America's Funniest People

Dear Son,

Sometime in the early 90's somebody made a show called America's Funniest People.  The premise was simple.  After the wild success of America's Funniest Home Videos, a show where people are repeatedly degraded by the forces of gravity and failed intentions, someone decided to pitch a novel idea: why not have the average American be funny on purpose?  The results couldn't have been more devastating.

Americans responded en masse in a flood of videos that were not only not funny, but were capable of making whole families cringe for a half-hour.  It stretched the definitions of both funny and people.  There was a large and ugly woman, from what appeared to be a trailer, "singing" Nancy Sinatra's These Boots Were Made For Walking -- while stomping -- with boots on.  There was a man, from what appeared to be New Jersey, repeatedly asking see deese? while holding a pair of CD's.  The hit of the show was a third-tier Bugs Bunny called The Jackelope, a stuffed rabbit with antlers whose jokes included running over a hunter with a snow mobile and stealing all of his women.  There was above all these a series of toned-down impressions of Andrew Dice Clay.  The name of the impressionist?  Andrew Nice Clay.  Were these in any way, shape, or form, funny?  Yes, in exactly the opposite way the producers intended.  Funniest Home Videos still lives today and is still worth watching as a family.  America's Funniest People was cancelled, never (at least we can hope) to terrorize Americans again*.

This show taught me several things, the first of which is that labels can mean nothing.  Democracy is unlikely to get you geniuses in charge but if you've got a market it can get you good comedians and the best kinds of toilet paper; and what we now know is that America's funniest people would never be delivered by hosts like Dave Coulier at a specific time on a weekly basis, but by the ratings and ravings of absolute strangers at exactly the time you weren't expecting it.  The almost uncontrollable chaos of the internet has given us better comedy than the plans and pretentious titles of our Hollywood executives.  

You can't really plan for a market.  You can only have a market.  The outcome will be more surprising than anything you could have imagined.   It will be a surprise to you because it will be a surprise to the leaders of the business community.  It will be so surprising that some of the leaders of the business community will be put out of business, and the person who surprised you will become a business of his own.  Capitalism is a Jack-in-the-Box, which pops out at random and terrifies all yesterday's giants.

The second thing I learned was that the accidental indignities of America's Funniest Home Videos were funnier than the actual attempts of would-be comedians.  Man is a laughable being; but he has difficulty being a jokester.  It requires either great intelligence or great stupidity to be a great fool.  You either have to do stupid things repeatedly or know what exactly makes something stupid.  The theory of absurdity is the foundation of all comedy, and it's easier to recognize than to dream up.  The greatest comedians tell stories because they see great comedy in the everyday occurrence**.  On the other hand there's almost nothing more painful than an old man asking if you want to hear "a joke."

Anyhow, once you know how things are supposed to go you can tell why they didn't; and this realization of man's fall from pretention is the origin of all laughter.  Someone hated vacuuming so he dreamed of a world where vacuums would drive themselves.  Somebody bought the self-driving vacuum, and came home to find that it would keep vacuuming the whole house after smearing over dog poop.  This kind of thing.  To be a great comedian you not only have to know what our dreams are, but you have to be the kind of person who laughs at us for failing.

Because of this tendency to kick us when we're down, comedians are said to be horrible people; and aside from the sultans and other playboy billionaires they're the chief beneficiaries of the Fall of Man.  God abandoned us and the comedian became the war-profiteer in the battle between the cosmos.  But is he so rotten if he points out where we went wrong?  And is laughter itself then unGodly?  One only wonders why, if Christians are right, that none of our best comedians are Christians.  The successor of Saint Peter may hold the keys to the kingdom, but he's only capable of making his enemies laugh.  It has yet to be asked whether this makes him a saint -- or outs him as only a fraud.


PS: It's worth noting here that there are four different versions of The Office, and the reason each one of these belongs to a different country is because every culture has its own set of expectations.  A Frenchman can more intentionally break the expectations of the French; and the English may more easily break with the unspoken policies of the English.  It's true that the foreigner is oftentimes good for a laugh (and never trust a man who grants foreigners immunity solely because they are foreign).  But the African will make you laugh more on accident; and the American knows what makes the African funny to Americans.  We can get a good chuckle out of an Arab man in a flowing white nightgown.  An intelligent Arab is more likely to laugh at the misteachings of an ignorant Imam -- if he's allowed to.  A well-bred American prefers to laugh at the heretical indignities of the Pentacostal.

*We have other shows to make Americans cringe now, of course, and the chief of them all is Saturday Night Live.  That this show has been running for nearly 50 years is a miracle of the raining-frogs-and-fire variety; and for every decent sketch they produce there are twenty that make you question God's justice.  Yet somehow this is America's gold mine; and many of the best of our comedians not only come from this abomination, but are given their shot at success from it.  

We can only wonder if, aside from raping people, this is Hollywood's own special brand of frat-boy hazing; and if they can suffer the indignities of being in a thousand fifth-rate cringe skits on national television, they're prepared for the world of comedy in general -- a process not unlike breaking a horse, or gelding a eunuch.

**As an example, here's a real-life conversation I had in the breakroom the other day:
Guy: About three, three-thirty in the morning I thought I heard a woman screaming, so I laid awake in kind of a half-haze wondering if I'd actually heard it.  I knew it was real when I hear my brother's door open and he yelled a couple times for me to call the cops.  I got up and saw the door and figured what was going on: he was getting ready to run off into the dark, probably with his gun, and that was when I heard her scream again.  A blood-curdling scream -- somewhere down the road in the dark.  Just a bloody-murder scream.  HELP!
Me: What did you do?
Guy: Well I got my phone and called the police, told them what happened, they said a couple of officers would be there in one to two minutes, so I hung up.  My brother had already run out the door.  Then I opened up the window, shouted as loud as possible that the cops were on the way and they said they'd be there in a minute or two, and made sure to address my brother so the attacker would know he was coming.
Me: "..."
Him: "..."
Me: So what happened??
Him: I don't know.  i went back to bed.  I'm gonna ask my brother when I see him after work.