How’s your sense of humour? Try this for size… Do you find The Trump funny or laughable? Amusing or risible? And are you puzzled sometimes when people find things funny and you’re left scratching your head?
Humour is often in the eye (and ear) of the beholder. In the UK, ‘Monty Python’ splits people into two camps. As does ‘The Office’. The late Bob Monkhouse was too ‘American’ for some. And Les Dawson too ‘northern’ for others. Is Billy Connolly too lewd for you? Or Laurel and Hardy just too silly?
Comedy – particularly of the sarcastic, sardonic and cynical strain – is now bigger than ever in Britain. Once upon a time, it was slapstick, innocent, accessible. Nowadays, it’s darker and targeted, in a heat-seeking-missile kind of way.
Whilst a common thread throughout the ages might be about cutting others down to size – to wit, ‘Blackadder’, Edwardian music hall or plays featuring some of Shakespeare’s more pompous characters – some would say that every subject is fair game as far as humour is concerned.
Others would argue that today’s cynical brand of humour reflects our harsher, more selfish and divided society where identifying with the social mores of your own tribe is essential for making sense of society’s complex mess.
One thing’s for sure: people laugh at wildly differing things. Some fall around watching ‘Jungle Book’. Others dissolve at the mere mention of ‘Fawlty Towers’. But is laughter all about humour, jokes and ‘Keystone Cops’ knockabout?
The Language of Laughter
Apparently, laughter is equally about sending social signals to those around us. It reinforces group values and consolidates what binds us together. Research has shown that laughter begins when we’re just a few months old. The idea is to communicate with our mother – in much the same way we do with crying.
Laughter is audible. We rarely laugh to ourselves. If you’ve watched the TV show, ‘Gogglebox’, you’ll notice that the participants’ laughter is often used to confirm a specific view or prejudice between themselves. Most definitely, these are social signals.
Even in our most raucous moments, communicating through humour is subtle and sophisticated. Arguably, humour has evolved within modern societies. Primitive peoples are too busy with survival to worry too much about ‘having a laugh’. Animals likewise.
As the present-day ‘lingua franca’, we use humour to laugh at outsiders and those who have become too big for their boots. In this way, we’re also saying to friends, family and social allies that ‘you’re one of us’. A noticeable aspect of humour in Britain is just how focused it is on having a victim. In everyday parlance, it’s called ‘taking the p*ss’.
This is no new thing. Outsiders and braggarts have always bred suspicion and contempt. Closing ranks using cliquey humour and other means of ostracism is an obvious defence mechanism that cuts across all social groups and divides.
Cynicism and Suspicion
Today’s brand of cynical humour can be hard to stomach for those generations brought up on a diet of comedians like Morecambe and Wise. Their closest living descendants are probably Ant and Dec – although they do tend to act as presenters and facilitators rather than ‘star turns’ in their own right.
Cynical humour is borne of the stresses and competitiveness that is everywhere in Britain’s divided society. We are split along class, geographical and ethnic lines. These can be further sub-divided into occupational, educational and regional sub-groups, to name but a few.
Speaking the same comedic language gives self-preservation an extra carapace. It makes all our sub-groups tougher nuts to crack by all who may want to go there. In a nation already known historically for its subtly defined snobberies, it’s ironic that the comedy and humour of infinite sub-groups provides the ammunition to perpetuate a divided and granular society that is anything but funny.
Humour deflates political correctness. It invites our enemies to ‘swivel on that’; it middle-fingers inequality and so-called elites; above all, it provides a safety valve for an over-governed society.
Humour is everywhere. It sets us free and provides a licence to laugh at everyone else’s wrinkles, safe in the knowledge that we are untouchable behind our walls of puns, porn and p*ss-taking.
About the author…
Mike Beeson is a copywriter, journalist and PR consultant.
For more information about his services, visit: www.buzzwords.ltd.uk