Fun­ny: The Book: Every­thing You Always Want­ed To Know About Comedy

  • Review
By – April 16, 2012

David Misch writes about com­e­dy with author­i­ty. A pro­lif­ic com­ic screen­writer best known for his work on the hit series Mork and Mindy, Misch has both a prac­ti­cal, pro­fes­sion­al sense of what makes for fun­ny,” as well as a keen, well-nigh schol­ar­ly grasp of var­i­ous the­o­ries of come­dies that have been advanced through the ages. His book is a con­sis­tent­ly engag­ing and enter­tain­ing mash-up of the two – think Berg­son, or Freud, with rimshots.

The book is orga­nized in a man­ner intend­ed to make things easy on the gen­er­al read­er whose pri­ma­ry goal is to be enter­tained but who is will­ing to receive some enlight­en­ment mixed in. Chap­ters on the arche­typ­al char­ac­ter of the Trick­ster, or the his­to­ry of jokes, alter­nate with pro­files of indi­vid­ual come­di­ans such as Woody Allen, the Marx Broth­ers, Richard Pry­or, and Steve Mar­tin. The lat­ter com­bine both famil­iar anec­dotes and you-heard-it-here-first insights, though all too often Misch finds him­self at an explana­to­ry dead end. What makes a par­tic­u­lar come­di­an fun­ny? Well, it’s hard to say – all we know for sure is that he (or she) makes us laugh.

Giv­en his back­ground in show busi­ness, it’s nat­ur­al that Misch would focus on per­formed com­e­dy, but a more exten­sive dis­cus­sion of com­ic lit­er­a­ture would have been a wel­come addi­tion to this rel­a­tive­ly slim vol­ume (can every­thing you always want­ed to know about com­e­dy” real­ly be said in just 160 pages?), as would a more com­plete treat­ment of the work of the­o­reti­cians of play such as Johan Huizin­ga, which sug­gests the val­ue of com­e­dy as a form of sub­ver­sion that can be licensed pre­cise­ly become it has no seri­ous” con­se­quences. Mel Brooks was only part­ly right when he said, Tragedy is when I cut my fin­ger; com­e­dy is when you walk into an open sew­er and die.” In fact, com­e­dy is when you walk into an open sew­er and sur­vive, your body intact but your dig­ni­ty dinged. But then, as any­one famil­iar with Mel Brooks knows, he was mak­ing a joke – here, at his own expense.

Bill Bren­nan is an inde­pen­dent schol­ar and enter­tain­er based in Las Vegas. Bren­nan has taught lit­er­a­ture and the human­i­ties at Prince­ton and The Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go. He holds degrees from Yale, Prince­ton, and Northwestern.

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