What makes something funny? How come some jokes make us laugh out loud and others leave us with no response at all? I’ve found two key elements to humor:
1) Surprise – We aren’t expecting the punch line.
2) Truth – We recognize ourselves, our thoughts, our perceptions. The funniest comedy is the most truthful.
So then, why is so much comedy based on stereotypes? Look at all the comedians who are Asian, Jewish, African American, Gay. They regularly use stereotypes associated with their ethnicity, sexuality, etc. in their material. So if humor has to be true to be funny – does that make stereotypes true?
(yes, I’m going to pick a fight with myself here. You probably know by now I think stereotypes of women are the number one cause for bad advertising) Let’s see whether I win or whether I win. (oh shut up. No YOU shut up)
I struggled with this question after my visit last week to see Kiki Melendez and her fabulous assembly of comics in Hot Tamales Live in NYC. These women (and man) had me howling.
But boy, talk about stereotypes – the Asian comic busted on Asians, the Jews busted on Jewish mothers, the Latinos busted on their stereotypes. It was laugh out loud funny. But I do believe two things are going on here.
Yes, some stereotypes are based in truths – or at least generalities and partial truths. But I think the more interesting part, and the part that made it funny was – it is our "perceptions" of these groups that are true. Especially when we feel some of our "perceptions" may not be politically correct.
The lone male comic in the group, a Latino, joked that he was a fabulous lover. And hey, after you were done, he could do your landscaping. It’s almost like he was giving you permission to admit to the stereotype you have – which is somehow freeing. Humor is not meant to be politically correct. But it’s that raw honesty that makes it funny. (honesty about people’s perceptions, not necessarily honesty about the minority group)
But here’s the interesting part- some of the women joked about dating, sex, what it’s like when you are NOT built like JLo. Because of the raw truth, there was some real insight into how women think, what they want, and what they experience.
So keep a look out for Kiki Melendez and her fabulous line up of comics in Hot Tamales Live. They were filming the night for a special on Lifetime Television – so keep an eye out for it. It’s worth it just to see the woman who did an impression of a squirrel eating a cracker- truly one of the funniest things I’ve seen on stage in years – you gotta go see it.
Thanks to Juan Guillermo Tornoe for the heads up.