5. Black/Dark makes light of very serious topics like sickness, terror, race relations, etc. Or even a flick like Election. Particularly with this style, you’re playing with fire, as I heard Carlos Mencia say once in an interview (and it made me wonder who said it first). He was talking about how he saw Richard Pryor at the Comedy Store and started doing a bunch of racial and political material. In the early going, he’d miss a lot and it took years to hone it. Most comics’ taste are in this genre. As my comedian friend Adam Richmond told me… “How do you make a roomful of people laugh? Dress a guy up as an old lady and push him down the stairs. How do you make a roomful of comics laugh? It really has to be an old lady.” Our line tends WAY left of society’s – it HAS to because we’re the ones past the fringe, urging and pulling society to just laugh it all off. A common question comedians receive is whether any topics are too taboo to cover. The answer is “no.” Though my personal guideline has been to not pick on people who can’t defend themselves, I’ve seen hysterical jokes about everything from the Holocaust to retarded people to 9-11. It’s all in whether the crowd gets the sense that you’re mean-spirited or good-natured.
6. Raunchy/Blue - I think we laugh hardest at the things we’re not supposed to laugh at. Racial and sex jokes are the ultimate examples. It’s just more of a guttural, visceral, belly laugh vs. the kind that people like Chris Rock give you. The issue I have with this is it has become too easy… I think Sarah Silverman can be very funny but when her act breaks down into anus and doody jokes, I wonder if a 3rd grader could write and deliver it just as well. (I think this is why they don’t let kids into comedy clubs. It has nothing to do with the liquor license. Children probably walk out thinking, “I could write that.” And they’re prolly right.)
7. Campy/Cheesy: Puns, plays-on-words, and pickup lines like “Are your feet tired? Because you’ve been running thru my mind all day.” They are generally literal but this category is more of a graveyard for jokes that just missed the Clever/Quick-Witted target. If you say something you think is clever, you’re going for an “Ahhh” vs. an “Ooooh.” (Is that the right onomatopoeia for a groan?)
8. Friendly – This is news anchor/local news humor or family humor – the warm stuff of commercials or after school specials. It’s not supposed to be high-brow; it’s inclusive and universal… apple pie. Target everybody and you target nobody. You aren’t going to offend anyone, but then again, you’re not really saying anything. So, if nobody can hate it, no one’s going to love it, either. If all you’re going for is a smile, you’re likely to get it. Easy.
9. Goofy/Slapstick – The stuff that makes everyone laugh from babies to the elderly. Some would then ask whether that’s the hardest, then. But it’s lowest common denominator – and it’s translatable into other languages… it limbo dances underneath the “Drama Is Global – Comedy Is Local” banner. Examples:
- It’s Mr. Bean (though his talent level is thru the roof).
- It’s the coyote falling off the cliff after hanging there for a minute (which makes older people laugh, as mentioned above, due to its Absurdity).
- a lot of Chevy Chase (tho movies like Fletch are incredibly witty, also).
- It’s the fat woman falling down a hole (which is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen so after all this intellectual talk I’m not sure where that leaves me).
- It’s “Something like that – a guy getting hit on the head with a rock or something – tickled the pants off Ackley.” That’s from The Catcher in the Rye, which I still believe, precisely because it hits all levels of humor, especially at the higher end of the spectrum, is the funniest thing I’ve ever experienced.
And why do you need to know all this? You don’t. But it comes in handy for explaining why you think something is funny. I’ll close out with empirically proving that Airplane! is the funniest movie of all time. Here goes:
Not only do people from all walks of life seem to enjoy it, I’d purport it’s precisely because it does contain such a range of humor.
- Awkward: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar yelling at the kid
- Dry/Sarcastic: “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.”
- Clever/Quick-Witted: “It’s an entirely different kind of flying… altogether.”
- Obscure/Absurd: the bar scene with the Girl Scouts fight and the Stayin’ Alive dance
- Black/Dark: “They bought their tickets. They KNEW what they were getting into. I say, ‘Let ‘em crash.’”
- Raunchy/Blue: “I take my coffee black… like my men.”
- Campy/Cheesy: “And don’t call me ‘Shirley.’”
- Friendly: the statue holding an umbrella during the storm
- Goofy/Slapstick: the drinking problem
That’s my take on it. So much for brevity being the soul of wit.