Friday, April 13, 2012

Funny bones

“I dearly love a laugh... I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can.”― Elizabeth Bennett, in Pride and Prejudice
Jim Holt explores the interesting subject of what people think is funny in Stop Me If You've Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes. Plato was on the same page as Austen's heroine, deeming that the proper objects of laughter were vice and folly. Holt's list of reputed agelasts (i.e., poker faces) includes Jonathan Swift, William Gladstone, Margaret Thatcher, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
Jesus wept, but did he laugh? That was the core question of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. As I was unable to finish the novel, I'm not sure what the answer is, but I do not recall much laughter in the Gospels. "The total absence of humor from the Bible," Alfred North Whitehead once observed," is one of the most singular things in all literature."
Given the brilliance of Jewish comedians and the wryness of Jewish humor in general, I guess all one can say is that you had to be there. Perhaps the funny stuff just didn't make it into print!
For a truly hilarious showcase of humor in action, look no further than the movies of the Marx Brothers. I was a bit sniffy about them in my salad days, imagining that slapstick to be a bore, but I got my comeuppance when I turned on TCM and was sucked in by At the Circus .... My god, the fun was nonstop! Each of them has so much to offer—Groucho with his incessant wordplay and brilliant physical schtick, Harpo with his adorable anarchy and beautiful harp playing, Chico with his dogged ability to screw everything up and come out on top (as well as his piano chops). At the moment we have the Marx Brothers set from the TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection, with A Day at the Races; Room Service; A Night in Casablanca; and At the Circus. Can't wait to laugh some more.
Groucho's interplay with Eve Arden is priceless in At the Circus, as is his rendition of "Lydia the Tattooed Lady"

Room Service, with a fetching Lucille Ball.
Clowning around on the Room Service set. Remember the classic Lucy episode when she imitated Harpo?


  1. No humor in the Bible? That does not seem to be the prevailing academic wisdom. See this story from the Straight Dope:

    1. Cecil Adams is a very funny guy. The Bible? Eh, not so much.

    2. I agree w/ A: close, but no cigar! They did give it the old college try though.

  2. The Marx Brothers are so iconic in the comedy dept, reading this post really makes me want to familiarize myself with some of their films. I like many have always been intrigued by Groucho and his profound moustache.

  3. I wasn't aware that they did anything with Lucille Ball! A must-see, for sure.


  5. As Penny mentions the Marx Brother are iconic in comedy, they set the stage for many comedians today. They bought laughter during a time when the US needed it.