Last month my friends Marc and Jodi and their 11-year-old son Noah came to visit me for a couple of days. They live in New Jersey, just outside of the city (I take the train there, for you faithful readers), and we had tickets to see Dave Matthews Band at Jones Beach. We have seen a lot of shows together, and having two played right in my backyard was reason enough for them to come out to my little house and spend some time with Mikey.
When we got home the first night, Noah and Jodi headed off to bed very quickly. Marc and I sat up at the kitchen table and chatted. We have been friends since college, when we met at the toaster in the dining hall. I was wearing a Howard Stern T-shirt. He said “Yo, Stern.”
That was 20 years ago.
We have ridden life’s train hard since then, seeing each other through some very tough times. But we did not spend that night peeling away the layers of life and discussing the trials and tribulations of being 40. Nope. Instead, Marc was extolling the virtues of his iPhone, and in doing so showed me an application that does not help balance the checkbook or help you find your way home from destinations unknown.
We spent an hour laughing like morons at iFart, an application that has dozens of cleverly-named fart sounds. When I say laugh, I mean laugh until our stomachs hurt and our eyes watered. Marc will inevitably choke on his own laughter, something I have seen many times. I joined him, especially when we found names like “Brown Mosquito,” “Bombardier” or “Predator” on the list of flatulent recordings. Decidedly crass and very lowbrow, for sure, but it was pure comedy.
Sure, I like smart comedy. But I can successfully swing across the spectrum, bouncing between intelligent political humor and witty banter to, well, fart jokes, with no trouble. Everything has its time and place, too. But a well-placed fart joke will get just about any person I call a friend to giggle a bit. Of course, jokes like this are funniest when they are most inappropriate. Maybe it’s a guy thing.
When it comes to movies, some of my favorite comedies are really lowbrow, idiotic films that probably should never be called films at all. Horrendous flicks like Dumb & Dumber, Anchorman, Step Brothers—these are considered unwatchable by many, but have become quotable pieces of work to myself and many of my friends.
It is not a mistake that two of the three movies I just mentioned star Will Ferrell, the current king of stupid, whose movies get worse every year. They also all have fart jokes, or the equivalent, in the script. And that’s OK by me.
There is an aspect of lowbrow humor that is innately human and easily identifiable. Sometimes we don’t want to think, or have a deep message folded into a good gag. A good joke is rooted in human frailties, both physical and emotional. A lot of the time it is what is called a throwaway joke, a quick, one-off line that is not tied to the plot or scene of a movie or real-life situation, that is funniest. These are the lines borne of wit and timing, and even in a movie like Dumb & Dumber these moments exist.
Some guys, like Jim Carrey, shine when the humor is ridiculous. Compare his genius turn as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective to the seriousness of a movie he made called Bruce Almighty. Sure, they are different movies, but my point is he shines as the wild-haired, wise-cracking idiot who finds lost animals, while any DVD copy of Bruce Almighty should be packaged with an inflatable neck pillow so you can nap during the boring parts.
But what is considered stupid now can become classic to another generation. I have not read original reviews of Three Stooges movies, but I bet most were panned for being ridiculous and crass. Now, they are legend. Classic, even.
We don’t always want to think when we want to laugh. We think too much. Laughter truly is the best medicine, and a tediously dark comedy is like an exotic antibiotic while a sophomoric effort like Old School is a bowl of chicken soup and your bed. Sometimes the best remedies are the most simple. Life is to be taken seriously, of course, but finding humor in the human condition is another step on the ladder of Zen that cannot be ignored.
We laugh a lot in the Press’ headquarters. Most of the humor is off-the-cuff, sometimes lowbrow. A good deal of the humor in the editorial department is political satire, which in its own right is becoming a lot like telling fart jokes, especially on Long Island.
You have to find a way to get through the day. Despite the drudgery that has become the financial crisis that has even the richest crying, humor finds a way into the daily schedule. Without it, things would be even more miserable. It is tough for millions of Americans to chuckle when bill collectors are calling, jobs are being lost and the moral fiber of this country is eroding like a beach in a nor’easter. It seems impossible to find funny these days, but it’s there.
Sometimes the darkest days can elicit the biggest laughs, because the soul needs relief, like a steam explosion.
I won’t buy an iPhone, because I know that I don’t need that kind of distraction in my hand all the time. I would be constantly surfing the Internet, watching videos and listening to music. Most of all, though, I know it would suck as a phone because it would be dead when I most needed it, since the first app I would download would probably be iFart, and listening to 100 fart sounds is a battery killer if I have ever seen one. But goddamn it, I’ll be laughing.
Now, pull my finger…
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