“…what on earth makes people laugh?” ~ Maeve Binchy
The question of “….what on earth makes people laugh” is a good one, posed by a famously adept and prolific author, Maeve Binchy. We lost her this summer but her words live on in about a thousand books (only a slight exaggeration). Her question is one that does not have a single answer.
Binchy said in her book, “The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club”, that “All writing takes courage. Maybe comic writing just takes more courage than the other sort.” In trying to come up with an answer to her own question, she came to three conclusions, which I have nut-shelled here for you:
1. Sometimes, she thinks, people will laugh when writers make themselves look foolish, vulnerable, or silly. If that is the case, then I have this whole comedy thing wrapped up. I am sure that sometimes I come across as both foolish and silly (without really putting a lot of effort forth – one could say it comes naturally).
2. Binchy believes that “people laugh if you can create a truly funny character, like a clown figure, somebody that you are meant to laugh at.” I don’t know about you, but I do not find clowns all that funny. There are a few, like Milky the Clown, Le Clown and Bozo, who do not fit into this category, but I find clowns on the whole, sad, which proves that laughter and comedy are highly subjective.
3. When she worked as a journalist, Binchy interviewed the guy who wrote the Marx Brothers scripts, as well as George Burns, and Bob Hope. “Every single one of them” she said, “had no idea whether something was funny until they tried it out.” I do not find the Marx Brothers all that funny except for Harpo who did not talk and used a horn to squeak out his answers (and even he became annoying after a while).
I think both George Burns and Bob Hope are funny. Burns because he was an advocate of observational humour and Bob Hope because he knew some of his stuff was old and hackneyed but delivered it with such self-deprecation that it was funny.
Comedy is very individual. What makes you fall off your chair, or lol does not necessarily strike my funny bone. What I find funny you might question. Binchy wrote an article that she said made her both popular and “thought to be humorous”. What she did was take an everyday situation and make herself vulnerable to it. She said that she had not stayed in a hotel until she was twenty-two and did not know the protocol “about whether you make the bed” or not when you stayed in a hotel. She opted for a compromise and “sort of straightened the bed and folded back the covers” which she felt would not destroy her as a “hotel visitor.” After writing the article she was amazed that “half the country seemed to have the same dilemma” and was delighted with her wonderful sense of humour.
I understand why this garnered her the accolades she received, as it is something most of us have had to contend with. We don’t want to be thought of as slobs, but we also don’t want to make the bed up so perfectly that it looks not slept in, hence the staff would not change the sheets. Although I am not sure why we expect the sheets to be changed every day at a hotel when we certainly (or I certainly) don’t do it at home.
On a similar note, I have always wondered what it would be like to have someone clean my house. I am not a self-professed domestic goddess, but I am also not so sure I want my chaos to come to light (as if this is not confession enough; sure write about it and try to keep it secret: smart move).
Humour really is in the funny bone of the beholder. Or as Peter Ustinov said, “Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.”