What Do You Think is so Funny?

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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