Laugh, Damn You, Laugh

Incognito as a gay though/ but not actually that way a/ pseudo homo phony.

Not the usual stirring, elevating, meaningful, pithy nuggets you see italicized and spattered about the pages of this rag, is it? No, this fairly sophisticated, albeit crude, little gem of punny poetry, whose art derives from the strict homophony of "homo phony" and "homophony", and mainly due to homophony being the operative defining characteristic of puns, adding a layer to the joke, comes to us from the mind and mouth of Jimmy Pop Ali, leader and principal songwriter of The Bloodhound Gang. If you don't know who that is, don't worry, I'd be surprised if you did. In fact, if there is someone out there who both reads the AVA and listens to and enjoys their music, we should meet, discuss our shared mental pathology, and discuss avenues of healing. They are a rap outfit comprised of suburban white boys who traffic strictly in the crude and sophomoric. Beloved in their heyday (the 1990s) by pot-smoking teenagers, frat boys, and other mental defectives, their stock-in-trade is potty humor, obscure 80s pop-culture references, and pure silliness, occasionally couched in pure poetry, to wit:

I would show up for our pottery class/ Dressed like a pirate with John Waters mustache/ On a unicorn that shits your name in stars.

Crude, yes, but with a certain je ne sais quois, no?, 

When first I encountered the above pretend-to-be-gay joke, from the song I Wish I Was Queer So I Could Get Chicks, I thought, hmm. Seems a little over the head of their listenership. I scanned the rest of their material for more examples of this sort of multilevel wordplay but, though cleverness of varying degrees was rampant, nothing of that complexity stood out. Unless I missed it, but that's not very likely. I have been trained to recognize humor so subtle that in the right light could be mistaken for a suicide note. Take enough upper-level lit classes and you will never again take any sentence you might encounter at face value; constantly on the lookout for ironic intent, semiotic misdirection, semantic and stylistic anomaly, textual analysis is both a blessing and a burden for those who perforce wield it. On the one hand, enjoying garbage writing for its escapist qualities is no longer possible. On the other, questionable hand, it's possible and even compulsory to make other people's analyses look like childish misinterpretation by explaining with a lot of critical esoterica how completely off-base they are. It doesn't do much for one's popularity, of course; for some reason, people seem to take it personally when you tell them how stupid their opinions are. 

I do, however, happily immerse myself in the lowbrow section of other artistic endeavor, i.e., music, television, and film, hence my appreciation of the Bloodhound Gang. 

Eventually I came to the realization that the pun was not in fact derived from the song's subject but that the opposite was true, that Jimmy Pop came across the word "homophony", split it in two and built a song around the idea of a straight man pretending to be gay to develop relationships with women who would otherwise be out of his league. I'm sure of this because I have done the same thing — built a column around a single joke. Doesn't wash, of course — while it's true that many women do seek out the friendship of gay men, they don't generally have sex with them, and that (sex) is why men are continually trying to insinuate themselves into the lives of women. It did make for a funny song, though, and I advise you, my readership, to give it a listen and appreciate its crass, politically incorrect beauty. 

My appreciation of lowbrow humor finds it real focus in films like Airplane, Animal House, and Caddyshack. I mention these ancient artifacts because they are the modern template for a continuous parade of films featuring broad, crude, juvenile humor which aims not to edify nor appeal to the finer senses but only to strike directly at base humor centers and induce honest, primal, irrepressible laughter, as opposed to the appreciative chuckles expected of the "humor" in a Merchant Ivory period piece. Many "real" cinephiles dismiss these films, fearing a perceived appreciation for them will detract from their reputations and somehow negate their ability to discern cinematic value, but nothing could be more wrong. It is not only possible to appreciate equally the work of Truffaut and the Farrelly Brothers, but indicative of a well-ordered, egalitarian artistic sensibility. 

A popular cliche employed by Americans who would assume cultural superiority over the French (talk about hubris) is poking fun at their regard and reverence for and of Jerry Lewis. Generally thought of here in the U.S. as a genial buffoon unworthy of serious consideration, in France he ranks right up there with Charlie Chaplin as a comic genius. In evaluating this discrepancy, one must take into consideration the fact that the French are as serious about cinema as they are about food, and that is a seriously serious degree of seriousness. They do not traffic in garbage and consider the medium a vehicle of artistic expression and not necessarily a means of generating wealth. It may behoove Francophobes to rethink their ideas about Jerry Lewis, organ meats, and Impressionism. 

American cinema, on the other hand and for the most part, looks at the lowest common denominator and says, "Please. You call that low? We can go way lower than that!" Of the 500 or so movies produced in the USA every year, I would confidently venture the opinion that 400 of these are infantile trash featuring vapid, desultory scripts, boringly predictable plotlines, and tropes so hackneyed they've transcended their triteness and become accidentally precious, like vintage costume jewelry. Often there is no discernible story at all, just a series of explosions, car chases, gunfights, and "clever" one-liners repeated ad nauseam by the apes that watch these ridiculous violations of taste and decency. Some haven't the capacity for original thought at all and converse exclusively in these jejune epigrams. 

Fifty more can be termed barely watchable, meaning I could probably sit through them without sneeringly enumerating their many flaws, and 40 might be pretty good, sometimes accidentally, and in this group you'll find the dumb comedies I so enjoy. Anchorman. Talladega Nights. The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Shallow Hal. There's Something About Mary. Wedding Crashers. Kingpin. Borat/Bruno. Zoolander. Office Space. Stepbrothers. Pineapple Express. Team America: World Police. Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Strange Brew. Old School. The list goes on and on, fortunately.

That leaves 10 movies with real artistic merit, timeless works of beauty, insight, and intelligence, and that's in a good year. These exceptional few are usually ignored by the Oscars, which has an astonishingly bad record of 0-92 in picking the best picture. A group of chimpanzees could literally do a better job. 

Humor is a tricky business, sometimes a matter of microseconds and rhythmic variation so subtle as to be consciously undetectable, and it is so valuable a commodity, and laughter so necessary a phenomenon, that it's best not to concern yourself overmuch with its packaging. In these parlous, absurd times, laughter is what may keep you from going completely insane. Keep looking east toward Washington DC and eventually lose your mind, or cue up some Bloodhound Gang or pop in one of the above gut-busters and forget about everything for a couple of hours. And to you highbrow consumers of sophisticated elitist entertainment, I offer a challenge: if you can get through the dinner-table scene of Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby without laughing so hard it hurts, I will personally come to your house and mow your lawn wearing a pink tutu and MAGA hat. 

4 Responses to "Laugh, Damn You, Laugh"

  1. Property of...   May 27, 2020 at 9:50 pm

    I recommend to you “Weekend at Bernie’s”.

    Wedding Crashers was actually a docudrama. The screenwriter, Rex Reginald, crashed so many parties at the Playboy Mansion, that Hefner walked up to him and said, “I keep seeing ya on the monitor. I’m just wondering, who the h#ll are ya?” And Rex said something about having a screenplay.

    Reply
  2. George Dorner   May 30, 2020 at 1:58 pm

    I prefer wit to humor. Humorous jokes always depend on someone being injured either physically and/or psychologically. Wit depends on the absurdity of life in a given situation. Humor is a cream pie in the face. Wit is the fake orgasm scene in “When Harry Met Sally” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqcsqHmMpfo.

    Reply
    • Harvey Reading   May 30, 2020 at 2:26 pm

      That was more like slapstick.

      Reply
  3. Flynn Washburne   May 30, 2020 at 2:13 pm

    What about the (implied) poor clueless sap taken in by Sally’s performance and believing himself responsible for her orgasm?

    Reply

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