At Balticon, I was on a panel about Humor in Science Fiction. There were far more panelists than the program book listed, and far more than the table would hold, and one of them, Diane Weinstein, had to sit in the audience. I sat on the edge of the table. I thought, “Wow, this panel is packed with teh fun-nay!” How wrong I was.
When we went through the introductions, I realized I was not only the only person who had published a humorous book, but had written skits, and actually studied humor as an art form. Most of the panelists had only read funny things, or published a funny short story or two. Okay, I can’t complain about that, because I have been on many panels where the only credit I had was I had once heard about the topic in passing and the Program Coordinator thought that made me an expert for reasons I can only attribute to convention planning stress. But out of the seven of us, only two of us was funny: me and another girl I only know as Stephanie. Well, we managed to soften up two other guys halfway through the panel to joke around.
But next to me was the definition of irony for me. We’ll call him Bob. I forgot his real name, and it’s just as well, because I kept (perhaps unfairly) thinking he looked like a lost parrothead who might have been a department store Santa in an earlier life. His claim to fame, which he repeated a few times, was a humorous story about what I term as a “Wild West on an Asteroid” genre. “This planet ain’t big enough for the two of us robots... we draw ray guns at the stroke of star date o-twelve-hundred kilocrons...” He was one of two people who had written short stories in this genre, it seemed. I have not read his works, so I will not judge them, or whether his story was funny or not. It could be a riot. But the irony was in his presentation. I have heard more interesting announcements in the San Antonio airport than this guy. He was, in my tiny opinion, the least likely guy to have on a panel about humor. He might be a great guy, grandfather of 5 kids who call him, “Pop-pop,” who have happy memories of summer barbecues with this man. But funny? No. For a while, I thought, “Surely, he must be showing off his dry wit.” But if we was, it was so dry, it was barely noticeable. After a few panelists rolled their eyes when he spoke, or interrupted him, I decided it wasn’t just me. Maybe he was being so subtle, only dogs could hear his wit, but in that case, he was in an audience full of deaf doorknobs.
Some of the topics I tried to get discussed is that humor is reactionary, rarely original medium. This was in response to some comments that comedies rarely get awards (which, later, was disputed with a variety of titles, like the Hitchhiker’s Guide series, the Discworld Saga, and Aspirin’s Myth series). I wanted to know if they knew of any comedic work that was funny on its own, as opposed to a spoof of something; like a genre or actual story. They then listed many spoofs, realized their errors midway, and changed the subject.
The whole panel became ironic. Here I was, the lowest celebrity among them, and one of the two funniest. But I felt, for some reason, turning to Tired Santa next to me as saying, “Keep it down, Carrot Top!” would have been unnecessarily rude to an elder. I mean, if he was dishing it out, then I would have, but he reminded me of a retired basset hound, staring at rabbit goes by, remembering good times. I didn’t want to kick him.
Even some of the best quotes in and about comedy seemed missed by the panelist. One did the “Ask me the secret to comedy,” joke, and thank you, whomever that was among the crown of panelists, but I was shocked the Mel Brooks quote about falling in a manhole elicited a delighted response, like they had never heard of it. That’s like the secret to humor right there; about conflict.
So, because dptwisted was there, I felt compelled to do a skit in my head.
Comedy on Parade
by Grig Larson
[scene opens on panelist in hotel chairs around a table. Serious documentary music plays.]
Rick: Hello and welcome to the PBC’s continuing series on the media, where we examine ourselves through small glasses, and then pat ourselves on the back for being so clever. You are forced to watch and agree, because you lost the remote, and your modern TV doesn’t have channel changers on the console anymore. To my left is Professor Bradford Reddington, PhD is comedic studies at Harvard.
Brad: Good evening.
Rick: To his left is Maria Blackwell, head of women’s studies at Hairylegs University, who has authored the book, “That’s Not Funny: Jokes About the Sisterhood.”
Maria: Right on, ladies!
Rick: To my right is Joe Kubuki, master of sarcasm and wit at the Shakespeare Roundhouse and Dinner Theater off of Route 28.
Joe: We also serve drinks half price to women who participate in “Othello’s Wet T-shirt contest” every Friday.
Rick: Next to him is Whistle Bumfarts; a street performer well known as a master of refined street humor and noted for his subtle grasp at the human condition.
Rick: Absolutely. Now, let us begin by--
Joe: Can I just say that every Tuesday, girls wearing bikinis can enter to win a wet tee-shirt?
Rick: You just did. As I was saying, my first question to the panel is whether humor is more appropriate as a reactionary medium, or should modern humor writers take a more aggressive stance in maybe, usurping the current regime before the fall, like jesters in medieval courts?
Whistle: POOPIE! POOOPIE!
Joe: I disagree. Like I was saying to a girl in wet tee-shirt last Friday, humor is best shown when less aggressive. For instance, humor is better served when drinks are half price, you could win a Sony Boombox, or sucking water out of a wet bikini as the girl--
Brad: If I may interrupt, in my latest book, “How to Be Funny: A Study of Farcical Nomenclature in Modern Society,” which is in its second printing and available at pretentious-booksellers.Harvard.edu, I explain how humor can be a progressive medium for the new set of media-conscious--
Maria: Progressive? Puh-LEASE! Sounds like something a man would say.
Joe: I find humor is best done by women...
Maria: Thank you.
Joe: ...when in a white cotton shirt and soaked with beer. I mean, am I right, guys?
Maria: You wouldn’t know about wit if it sucked your dick and called you daddy!
Joe: Check this sarcasm line out, sister. Okay, here we go... “I am sure you think you are funny, and someone out there will support you.”
Rick: But surely, that’s not sarcastic, that’s just being passive aggressive.
Joe: I wouldn’t dignify that comment with any sort of reply.
Maria: Men. Am I right, ladies! Always discrimination. Wouldn’t know an ironic situation if it hit you in the face! Now raining on your wedding day, now THAT is ironic!
Rick: If I may, recent in an article in the New Yorker--
Joe: What did you say?
Rick: I said, in an article in the New Yorker--
Joe: Funny, because I heard you say you’re a sissy who reads fag mags.
Brad: All that aside, in my book, “The Art of Funny: The Basis of Pre-modern Conflict as Expressed by Jocular Dialog,” which is also available on the Harvard Bookseller site, I am quoted as saying when the French incursion of revolutionaries were struggling to see a iconic semblance of irony in their condition, they found relief of expression as a sort of dynamic that plays out on modern plays even today.
Joe: What the hell are you talking about? I mean, I know you used English words, but I never heard them in quite that order before. You look like you could use a drink, and perhaps some karaoke and line dancing, which we have every Monday and Saturday nights. We’re on Route 28 behind the Holiday Inn and Shoneys.
Rick: Indeed. Whistle, I find your sense of humor refreshing.
Whistle: FART FART FART!
Brad: Whistle’s comments remind me of a young Earnest Hemingway.
Maria: Men are pigs!
Joe: Sister, you don’t have a funny bone in your body. But if the rest of you guys want some bone action, our wet tee-shirt contest allows for photography for later viewing.
Maria: Why is your place called the Shakespeare Roundhouse and Dinner Theater, anyway?
Joe: The first one shut down, and we didn’t have enough capital to change the sign.
Brad: If I may interject, this reminds me of a series of essays I wrote for “Linguistic Journal,” back in 2004... you can get copies from my store at--
Whistle: I SLIPPED IN SOME VOMIT AND FELL INTO A LADY’S TITS AND SHE HIT ME WITH A PURSE!
Rick: [nodding along with Joe and Brad who also agree deeply] Ah. Yes. I see.
Maria: What do you men SEE in this guy?
Rick: Well, I think he’s trying to convey on a primal level--
Brad: Like in my book, “Erotic Poetry as Defined by Gricean Maxims--”
Joe: This reminds me of this naked chick who used to do this thing with ping-pong balls--
Whistle: I LIKE TO FUCK PLASTIC BAGS FILLED WITH JELLO!
New person: [rushes in] I am sorry I am late, but someone tried to steal my guitar case.
Rick: Who are you?
New Person: I am Whistle Bumfarts, you invited me on this program?
Brad: Well then, who is this gentleman?
Whistle: Um... Rod Serling?
New Person: He’s not in this sketch. He’s in the Star Trek vs. The Zombie Planet sketch.
Whiostle: Okay, okay... I am some random homeless dude who wandered in the studio.
Rick: I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to end this sketch with some random violence.
Brad: Ah, so we have finally arrive to the humor of Monty Python. You know, when I wrote, “British Humour: It’s Spelled with an Extra U--”
Rick: Shut up, Brad. [shoots him]
Brad: Well, this is awkward. [dies]
Maria: So we’re breaking the forth wall? Typical male humor, can’t end a sketch without someone getting killed. Ha ha.
Rick: [hits her on head with gun, knocking her out] Shut up, you abusive stereotype.
New Person: We should really clean up the stage.
Rick: Nah... they’ll get up when the lights go down. [exits with Joe, Whistle, and New Person]
[lights go down]
Brad: This is like.. the worst ending ever.
Maria: And I am so not taking these chairs. Let the people after us do it.
[all exit. Prunes leave the ballroom before con stage manager gets wise and yells at them]