Is Comedy Less Funny Than It Used To Be?

The Watcher’s Council Forum question today is

Generally speaking, are comedians and comedy less funny today than they were previously? Has America lost touch with its sense of humor?

My take is over there but the consensus among the Watchers is “yes”, I agree, and I don’t think it’s limited to the United States. My explanation is somewhat different than that of my fellow Watchers. Humor is born from misery. We aren’t as miserable as we used to be so, almost paradoxically, we aren’t as funny as we used to be, either.

Another factor may be consumerism. The nature of humor changes when it’s being produced for those who are purely consumers rather than for those who both produce and consume humor. Eventually, the stuff that’s mass-produced for a passive mass market just runs out of steam. We’ve now had more than a generation of comics who’ve confused novelty and outrageousness with being funny. It isn’t novel any more and it’s hardly ever been funny.

It may not be apparent from my writing but I am very funny in life. The repartee comes fast and thick around here—there are always wisecracks, jokes, puns, funny stories, ironies, and just plain silliness here. It sometimes baffles outsiders who aren’t used to living in the middle of a vaudeville routine. I attribute it to a number of factors. When you grow up in a household in a town with Southern affinities, self-identify as Irish, the neighborhood in which you spend your later childhood is Jewish, and your mother was in vaudeville, it comes pretty naturally. Everything is a story.

Some of my reaction is probably just nostalgia and curmudgeonliness but I don’t think that all of it is.

13 comments… add one
  • So what about the oranges? Want some? E-mail your street address.

  • I’ll discuss it with my wife.

  • Fair enough.

  • PD Shaw

    One reaction I have to this piece is to wonder about all of the comedic actors who seemed to have moved into drama, such as Bill Murray, Tom Hanks, and Steve Martin. I was listening to a Martin interview where he seemed to miss his stand-up days, but explained he didn’t have the time or energy anymore to get back into shape to do it. Comedy is hard . . .

  • PD Shaw

    I suppose my favorite current TV comedy is “Community,” but I can understand why it isn’t very popular. Its full of parodies and referential humor that I get. A show that uses D&D as a framing device for an episode is not in the genre of “popular comedy.” Chevy Chase doesn’t think the show is funny.

    My son likes physical comedy, and unless I’m missing it, there doesn’t seem to be any of it these days. There are several listed at the Watcher’s Forum, but Kramer seems to be the last of the lot.

  • Hey, I think lines like “has had the unexpected but foreseeable effect” are pretty funny, but I do like sly & dry wit.

  • Has anyone else ever come across a “WILD BILL”? Do you track through Where's George?

    I just found my second one this year.

  • What a mess. I’m not the typist you are, Mr. Dave.

  • Janis,

    Thank you very much for thinking of offering the satsumas to me. After conferring with my wife, I think it’s best we decline. My wife tends to have a problem with citrus and there’s just the two of us so they’d go to waste.

  • That’s too bad.

    Maybe it’s for the best. I have two new neighbors — couples with young children. For some reason, children adore them.

  • Kids tend to like things that are built on their scale.

  • They also have loose skins — easy peeling.

  • steve

    Missed this one. The answer is yes. Notice that kids today just dont tell jokes. We arent quite to Idiocracy level humor yet, but are on the way.


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