Can humor always be found?
December 17, 2013 by Thomas Wictor
Yesterday Robert Schulslaper interviewed me at length for Fanfare. The question of my sense of humor came up a few times.
I have a rather dark sense of humor. It’s not completely dark; for example I find this ad extremely funny. The two actresses are absolute geniuses. This Monty Python sketch can still make me laugh myself to tears. The high-pitched screaming gets me every time. Someone once said the brilliance of the Pythons is they somehow make utter obnoxiousness funny instead of annoying.
One of the most consistently funny films I’ve seen is Monster-in-Law, with Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda. Unfortunately for the movie, the herd instinct took over and everyone pretends that it’s terrible, which is ludicrous. I had no idea that either Lopez or Fonda were comediennes. But they are.
Instead of jokes I relate weirdness. For example when Dad took Tim, Paul, Pat, and me on a road trip in Europe in 1977, us kids were in foul moods because our father’s version of a vacation was to get up at dawn, drive in perfect silence until sunset—stopping along the way for lunch—and then try and find accommodations for the night. On this trip he forced us into a deserted hotel, a ghoulish innkeeper the only living thing in it. We barricaded the doors when we went to bed.
For some reason we were all angry at Tim during this excursion, so in Switzerland, while he and Dad went out to look for an aircraft museum that didn’t exist, Paul and Pat and I took turns shaking a can of Coke that Tim had put in the little ice chest in the back of our 1975 GMC Jimmy.
Tim still has this car.
We shook the can continuously for over half an hour. When Tim came back alone, he got in the car, took the Coke from the cooler, and popped it open. The pressurized contents erupted in a brown jet that hit the fiberglass ceiling of the car with such force that it created a gravity-defying puddle about four feet in diameter. No liquid rained down on us. Somehow the Coke instantly fused with the fiberglass. Maybe the shaking had melted the sugar, so it was like cyanoacrylate glue.
The brown stain was permanent. It’s still there, despite decades of attempts at cleaning it off.
Carmen’s sense of humor matched mine perfectly. It was absurdist and often dark. Almost every day she described the amazing things she’d seen on the train: A man in a full business suit, wearing a swim mask. A man in a full business suit, his head wrapped in newspaper with eye holes torn in it. A man with a giant wen on his cheek that had black hair over eight inches long sprouting from it and hanging down like a very thin ponytail.
A little kid standing on the platform by the place where a door would be after the train stopped. When the door opened and people poured out, he’d kick random passengers in the legs as hard as he could. The crowds were so dense that the victims didn’t see who’d assaulted them, and they couldn’t do anything anyway, since they were swept helplessly along. Carmen watched the kid do this to five trainloads of people.
“He was a baby psycho!” she said, shuddering and giggling.
Can humor always be found?
Yes. I think so. But should it always be found? No. Nor should it be expressed publicly.
You’d be shocked at what survivors of certain experiences can joke around about. But not all survivors can join in. They’re under no obligation to join in either. If they see nothing funny in their plight, that’s a perfectly legitimate reaction. Everyone has a different tolerance for trauma. Doctors, paramedics, coroners, law enforcement officers, and members of the military find humor in utterly nightmarish circumstances. I understand that completely.
The danger comes when this essentially private humor is shared with those who haven’t experienced the trauma in question. People with a dark sense of humor can come across as insensitive or even heartless.
Also, publicly joking about certain things doesn’t serve any purpose. People like to accuse the Victorians of hypocrisy because they lived straight-laced lives but collected pornographic postcards or visited red-light districts.
In my mind Victorians knew what was appropriate and what wasn’t. Everything had its place. I don’t see the societal value in mainstreaming all vices and presenting them publicly. Just because you do something doesn’t mean you have to do it openly.
The former porn star Sasha Grey read to elementary school children on November 2, 2011, as part of the National Education Association’s “Read Across America” program. When parents protested, Grey issued a statement.
I committed to this program with the understanding that people would have their own opinions about what I have done, who I am and what I represent. I am an actor. I am an artist. I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am a partner. I have a past that some people may not agree with, but it does not define who I am. I will not live in fear of it.
Yes, her past does define her. She said so herself.
This is something that I wanted to do and I wanted to go after, and it was, for me, one of the large reasons was to stop the stigma and stop the stereotypes that people have against the adult film industry. I grew up ashamed of my sexuality…and the more I opened my mind, it felt for me like it was a good decision and I don’t have any regrets.
She was a crusader, on a mission to mainstream hardcore pornography. Sasha Grey is also credited with “revolutionizing the industry” by agreeing to perform truly mind-boggling forms of what can only be called degradation of the body and soul. You can search for her work yourself. Put in her name and the word “acrobat.” But you’ll need to turn off the “safe search” mode on your engine. And you’ll have to be over eighteen.
I don’t think being a porn star is immoral. However, the industry itself clearly victimizes women who have severe psychological issues, and the kind of hardcore pornography made today is astonishingly violent, hostile, and unerotic. There’s no humanity in it. The language used is extremely vicious, the scenes deliberately written and filmed to present sex as filthy and women as smelly animals to be used and tossed aside. All you have to do is search the titles of movies.
Women who participate are not stigmatized, a word that implies unfair targeting. Female porn stars are involved in a genuinely unsavory industry, so it’s natural that protective, caring parents would prefer that Sasha Grey not read to their children. Not when there are so many other people to choose from.
It isn’t reasonable for a woman to go out of her way to present herself as nothing but a dirty, abused, subhuman receptacle and then demand that she be treated with respect.
Similarly, it isn’t reasonable for humorists to demand that society accept every tragedy, atrocity, and crime as fodder for laughter. In the privacy of my own home, I can joke around with people whose sense of humor matches my own. It would be grossly oblivious and inhumane of me to assume that everyone shares that sense of humor.
I understand that many of you would find my humor too macabre to stomach. And you’re perfectly right to feel that way. There’s no law requiring that you laugh at what I find funny. My parents had radically different senses of humor. Mom was able to joke about her demise, until the last two days of her life. When she panicked, realizing at last that Tim and I were right and she wouldn’t make it, we were long past the jokes.
If I’d said, “Betcha wish you’d eaten that sammich now, doncha? Hah? Hah?” it would make me an evil person. But as long as she was up for kidding around, I joined in. I followed, rather than initiating the humorous remarks.
Dad was never able to joke about his mortality. I didn’t know this until two years before his death, when he asked me if I could donate blood to have ready for his upcoming hand surgery. He was unaware that I’m permanently barred from giving blood because I lived in Europe during the 1980s. (Scroll down to “Travel.”)
That made Dad worry that he might get Creutzfeld-Jacob disease from someone improperly screened.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “It has a forty-year incubation period.”
His face fell. “Are you sayin’ I won’t be here in forty years?” He was eighty-two at the time.
“I won’t be here in forty years,” I said.
“DON’T SAY THAT!” he shouted.
So I never again made any reference to death in his presence. He was under no obligation to laugh.
“Can’t you take a joke?” is the question of a blundering jackass.
Tim and I joke all the time with each other about my Meniere’s disease and his eye problems. We tell each other that we’ll end up together in a trailer, me vomiting, him blind, both of us with prostates the size of watermelons, and both of us rotted down to cobwebs with cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
We laugh because it’s true. But we get to laugh at ourselves. We don’t get to make fun of anyone else publicly and expect to be given a pass. My humor helps me, and Tim’s humor helps him.
And if we ever slip up and say publicly some of the things we say in private, we’ll deserve whatever response comes our way.
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