What makes something funny? Why do some people laugh at a joke while others don’t even consider it a joke? Is there a universal way to qualify humor, or is humor an inconsistent, ever-evolving abstract concept that many spend their entire lives futilely trying to master? There are certainly things that I find hilarious that my mother scoffs at. My classmates may laugh at a Youtube video while I sit in bewildered silence. Comedy is arguably the most conflicting genre; rarely do we involve ourselves in arguments over whether a certain actor is dramatic enough, but I find myself in debates over the hilarity of comedians or so-called comedy shows on a regular basis. One thing is for sure – we will never all agree.
This issue of The Watercooler attempts to, at the very least, graze the surface of this never-ending conundrum with analyses of two American TV comedy staples and an exploration of how the American sense of humor compares to that of other countries. Both The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live have been around for multiple decades and seem to have cemented themselves permanently in the ongoing rhetoric of American comedy. While The Simpsons has provided twenty-three years of commentary on current events and pop culture, it is primarily an absurdist take on the traditional family sitcom – a TV trend that has dwindled in but not at all faded from popularity. Author Vic Brown argues that Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie may even be a more realistic family than most of the families on our screens. Meanwhile, I take on the challenge of condensing thirty-eight years of comedy in my discussion about how SNL can be seen as a timeline of not only current events and pop culture trends, but of our nation’s constantly changing sense of humor, particularly when it comes to politics and political critique through comedy. While both The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live are incredibly popular in the U.S., they may not translate well in foreign markets, where American comedy shows often have to be adapted in order to appeal to other demographics, or are simply not made available in those markets. Author Vassia Mastrogianni explores this through the larger question about the factors, specifically cultural, that influence one’s sense of humor.
While we can barely scratch the surface of the mystery that is comedy here in just three articles, we can at least agree that comedy is complex, and perhaps that it has a purpose beyond simply making us laugh. Even the most basic of comedy can be taken as a comment on the current state of affairs, whether in our own lives, our own country, or throughout the world. Sometimes it’s pertinent to ask why we’re laughing, and what our laughter says about us. So why do you laugh? What is it that tickles your funny bone, and what do you think that means? Read, share, and don’t forget to comment as you enjoy the latest issue of The Watercooler.