Sunday, June 25, 2006

In praise of the Smartly Stupid

I've been watching episodes of the Sam and Max cartoon lately. I like it a lot, but I have trouble classifying its best moments of humor. Are they stupid or smart? Well...neither.
  • Stupid humor takes no effort to understand and probably not much effort to create. There's not necessarily anything wrong with this. The problem is that it gets old quick, if your mind is engaged (if you're tired or lightheaded it's easy to just laugh away). Think fart jokes and slapstick. Humor that sucker punches you in the gut.
  • Smart humor required the listener to mentally walk through a maze of thought connections to understand the punchline. It takes a clever person to make a good joke of this kind. Unfortunately, this type of humor can be exhausting and confusing. Moreover, some of these jokes can be so obscure that only listeners with the right preexisting knowledge will have even a clue as to why the joke is funny at all.
Of course, the Sam and Max show had its share of stupid or gross humor. For the record, I stopped finding armpit noises funny a long time ago. But the jokes I liked best were the ones that weren't stupid but also weren't complicated. The Smartly Stupid. A smartly stupid joke consists of taking a simple, everyday concept and putting an imaginative, unexpected spin on it. These jokes don't require you to think (hard), but make you think (and laugh). For instance, "an idle mind is the devil's monkey bars". Take a familiar saying, twist it, and it's funny. "I never dreamed we could have so much fun and still be suitable for young viewers!" The smartly stupid is stupid humor that doesn't insult your intelligence. Zoolander talks about being a "eugoogilizer" at a funeral. Bugs escapes his pursuer by twisting reality itself. The thread of smartly stupid runs through a lot of the entertainment I enjoy.

Bonus link for Belgian turlingdromes: a frackling list of frelling fictional swear words for your kriffing use. Ah, shavit.

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