Humor with Laugh Tracks Vs. Subtle Comedy: Why Jokes Don’t Make Me Laugh

What makes a person funny?

Recently at the place I used to work, they hired a motivational speaker.  His whole two hour bit was infused with “jokes”.  I guess a few people noticed that I wasn’t laughing at every joke along with them, for the most part.  It’s because very seldom does a joke make me laugh.  The way I process jokes, they are either for kids (“Why was six afraid of seven?”), for people without a good sense of humor (fans of Larry the Cable Guy and Dane Cook), and/or for the dirty-minded (more extreme than “that’s what she said…).  I think “jokes” are cheesy.  When a person tells me, “Oh, I got a joke for you,” I just wait for my cue and give them a courtesy laugh.

So what is funny?  For the most part, when something is subtle and isn’t necessarily supposed to be funny is often when it’s the funniest to me. I used to work in an office 9 hours every weekday and in the midst of the afternoon lulls, I found little things to amuse me. I would start laughing out loud and no one would know why I was laughing. And the truth is, these things probably weren’t funny to anyone else.

Here’s one example: A cliché phrase I had to hear a lot around the office was “crunch numbers”. So I thought to myself, “What if they made a cereal for adults called ‘Number Crunch'”? It will be made with whole-grain and would be in the shapes of the numbers 1 through 9. That way, accountants and other professionals who work with numbers all day would have the appropriate cereal to eat in the morning.

Here’s another: One day one of my co-workers came back from lunch with a jar of candy from Cracker Barrel. They were Atomic Fireballs- the kind we had when we were kids. She offered me one. I explained to her that I only like candy that has protein in it. (Example: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Snickers, etc., but not Skittles, Starburst, etc.)

Then she said, “I wonder what Fireballs are made out of…probably just sugar and water.” I immediately started laughing when she said that because I got this image in my head of someone biting down on a fireball and all this water gushing out of their mouth.  That, to me, is hilarious.  Maybe because it’s absurd.

My theory that “jokes aren’t funny” can be tested by the fact that funny stand-up comedians don’t tell really tell jokes anymore. Mainly they talk about awkward and annoying social situations.  Though some comics, like the late Rodney Dangerfield, can be funny mainly because of all of just one-liners. So I guess one-liners are funny. Like Chris Tucker having a career simply based on one line: “Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?!” But delivery and composure ultimately land or crash the comedic aspect.

And I guess another thing that is funny is when people do stupid things and get hurt. People falling down is always funny. It works for Johnny Knoxville. Okay, so here’s what is funny to me: random observations, awkward social situations, one-liners, and people hurting themselves. That, my friends, is comedy.  Not some lame fake-story that ends with a pun or a curse word, prompting me to laugh: If I have to be reminded it’s funny, then… it ain’t funny.  I’m just not a “laugh tracks” kind of guy.

*If you liked this post, you may want to try reading “The Art of Being Funny” by Ben Wilder and also “What is Funny?” by Jessica Muto