New research shows that the best humor is both a little bit wrong and a little bit right. Is there something about comedians that makes them better at subversion?
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It came out of nowhere, slipping into the conversation between dinner and dessert. “That’s what she said!” your friend blurted out, before sitting back, satisfied.
At first you didn’t get the joke, which he’d recently poached from NBC’s sitcom The Office. (This was around 2006, or, if your friend was slow on the uptake, around 2010.) So he explained by example for the rest of the meal. When the waitress asked if you wanted sauce on that, he whispered seductively: “That’s what she said,” as if her question was saucily scandalous. Then he giggled like a 12-year-old.
That’s what she said, hereafter referred to as TWSS, was the best bad joke of the late 2000s. It forced almost any sentence into unintentional sexual meanings, even when you were just “trying to get in” to the highway’s fast lane, or “didn’t think it would take so long” in the supermarket line. TWSS was like a bully who stole your lunch money to buy cigarettes. It seized your innocent words and contorted them into indecency.
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Hurricane humor was least funny 15 days after the event, and funniest 36 days after.
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Aristotle called laughter an “ensouling mechanism,” and the academic discipline of humor studies has built itself upon the assumption that laughter is a quintessentially human response to the socio-cultural discourse of humor. Laughter is offered as proof of our exceptional status as thinking social creatures; we are "the only animal that laughs." GIFs that feature sniggering squirrels, cackling cartoon toasters, and rollicking robots would seem to undermine this selfish view of laughter as an exclusively human activity. But even worse, the laugh-loop GIF disassociates laughter from humor. By severing laughter from the context that incites it, the laugh-loop GIF reveals that laughter is not only a consequence of its sociocultural coordinates, but also a weird object in itself. Laughter, it seems, is not ‘for us’ but has its own alien being that has hitherto been masked by its everydayness.
Dear Abby: My boyfriend is going to be 20 years old next month. I’d like to give him something nice for his birthday. What do you think he’d like? —Carol
Dear Carol: Nevermind what he’d like, give him a tie.
Dear Abby: Our son married a girl when he was in the service. They were married in February and she had an 8 1/2-pound baby girl in August. She said the baby was premature. Can an 8 1/2-pound baby be this premature? —Wanting to Know
Dear Wanting: The baby was on time. The wedding was late. Forget it.
You don’t even want to know, they should have explained.
[Image: Jeopardy/ Alexis C. Madrigal]
[Image: State Library and Archives of Florida]