And ſome thoughts on the purpoſe of comedy
Ye Olde Ryde Throughst
What is the Purpose of Comedy?
A poll onasked: Has a joke ever changed your mind?
At the time of writing, 59% of respondents had said
This got me thinking. What is the purpose of comedy, and satire in particular?
I don’t think its purpose is to change people’s minds. Its purpose is not to say, “There is a Thing X and a Thing Y. Here are all the ways in which Thing X is stupid, absurd, and contemptible, and why you would be a fool to believe in Thing X over Thing Y. Now go forth, fool, and change your mind.”
Ridiculing Thing X or Thing Y can be funny, and sometimes even insightful. But its effects and relevance are usually fleeting.
Comedy at its best has a bigger, more lasting purpose, I think. It’s to say, “There is a Thing Z which humanity has grappled with for millennia. Here is a story about someone dealing with Thing Z that will, hopefully, help you to identify and deal with Thing Z when you inevitably are confronted with it in your own life.” Then throw in a few fart jokes to lighten the mood.
Comedy illuminates important things for our minds. It’s up to us to change them.
Thing Z can be good, bad, or anywhere in between. It can be happy or sad, depressing or hopeful, heartfelt or cruel, or all of these things at once. Because life is all of these things at once, sometimes.
And sometimes it’s enough just to laugh for the sake of laughing. Laughing is good. There doesn’t always need to be some sort of deeper moral.
Thing X and Thing Y fade away because they are of the moment, ephemeral: opinions, politics, celebrities, whatever is in the news. Thing Z sticks with us, because it is part of who we are: love, life, death, sex, religion, butts. Thing Z is why Office Space quotes are still a daily occurrence in cubicles around the world. Thing Z is why Gulliver’s Travels made me laugh out loud 300 years after it was written. It doesn’t matter if you’re reading Thing Z in 223 B.C. or 2023 A.D., when you see it on the page or on the screen it just makes sense.
I doubt whether I have ever personally succeeded in achieving Thing Z, writing something funny and important that will also last. But I try, and I hope to someday. I’ve certainly never changed anyone’s mind. Hopefully I’ve made a few people laugh.
Until such a time when I am able to achieve comedic immortality, I shall have to settle for the next best thing. Which is this:
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