A man walks in to a bar ... in Cape Girardeau

Friday, May 4, 2012

"If you don't laugh, you cry" goes the adage. While this isn't necessarily true, considering the vast emotional range between "happy" and "sad" (including boredom, smugness and sitting next to a sleepy and dribbling person on a bus), laughter is still an important part of our culture, and part of the argument that we as humans need comedy.

Why we need to laugh (and why we even do laugh) is still for the most part a conundrum. Do we have to laugh because we will cry and become terminally depressed if we don't, or do we have a sneaky chuckle because we actually enjoy humor? Of course, it's easily argued that we all enjoy a laugh, but comedy itself is elusive in definition as we cannot truly justify in our own consciences that it is acceptable to laugh at a man walking into a lamppost (or a woman, for that matter). And hearing a joke about three men entering a pub is starkly different from watching darkly intelligent local comedians like Louie Benson and Richard Cason, for example, yet both are classified as comedic.

Another question that arises is that of contrast. Many authors have comedic figures in their works -- for example, the gravediggers in "Hamlet" who provide comic relief during a tragedy -- which not only dispel tension but also heighten the terror when the tragedy actually strikes. It's interesting that by contrast, tragedy seldom serves the opposite role of making the comedy seem more hilarious by dint of the same simple contrasting.

Perhaps this is because comedy is such a delicate creature; when you go to see a tragedy and it is performed badly, you will typically grumble but never become truly angry … only disappointed. Yet if Jerry Seinfeld were to fail to make you laugh (as he does whenever uncles are concerned), he would have to be escorted from the venue with an armed police escort.

Still, you've got to laugh, eh?

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