But good humor draws upon the dark, horrible, and macabre. This is the reason why "springtime for Hitler in Germany" from the musical The Producers is so horrifically funny, and from my own experience, it was much funnier for my 82 year old grandmother, who actually lived through WWII, than it was for myself. Certain types of humor may be generationally and culturally influenced. For instance, I see that there was much more of a predilection for slapstick and burlesque style humor in the early part of the century (Three Stooges, the Marx Brothers, Lucille Ball, Jerry Lewis), which later gave way to a more intellectual brand of humor (Woody Allen,) and later gave way to more of an appreciation for ironic humor and sarcasm (Jerry Sinefeld) and that special brand of Gen Y, punk rock, flippant and irreverent humor.
I have a different theory about what makes things funny, and it's a little more complex than the simplistic version offered during a show about humor on NPR. What is funny to one person or another involves a complex interplay between cultural, biological traits and personal experience. Just as there seems to be a biological basis for certain types of phobias, there may indeed be a biological basis for certain types of humor, and it is most certainly culturally influenced. Humor is inherently mean spirited, since it more often than not preys upon deep seated insecurities and vulnerabilities. Lucille Ball is constantly finding herself in terrible predicaments, and we delight in each episode in which she sunburns and is forced into tweed suits for fashion shows, and when she gets pelted with grapes at a winery in Italy and turns entirely purple we find this to be vraiment drole. Let's face it, most people like to think of themselves as loving and compassionate, but when it really comes down to it, they're natural sadistic fucks who delight at the chance to enjoy fun at someone else's expense.
The best humorists have a talent for understanding psychology and manipulating others, and it is even possible to use what I like to call "reverse-reverse psychology," which is basically saying what you really mean, and making a joke out of it so people don't take it seriously, but meanwhile leaving them to wonder how much stake you really take in that joke (George Carlin.) Humor is necessarily a punk on your audience, in the same way that those sexy birthday cards with promises of naked babes inside only end up proffering an inapropos insult. Humor is often necessarily offensive, and this is why comedians often find themselves "sitting at the children's table" at official events (Fran Liebowitz) and you can be fired for making the right comment at the wrong time (Gilbert Gottfried.) Try as one might, it is impossible to be funny and be entirely PC, because the fact of the matter is, someone's shortcomings are always a joke to someone, whether it be dumb blondes, cheap Jews, or low class rednecks. Hated groups are often the butts of the jokes, whether they have been blacks in the segregated south, Jews in Hitler's Germany, or the hard-ass right in libero-nazi territory. True, humor draws from our most unsavory and barbaric emotions, mainly hate, violent impulses, and rank sexuality, but even in spite of the fact that most people like to think of themselves as socially responsible humanists, no one wants PC humor. It's like watching the censored version of the South Park dirty sex tape episode and wondering why it wasn't as funny as the first time you saw it. One of the moms at my kids preschool mentioned to me that cookie monster no longer eats cookies on Sesame Street. 'Tis a sad, sad day when the morality police can prevent the enjoyment of a simple pleasure on a once wacky and playful children's television program.
Huffington Post- Brainy Comedians