Thursday, September 29, 2011

Surreal Humor

Surrealism was a literary movement that experimented with a mode of expression called automatic writing, or automatism, which sought to release the unbridled imagination of the subconscious. 

Using positive Freudian methods of free association, poetry and prose draws upon the world of the mind, unharnessing surrealistic humor. 

Traditionally, comedy has been limited to a low-brow application of humor - jokes that belittle ethnic groups and jokes that draw upon the pain and suffering of one group to make another group feel better about themselves. 

 Telling a joke at the expense of another is not funny

For me, this kind of joke does nothing other than further the cruelty of an already too willing audience.  Jokes riddled with oppression produce nothing more than nervous laughter. No wonder there's little funding for humor research. 

Many of the comedians today are clueless Pavlovian-type proponents of an outdated sense of humor (see above comic). They observe differences and are too eager to laugh about them, never questioning whether or not being the butt of a joke is funny. Admittedly, these comedians question whether or not something "is funny" but only by asking people who demographically or culturally share their preconceived biases, therefore failing "to get" that the joke is on them. 

The comedian, Steve Carell, said that he wouldn't work on a "mean" comedy movie. He said: "I don't care for mean humor. It doesn't sit well with me. There's already so much bitterness and cynicism out there. What I find funny is human." 

Surrealistic humor, like surrealistic art, draws upon the clever and whimsical disregard for tradition fostered by the Dadaist artistic and literary movement that flouted conventional aesthetic and cultural values in 20th-century Europe. The work illustrated absurdity in social values, visually expressing cynicism about conventional ideas of form and beauty. 

 No hang ups...

It is this type of humor that has the broadest appeal. In my mind, Carell hit the nail on the head when he said: "Look at Peter Sellers - he played characters who were heightened and silly, but at the same time, you were watching a human being trying to hold on to a semblance of dignity." 

I strongly believe that the anarchist comedy of the 1920s is dying out. Unbridled humor is not achieved at the expense of bridling another. For humor to be truly unbridled it has to have a continuous flow of energie that emerges from the strange and symbolic images we perceive and conceive of as a species. It's the seemingly symbolic forms and twisted lines we observe in art, nature, humor, and life, that create a truly imaginative world of fantastic figures. 

Surrealistic art depicting dismembered female nudes is emotionally shocking. For me, it feels like taking the aspirations, hopes, yearnings, and goals inherent in the word "dreams" and limiting them to a Freudian repressed or frustrated sexual desire. 

The subject of sex (a favorite topic among comedians) conjures up many ideas and thoughts and is an easy topic to introduce comically in an act. The irony is that sex evolved from our species' need to reproduce without passing on bacteria, infections, and parasites. Essentially, it's "bacteria" that is responsible for the meiotic sex that evolved 520 million years ago. 500 million years later, I'd like to think we're ready for some new material. 

If I were alone in my belief that "dreams" represented nothing more than a Freudian repressed sexual desire, the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. would have never inspired a nation to work toward solidarity. 

I have a Dream...

I think humor can be used to find solidarity in a time when more and more people on the planet are connecting with people who have different viewpoints, religious beliefs, and even, different values. Every day, people "befriend" people they don't know in an attempt to learn and grow. 

Surrealistic humor can be surprisingly imaginative. It ranges from the deeply symbolic to refinement of thought in puns and wordplay. Whichever approach, the creativity in abstract expressionism is the spirit of the modernist vanguard. It has the power to shift comedy from the oppressive to the monumentally funny aspect of what it means to be human. Breaking away from negative conventions inherent in lowbrow comedy, surrealistic humor stands as a reflection of the individual's psyche, both the comedian's and the audiences'.  It expresses a basic inclination: an emphasis on the hilarity found in the dynamic, energetic gestures we express as humans.

In my desire to find richer content and meaning in humor, free of provincialism and explicit themes, I have to look deeper. Redolent of social responsibility is the true need we have to express comedy that minimizes the dark side of humanity as a device for breaking free of a conscious mind that has been historically automaton - negative without thinking about the consequences. Here, we let go of the reins that inhibit true freedom of expression. 

There's adventure to be held when you venture into the unknown world of the imagination with the distinct goal of making people "laugh together" rather than at each other. I challenge comedians everywhere to develop radical new techniques that drip and spatter fresh paint onto a raw canvas laid on the ground instead of aimed at someone's back. Make humor nonobjective. Scale it in a way that is shockingly and powerfully iconic, highly charged, gestural, and abstract, rather than directing it against a weaker foe. 

The path lay in the expressive potential of our intellect and sense of humor. The impulse toward negativity seems to lull people toward it, but they do so laughing out of nervousness and recognition of the incongruities, superiorities or inferiorities, rather than from the goodness of their own hearts. When people can look to humor and feel uplifted rather than apprehensive, that will be the day when the true meaning of humor is understood. 

From my viewpoint, it's time to confront the work, not the comedians. In doing so, we raise the expectations of humor and illuminate in our audiences a quasi-religious experience, even eliciting tears of laughter. It's the height of the humor scale we strive for that contributes to the meaning of funny. 

A number of my readers have asked me whether or not I consider bathroom humor to be funny... I have to admit, I think it (within reason) it can be - this is why:

Bathroom humor is widely recognized as a funny human expression. It is not usually oppressive, which is probably why it appeals so much to the innocence of youth. It may be socially unacceptable, but it is still very human. It takes years to develop biases about socially acceptable behavior. In this respect, children haven't yet had the time to judge it. For them, it's a funny part of life. If it were oppressive, the book, Everybody Poops, would have never sold a million copies to parents of baby-to-prekindergarten and nine to twelve age ranges.

To come across a toilet on display as art in the Pompidou is surreal and funny. 

To the guy who sold it, even more so!

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