Tuesday, August 16, 2011

My Pajamas

I grew up watching reruns of the television show, Bewitched

Elizabeth Montgomery was the ultimate female icon from that generation. She played the role of a beautiful, kind-hearted, powerful witch married to a dim-witted, easily-replaceable mortal named Darrin. 

Darrin disapproved of her using magic, keeping her "trapped" into the stereotypical role of the "housewife" and "mother" doting on her husband's every need - making him drinks and dinner, and sympathizing with his plight of being a junior advertising man on the supposed 'fast-track' to senior partner in a firm with a boss named Larry Tate who threatened to fire him in nearly every episode. While Darrin supposedly loved his wife, who adored him and agreed to "give up her magic" for him, he usually treated her like nothing other than a beautiful support system to his ego.

Justly, the world laughed whenever Darrin became the victim of magical spells, usually cast by Samantha, Aunt Clara, Esmeralda, Doctor Bombay, Cousin Serena (played by Elizabeth), or the wicked spells of his mother-in-law, the marvelous Endora. It didn't matter who cast the spell or why the spell was cast, or even if it was some exotic infection that only "witches got," disaster followed and the implied comedic message was that Darrin always had it whatever happened coming him!

Paul Lynde played Uncle Arthur, the constant jokester on the show. His antics often times evoked the wrath of the Witches' Council, which resulted in brilliantly funny chaos. Lynde's ability to illustrate flawed reasoning was pure comic genius.

Jokes illustrate flawed reasoning, otherwise known as "fallacies." In John and Donald Capps book, You've Got To Be Kidding: How Jokes Can Help You Think, the book describes fallacies as something that "provide us with the conceptual tools that help us think critically about the reasons we give for a particular belief." 

In the remake of Bewitched with Will Farrel and Nicole Kidman, Will Farrel, while watching reruns of Bewitched, cracks up over Uncle Arthur's classic line, "One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I'll never know."  

In my studies on humor, I discovered that this grammatically ambiguous phrase, otherwise known as an amphiboly (amphibology), didn't have its origins in Bewitched. It was a line from the Marx Brothers' 1930s film, Animal Crackers. In the below clip, Groucho delivers this truly classic line. 

In the field of comedy today, there's hilariously funny material being created.  Finding the continuity between what tickles the imagination of today's audience and its origins is crucial to a foundational understanding of humor studies. The ability to take something old and breathe new life into it keeps the brilliance of earlier comedy alive for new generations to come. 

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