Saturday, August 27, 2011

Jokes That Matter...

And Some Musings On Humor

There are some jokes that go beyond humor and into the world of poetry and deeper meaning...

For instance: Two gamblers meet on the street. One says to the other, "Man I sure hope I break even today. I can really use the money."

I'll leave you to ponder that one.

Here's another: How many women does it take to sing "Fever". Apparently, all of them.

Now here's what I find interesting about this joke and I hope you will bear with me. What I like about this joke is that it pokes obvious fun at the fact that a lot of women, from big stars to Open Mike first timers, have sung this song. I've probably heard it sung about 5 times more frequently than any other song sung by a woman. It's sort of like saying, How many guys does it take to play "Stairway To Heaven"? Apparently, all of them. Unfair in either case, but not so unfair that it isn't at least a little funny.

But, I like the next level of meaning which I think is poking more subtle fun at the fact that "Fever" is this sultry sexy song that is, more often than not, sung by sultry sexy wannabe's rather than the genuine article. This level of meaning pokes fun at what might be called "female narcissism" or, as they used to call it, "vanity". Certainly, there is some recognition, while laughing at this joke, of the image of a woman singer who's way too into herself and her sexiness, someone who's overdoing it in a red dress while singing the song...and this image is not taken as genuine. If it was taken as genuine, this part of the joke would not strike anyone as funny. What's funny is that this way of singing "Fever" has become predictably associated with a certain type of singer, again someone more wannabe than real deal. The real deal is not funny. It's the real deal. A really sexy woman, who's really into her sexiness, truly and genuinely, is not funny.

So to re-cap...First level of humor, at least that I see, is just making fun of the fact that a lot of women sing "Fever" in one musical arena or another.

The second level of humor is that this has become tiresome because so many women who sing "Fever" are more wannabe's than real deals in the "sultry sexy" department. This second level points to the all too human desire to be more than one actually is. Think of how many guys at any given moment want to be rock stars (and can play "Stairway To Heaven") and how many of them actually get to be rock stars over the next 5-10 years.

And now, here's a third level of meaning that's interesting to me and, I'm assuming, it's an entirely unintentional one. I don't think "Fever" can succeed as a sultry sexy woman, or man song, no matter who sings it. This is because "Fever" isn't about the singer. It's about the person the singer is singing to. Forget the added lyrics. Just listen to Little Willie John sing the original version. In my opinion, at least, that guy is singing about a woman, and not himself. It's about how she makes him feel and what she makes him want. He's not the sexy one. He's not the strong one. He's practically begging, and begging in the most charming soulful way he can to get what he wants. He's not faking it, he's doing it. At least to these ears.

So when a singer tries to take the role of "the sexy one" away from who the lyrics have clearly given that role to, it just doesn't work. And it never will. People can tart this song up and find a following but they can't keep this joke from working. And it only works if people keep failing to sing this song in alignment with its lyrics.

But who knows? Maybe all it will take is one singer, as I've suggested elsewhere, like Adele; someone who can restrain every impulse that doesn't get in a song's way; maybe one singer like that could steal "Fever" away from everyone who tried to take the sexy role away from that mysterious "other person" out there.

In any case, this joke, this little 13 word diversion, made me laugh and then think about why. True, a lot of these "Fever" related opinions have been forming in me for some time, but this joke brought them all to a head and suddenly I'm as clear as I've ever been about it.

I think this is because humor has a way of getting to the heart of the matter that other ways of communicating don't. It has a poetry-like way of connecting assumptions and shared experiences, through a cycle of tension, release and recognition, and attempting to do it with the minimum number of words.The less unnecessary words in a poem or comedy routine the better. When it works there is the spontaneous release of energy that we call laughter, and it's not easy to fake. Not as easy as a lot of people apparently think it is. Just look around and listen during a typical day and notice how much fake laughter you can hear. Genuine laughter, a true spontaneous release of energy, is not easy to fake. It can be done, I assume, but I think it takes some real skill.

I think one of the ways people build trust is by sharing humor. Maybe humor started as trust building behavior. I think this is because humor involves shared experiences and values and, most importantly, it is not easy to fake. I can tell you, "I'm tired of hearing women singing "Fever" too." and you might believe me or not. But if we laughed together over this joke, we would know right away that we were pretty likely to share a least some similar experiences and values. Enough perhaps to see what else we had in common. In any case, a small amount of understanding would have occurred.

If I share a laugh with you, what we both laugh at tells us each something about the other. And it's all condensed by the poetry of humor into a very small number of words. One way to look at shared laughter is to see it as a small amount of trust that can be created in a small amount of time. Like feelers, our jokes, whether crude or refined, help us look for company, people who are like us, people who share our outlook. They can, of course be used to attack the outlook of other people, but the target of those jokes is not the person being attacked. That's not who will laugh at that joke. The people who laugh at that joke will be people who agree with the joke teller's point of view. Humor might be the fastest way and most accurate way to find out how much another person shares your point of view.

But I digress...

One more joke: Mom says to her son, "And what do you want to be when you grow up?" And the little boy says, "I wanna be a rock star Mommy!" and she says, "You can't do both Sweetie..."

I think this joke is great because it reminds me of the conflict between whatever society defines as "growing up" at any given moment, and the kind of child-like state of mind that a creative life, particularly a rock musician's life requires. Wanna grow up? Don't be a rock star. Wanna be a rock star? Well then you can't grow up. I don't know if this is true literally, but it's true enough to be funny.

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