the much-emailed clip from Funny Or Die where he plays a tenant late on his rent when the nasty landlord shows up. The best moment of all comes the second he opens the door, check it out.

6 thoughts on “The Set-Up, the Punch, The Set-Up, the Punch

  1. I’ll try to avoid the long winded here. This, the inner meaning of your blog today, reminds me of an event at a Trappist monastery, It was very solemn. Pin drop quiet, as the monks filed into the Chapter House to meet and listen to an old monk, Fr. William O’Connor, a Trappist of 65 years and he, a young 87. All seated, the big room was deadly quiet. This is after all, the Trappists. 63 monks. After a sharing of his long monastic life, the wisdom gleaned over many years in a strict, often severe life, the Q and A forum began. “Do any of you have questions for Father William,” the Abbot inquired. Silence. Silence and more…silence. Silence grows on trees in a Trappist monastery. Then…

    A sheepish, meek and small voice, of a young novice spoke, shattering the void, “Yes, ah, um, I do, Reverend Father.” “Fine, what would you ask Father William?” The novice monk stood respectfully, faced old William and said: “Father, you have lived so long as a Trappist. Is there a word you can give us, any advice as to how best persevere in our way of life here with each other?” Old William looked around, his blue diamond eyes twinkling, like an aged farmer would look over his land, deliberate, slow, carefully surveying, studying each face in front of him-for what seemed an eternity-then, clearing his throat he spoke:

    “Yes, I have a word, for ALL of you. If you want to persevere in life, don’t take yourselves so damn seriously.”

    Never had there been so much laughter in a silent Trappist monastery.

    William, you nailed it. R.I.P.

  2. I’m curious, were you funny that way with your own kids or did you have to play the straight serious parent all the time? I always used the grownup talking silly thing with all my friends’ kids and my assorted nephews and nieces. I was wildly popular with the under 10 set.. But mostly because they didn’t expect it from a “grownup”. They’re so used to their parents setting a good example.

    What’s really funny is that I have never found Will Farrell funny. I can’t even watch him. That clip is a good example. A cute idea but then carried on way too long and too far. There’s nothing funny about a cute baby saying “A-hole”…at least to me. I know…this from a man who consorts with Zombies. I did chuckle at the shot of her walking away with the beer bottle though.

    I felt that way about Chevy Chase too. I always thought he was trying too hard to be funny; doing obvious stuff. Need a laugh, kick someone in the you know wheres or fart in church. Maybe the artistry eludes me there, but I’m more a fan of clever, subtle humor that might fly right by you until you think about it a little or even see it a second time. Woody Allen is a genius that way. Same with Groucho, Mel Brooks (put the smart in fart), Bill Murray, Ben Stiller. Larry David…even Rickey Gervais among others. The common thread with all of them, at least to me, is their “funny” even if it’s just plain silly is smart funny, not dumb funny.

    I was just thinking about this the other day because I know that things I write that I think are hilarious, another person might just find dumb. Is it because they miss the point or it’s too subtle? Or is it just different influences? I guess it could just be dumb and I don’t see it.


    And yet I can watch Jerry Lewis and the 3 Stooges all day long…go figure.

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