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What is Comedy? (For Don Rickles and Jennifer)

Don Rickles

Don Rickles, in my estimation,  is probably the greatest comedian who ever lived. His appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson are a storied part of television history and, for many people, have become touchstones of what comedy is all about.  It is about a time and a place and a feeling. A thought in the dying embers of a fleeting moment. While stationary, it can send you rocketing off without warning.

Mr. Rickles and Mr. Carson could do with only a few notes what it takes most others a volume of reference books, a free Tuesday and a picture of Eve Arden and still not even come close to the magic they produced.

What is comedy?

In an article entitled “The Dark Psychology of Being a Good Comedian”, author Olga Khazan endeavored to explore and define what makes comedy. As much of a compelling read that it is, the article fails to account for the most important part of the equation. Their temperament and belief system play heavily into what we find funny.

Comedy is the essence of life. It is the falsest art form man has ever endeavored to create. Why false? A comedian will always be the one whose perspective is the least in the norm. To find a normal comedian is to find a five leaf clover in a field of four leaf clovers. While this may hold true for most professions, in comedy, it is vital. Therefore, one really must understand the line between genius and insanity.

Dying is easy, Judd Apatow isn’t funny

It was Edmund Kean who allegedly was quoted as saying, “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” A member of the audience took him to task, shot Kean and as he lay dying said, “You don’t do either very well.” Being funny is the least scientific of all the arts. You are either born with or not. Some think they are born with it and try to filch off what they think is funny.

They are what we call politicians. The lengths they will go to get a laugh, sometimes it seems like it is absolutely mind boggling. Ronald Reagan would end up invading Granada to prove to Margaret Thatcher that a fart joke that failed to make John Sununu laugh was actually funny. By all accounts, Russian president Vladimir Putin is hilarious. Much as our leaders would have us believe Putin is a dangerous man . His stated goal has always been to star in a romantic comedy with Tina Fey.This from the Russian version of the White Correspondents Dinner, where more Russian news people get hit by cars than the rest of the world combined.

Putin  – “I see funny story in Murmansk Times. It says I might have trouble getting re-elected. Coincidentally, Mr. Kovalev, my opiponent, accidentally ran his car over an un-detonated Nazi landmine sixteen times. I guess, his popularity wasn’t the only thing that exploded.


Did we not say comedy is the falsest art form?

Whither comedy?

As a result of a lot of inbreeding, comedians come in all shapes, sizes, colors and, sometimes, they are even female. Calls to the NOW (National Organization of Women headquarters) for comment were met with mass bra burnings and an audio book of The Vagina Monologues as Interpreted by Bill Clinton.

Consequently, wit is your closest ally and, even at 90, Don Rickles remains as sharp as ever. In addition to being a relic of a forgotten era, he is peerless.

Science Tries to Tell a Joke (F**ks up the Punchline)

A writer for website The Atlantic explored the more abstract side of what it takes to be a comedian. While the article offers an abundance of fanciful theories, they are just that. Hence, they have no value in dissecting such a complex subject. In it, the author offers this assessment –

“These approaches have a lot in common, though: You can’t make a joke without inserting a wicked twist, and you can’t be a comedian without holding a small amount of power, for even a short period of time, over the audience.”

In conclusion

A pat scientific explanation for something far more complex. Art can never be explained through formulas or equations, much less one as complex as comedy. Therefore, to perform an impossible endeavor like crowning a king is an exercise in the futile.

What comedy is is not important and to that point irrelevant. However, as much as the article advocates “safe” comedy, that interpretation renders the rest of the article redundant. While fear may bind you, there is no such thing in the world of comedy for safe.

Even at the age of 90, Don Rickles does not play it and he knows more about that than anyone.