What Do You Think is so Funny?

Humor heals; absolute humor heals absolutely

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Everyone has different notions of what's funny. Thus, if you laugh out loud during a certain sitcom -- say, Ellen -- you might feel abashed to read that 'ELLEN' is among similar sitcoms (Mad About You and Seinfeld being other examples) sending 'an insidious message about the future of Western Civilization.' This critique made by Elayne Rapping in The Progressive (Sept. 1995) is right, of course: The shows are about yuppies with no real family or work responsibilities and politics and other meaningful issues are typically trivialized or mocked. Yet, as even Rapping acknowledges, they can be pretty darn funny.

So is flipping off the set the solution? Rapping doesn't say here, but in her writings -- the latest is Media-tions (South End Press, $15) -- she's not anti-TV, simply pro-good-TV. As Danny Duncan Collum notes in his Sojourners (Sept./Oct. 1995) critique of primetime programmings' pandering to audiences fragmented by race and class -- shows like Livin' Single have a nearly all-black audience; SEINFELD all-white -- the ideal is to create TV shows that, like The Simpsons and the late 'In Living Color,' reflect 'the best rebellious and democratic tradition of American popular art.' Plus, those two prove that meaningful topics and humor can be entertaining.

Indeed, THE PROGRESSIVE's own pages prove that intelligent, entertaining humor thrives. Along with veteran political humorist Molly Ivins, the magazine has added smart, funny stand-ups Kate Clinton and Will Durst as regular columnists

From the September 1995 issue, there's Kate Clinton on her ideas for marketing Catholicism: 'They know me at the Vatican already for some of the bids I have put in to produce Papal visits. I proposed hooking him up with the Lollapalooza tour last summer. Push the miracle thing. Kind of a Neil Young thing, get the younger crowd. He's got the book, the CD, lots of merch, and a very good road show ... I've been trying to talk Mary into coming back. She does not like big events. She likes small appearances. Back yards. Lawn chairs. New Jersey. Nothing too showy. I like that about her. She's like Jackie O in that way.'

Admit it, that little tidbit at least made you smile. And not only is humor ideal for cultural critique; American Health (Sept. 1995) reports that it saves lives. Not only has the philosophy that humor aids healing been scientifically proven because it boosts feel-good, immune-building endorphins, it has also been institutionalized within mainstream and alternative medicine. Healing's special issue on humor (Vol. 3, No. 2, 1995) is a great guide to the humor/healing connection. There's technique talk from nurse-humorist Patty Wooten and lists of experts like Patch Adams (he's building 'the first hospital to fully incorporate humor) and Bernie Siegel. This issue also has an excellent resource guide to humor publications like The Laughter Prescription, Journal of Nursing Jocularity, and Stitches, The Journal of Medical Humor.

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