The line between humor and pain.

The source of most humor is pain. Someone trips over a banana peel, flips head over teakettle, and we crack up. Why? Because he had no idea it was coming. We laugh at someone else’s pain, even if it’s just embarrassment.

You know what was funny about Chris Rock’s joke about Will Smith’s wife, actress Jada Koren Pinkett Smith, being bald?  Not much, really. (Next time, don’t forget the banana peel Chris.)

What was funny is what happened immediately afterward: Will Smith marched onstage and slapped Chris Rock, spiking his career… Will Smith’s, not Chris Rock’s. Chris’ career is soaring, now.  Will Smith just lost a bunch of contracts, which is funny – in an ironic way of course.

See that’s the basis of humor – someone gets hurt, screwed, or upended totally unexpectedly.  

Guys, particularly, like physical humor. That’s why the Three Stooges get laughs today, almost 100 years after they first made audiences laugh. 

My first grade teacher always said, “Use your words, Henry” And I did. But I got a lot more laughs when I tripped over my untied shoe lace or caught a baseball with my face than when I screwed up a math problem.

Women usually get laughs with their words.  They are more sophisticated I guess (I’m a guy, so Mars and Venus).

Humor isn’t always funny.  Like when I flunked Statistics 101. There was nothing funny about having to repeat the dullest course in all of schooldom… schooldumb.

Humor has also traditionally been a way to of trying to deal with very unfunny stuff. 

When I was still in my formative years, a TV comedy named “Hogan’s Heroes” made fun of a German WWII prisoner of war camp or “stalag”. Its first season was 20 years after the end of WWII, enough time, I guess, to erase the horror of real Nazi stalags. Actor John Banner became arguably the most famous character in the cast with just one line, “I know nu-uh-thing!!!” Although the show was a hit, some of the WWII vets I knew had a hard time with it.

“Mash”, a war comedy about the Korean War was launched 20 years after that war. But because its audience was still experiencing the Viet Nam War, its humor often recognized the stupidity, futility, and immorality of war instead of erasing it.

I wonder if 20 years is Hollywood’s magic number for dealing with the horrors of war. I kind of doubt it’s the magic number for many others.

I think it will take a lot longer than 20 years to erase the horrors of the war Russia is raging on Ukraine. Like many of my generation, the images from Ukraine feel like color renderings of photographs from WWI and WWII. 

The places, the faces: identical. Putin, Hitler: identical. The US then and now: we can only hope.

Which brings me back to the Will Smith-Chris Rock fluff-up. Chris Rock’s joke was funny to him because he thought Jada Koren Pinkett Smith had shaved her head to look cool. It wasn’t to Will Smith who knew the real reason: a skin disease. 

But you know what’s really funny about the whole thing? The media spent nearly as much time on that story as the Ukraine story. Ok… not funny…at least for 20 years or so.

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)