www.whyville.net Mar 28, 2010 Weekly Issue

Times Writer

What's So Funny?

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That's not funny.

Those words ran through my head as I stared at the screen, horrified. I was watching a popular sitcom, and the characters were throwing insults at each other. Worse, the crowd in the background (or is it a recorded tape?) laughed and clapped their approval. 'When did this become funny?' I thought. And worse, 'Is this what we want to teach young kids? That insulting people is funny?'

So I started my TV show over. I grabbed a pen and piece of paper and kept careful tally marks. If the crowd laughed, I made a mark. If they laughed at a character insulting another character, I made the tally mark squiggly. If the crowd laughed at a character bragging about themselves, another common "joke" on sitcoms that I think is equally rude, I made the tally mark horizontal. Finally, if the characters did anything else that wouldn't fly in real life and the crowd laughed, I made a lightning bolt tally mark.

Fifteen minutes into the show, I couldn't take it anymore. I turned it off and contemplated my list. Of the twenty-nine times the crowd laughed, ten of those times were when a character insulted another. Three was the number of times that a character bragged about themselves. Five of those twenty-nine were incidents that wouldn't have happened in real life because it's just not acceptable. Some of my least favorites would probably be the characters disrespecting people of authority, lying, acting really stupid, getting injured, and generally being obnoxious. Only eleven of the twenty-nine jokes did I approve of.

So is this what our youth has become? I mean, you want to make funny jokes and have your friends laugh. Do kids watch these shows and then go insult their friends, looking for approval? If so, then we have a serious problem.

Or maybe not. Maybe kids watch these shows and laugh, but in real life their jokes don't come at the expense of someone's feelings.

I decided I needed the opinions of my fellow Whyvillians to reach a decision. So I y-mailed near and far, asking for other's thoughts. And here they are, folks:

Singel12: What kinds of things make you laugh in real life?

Bballroxs: I'm very easily amused, but along with, I'm sure, the majority: jokes, friend wipeouts, etc.
Animals43: I laugh at funny stuff basically, as long as it's not making fun of someone or hurting them.
Play2live: Humorous mistakes, sentences worded in certain ways, the usual.
Monet1616: Fun inside jokes I have with my friends.
Natnat10: I laugh at the most immature things, and when other people get hurt.
Evilpigs3: Pretty much just random, stupid stuff my friends say.
Astray: The things that make me laugh in real life are NUMEROUS. They're usually sort of happenstance things, or things that people do by accident or out of their control. For instance, you know when someone has a bit of phlegm at the back of their throat and their voice is all funny? That puts me in stitches. I'm also a huge fan of impersonations, ridiculous and out-there personalities, puns and double-entendres, and general cleverness. Also, cats. Cats make me laugh.
Nisfonick: Things that make me laugh in real life -- just when I'm with my friends and immature jokes are said.

Singel12: What kinds of things make you laugh when watching a TV show?

Bballroxs: I always will if there was a joke made earlier on in the show, and it is brought up later in the show.
Animals43: I laugh when people get "hurt" on a TV show.
Play2live: If some of the lines are funny, then I'll laugh, but a lot of TV shows aren't funny to me.
Monet1616: Well, I don't usually watch TV. But I think it's hilarious when the well thought out plan goes horribly wrong and backfires. Or when the mother of the baby on Maury goes berserk . . .
Natnat10: I watch shows where even the littlest things are funny to me. If there was a show where monkeys shoot poo at each other, I would be laughing.
Evilpigs3: Um, usually when the characters do something embarrassing or say something funny.
Astray: Well, I'll list the three TV shows that I first thought of: "The Simpsons", "Important Things with Demitri Martin", and "The Office." All three are sort of to "point out how funny everyday life can be" (and so much more tastefully than Jerry Seinfeld ever has), but there are moments when it's so ridiculously silly that there are only two choices: shake my head and change the channel, or (literally) rofl.
Nisfonick: When watching a TV show, what makes me laugh is irony.

Singel12: Do the same things that seem humorous in a TV show seem equally funny in real life?

Bballroxs: They can, depends though.
Animals43: No, because someone could actually get hurt.
Play2live: I would say they seem even more humorous in real life.
Monet1616: Sometimes. It depends on the situation. Someone falling down on TV may be funny, but sometimes in real life, it's scary.
Natnat10: Not really, because you would laugh if something bad happened to the character. You wouldn't laugh if something bad happened to you.
Evilpigs3: I don't think so because nothing can really compare to actually experiencing it, like some jokes, you just have to be there to understand them.
Astray: Based on the shows I watch, yes. It's a totally different feeling, though. It can be just as funny, but chuckling along with a laugh track doesn't feel the same as, say, sharing a laugh with my best friend. The social part of laughing is usually what makes it as great as it is.
Nisfonick: And in real life, irony is always funny.

It seems Whyville is a place of many opinions. As for me, I'm torn. Are the insults and unrealistic jokes on TV shows simply harmless banter? Or does it have an effect on the children who watch it? It's up to you to decide.


Author's Note: Big, special thanks to all my interviewees.


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