How to be funny: A look at comedic genius

What makes something funny? Being funny is a talent that many possess, but only a few people have mastered the art of comedy. To truly master comedy, you need to find the balance between between dark and light. “You need to be able to take something awful and make it silly,” says psychologist Peter McGrawin his book, The Humor Code. This fascinating read takes a look at why we laugh and the purpose of comedy. In the past, Plato and Hobbes brought up the idea that we make fun of other people and things to make us feel superior to others. In more recent news, psychologist Daniela S. Hugelshofer did a study on humor and found that humor is a way to combat depression.

I believe that all of these rationales for the pursuit of comedy are true. Comedy is taking something terrible and making it seem silly so that it’s not as dark. Comedy is making fun of others so that we feel better than everyone else, even if it’s just for a brief moment. Comedy is a way for us to forget sad things and learn to laugh a little and, hopefully, to lighten things up. Comedy is all these things and more.

My favorite comedian is Sacha Baron Cohen, who many consider a comedic genius. Cohen is the creator of several satirical characters that he uses to interview and expose people. He’s the creator and actor of Borat, Ali G, Bruno, Aladeen, and other zany personalities. Cohen embraces these generally Eastern European characters to the fullest, using them to interview people on camera and ask ridiculous questions. What Sacha Baron Cohen does is combine fictional characters with real interactions with real people, who think that this character that Cohen is playing is a real life person. He gets them to express their absurd stance on something. For example, he once got an ex-senator and several congressman to endorse a fake program called “Kinderguardians” which would arm three year old children with guns. This isn’t something that just anyone can do; Sacha Baron Cohen has been doing this kind of stuff for most of his career. It’s what he’s known for.

Sasha Baron Cohen (Source: Indiewire)

So how does he do it? How does he make a former Vice President sign a waterboard kit? How does he make a Georgia state representative yell the N-word repeatedly and do a racist impression of a Chinese person (and not-so-surprisingly resign shortly after)? It’s because he’s a comedic genius. And he’s a comedic genius because he’s unique and shows people the reality of the world we live in. He mixes real life with fiction and films it to create a blend of humor and a social commentary on the world we’re living in. And, frankly, he does get a lot of milage in revealing just how stupid some people really are. That’s funny to the rest of us.

He uses elements of reality to shine light on current issues we have in our world and makes fun of them. It’s not the comedy that makes you laugh because of how relatable it is or how many times the cartoon cat gets hit with a bat, but because of the absurdity of what these real people are saying on camera. It’s obvious how uncomfortable the guests being interviewed are with these absurd questions, but they act nice because they think Cohen is a confused, uneducated foreign man from a 3rd world country who doesn’t understand proper social norms. He puts on a fake persona as a man from an underdeveloped country with with no social skills and low intelligence, and then turns on a camera and begins the show. He knows that people will perceive and react to him differently when they’re being filmed on camera. They’ll act kinder and will be more patient because they don’t want to seem rude just because Cohen is very socially different and asks awkward questions.

“Pretend to be a Chinese tourist”

Cohen makes fun of how ignorant, uneducated, and flawed people are, even if it is really messed up and sad to see that this is the reality that we live in. He presents all this in a comedic way to make fun of those that “don’t get the joke” and to basically tell everyone “Look at how stupid this guy is! Can you believe the words coming out of his mouth?” It’s funny to see that people with such power can be so stupid and ignorant. It’s even funnier when it’s the most powerful man in the world. Though many readers will not agree, I am of the persuasion that Donald Trump becoming US President is the funniest thing that has happened to this world. Sure, it may be disappointing and terrible considering the things he’s doing while in office, but you’ve gotta admit—it is also hilarious when you consider just how unpredictable that would have seemed years ago. This is the kind of stuff that happens in cartoons like South Park and The Simpsons. When it happens in real life, you realize that the world we’re living in may be dark and depressing, but it’s one big joke.

The reason I loved the movie Joker so much was because it was the perfect blend of comedy and drama. There are moments where you want to just cry and laugh at the same time, and it’s just beautiful how well it represents the realization that nothing matters and everything is funny because life is the biggest joke there is.

“Put on a happy face.”
Joker

Consider the comedy science fiction book series Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the lessons that are there for the taking. Namely: to just not care. Going back to what Hugelshofer’s study found, it’s best to use humor to ignore all the hard things that life throws at you and instead make fun of the situation. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy does a very good job of presenting this. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll just give my quick takeaway from the series. Essentially, stuff happens that doesn’t make sense and there’s nothing you can do about it. But it’s still enjoyable and beautiful because that’s what life is. If you haven’t read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I’d highly recommend you do. Interestingly, it’s the only book that’s actually made me laugh.

“The secret source of humor itself is not joy, but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven.”

-Mark Twain, writer and humorist.

I’m going to conclude with one of my favorite quotes: “The secret source of humor itself is not joy, but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven.” -Mark Twain, writer and humorist. To become a comedic genius, you need to understand what pain and hardship is like, while also knowing that you’ve gotta cheer things up and learn to laugh a lot. Mastering comedy is finding the balance between light and dark, and making dark and scary things silly and more fun.

In these trying times, it might be hard to keep your hopes up. But remember, no matter how dark your current situation is or how much you feel like things aren’t gonna get better, just laugh. Laughing at yourself is healthy, and it helps things become less serious and more fun. Obviously, don’t treat everything as a joke, but it’s okay to make fun of things and laugh at dark things. We can’t take everything seriously, no matter how dire or important it may seem, so it’s good to laugh every once in a while.

Author: Suren

Suren Seth is a senior, and this is his second year writing for The Eye, and his fourth year in SAS. He's from Plano, Texas, and has been living in Singapore for 9 years. He's interested in film, media, and entertainment. He can be contacted at seth772140@sas.edu.sg

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