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Silliness in Stand-Up Comedy

October 25, 2010

Every once in awhile I will be watching a stand-up comic and suddenly find myself laughing uproariously. I’m talking holding-my-belly, tears-streaming-down-my-cheeks, abs-sore-tomorrow laughter. Which is always a surprise, because I rarely laugh out loud at planned comedy, even if highly amused. A film like Waiting for Guffman,

which I consider to be one of the funniest movies of all time, will barely goose a titter from me, much less an extreme reaction.

I became curious as to what kind of jokes were breaking through this layer of comedy insulation. There had to be a pattern.  What common element was shared by these jokes that would so easily bypass the unconscious laugh filter that eventually develops for those who practice comedy?

An interesting pattern did emerge: in almost all cases, the humour involved someone acting SILLY.

In many instances there was barely any joke, just a weird, high energy random activity that just broke me up.

This was a tough thing to admit to myself. In some ways I resent silly comedy because it seems to be getting a free pass, as it were. It just doesn’t seem fair that a perfectly scripted bit can be so easily upstaged by something as simple as a body movement or a funny noise. After all, if comedy is truth cloaked in laughter, is someone who offers randomness for its own sake contributing anything to our collective wisdom?

Of course, I think too much, and the simple answer is that I’m not the boss of comedy.

This guy is the boss.

It’s not my place to decide what is “worthwhile,” and what is not. Laughter is laughter, and writing a high-falutin’ theory blog doesn’t change that. So I decided to write this post celebrating silly humour, and instead of judging it, embrace the lovely fact that it is one of the only types of humour that “gets me every time.”

There is something sublime in the random. I suppose if the joke is a surprise twist on a premise, silliness is removing the premise and just retaining the surprise. The problem is, that not everyone likes a surprise. In fact, film critics have a long history of dismissing films that are primarily based on silly humour. Take for example a film like Hot Rod,

which had me in stitches and makes me laugh out loud every time I watch it. It currently has a rotten tomato rating of 40%. It’s simply not for everyone.

When I first saw this next clip, I laughed for like ten full minutes until I was exhausted. If I’m ever watching TV and flip past a rerun of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” and it’s this episode, I drop everything and watch it just for the ending scene:

Of course, NOBODY does silly like those crazy kids in Japan:

Cerebral comedy writers have given in to their contempt and made silliness the subject of their satire. For example, check out this scene of Aziz Ansari playing a character developed for the excellent film Funny People, which is all about satirizing silly comics:

Toronto comic Chris Locke really invests energy in his moments of silliness, and there’s a joy in watching him just bask in the ridiculousness of it all:

And sometimes silliness just happens by accident, as is the case in this old gameshow:

What do you think? Is silliness merely a cheap way to get a laugh without working at instilling meaning, or is it a valid branch of comedy? I’d love to hear your comments, especially if they’re silly-ass.

Of course, I have to end with a famous clip from those masters of silliness, Monty Python:

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 15, 2011 3:38 pm

    I recently saw an excellent bit by Greer Barnes that involved a Jamaican on the subway with a Hitler ‘stache, and the payoff was a Chaplin reference. It was so amazingly silly, definitely a heavy laugh.

    • April 19, 2011 5:17 pm

      I’ll have to check that out Maxx, speaking of silly I’ve been going through all the Monty Python seasons in order – amazing silly stuff.


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