Brand building through storytelling

What’s so funny?

Blazing Saddles 3 SizedIn the eyes of my almost-11-year-old grandson, the smartest, most inspired, most over-the-top wonderful purchase I’ve ever made (and all for his own pure pleasure) is a DVD of Mel Brooks‘ spoof western Blazing Saddles. To be honest, I was thinking of my own pleasure, too. I just had to watch the famous campfire scene—cowpokes loading up on beans with predictably noisy results—in the company of one to whom the only thing funnier than a fart is a whole gleeful chorus of farts.

Colsen guffawed. He elbowed me in the ribs. If I’d allowed him to drink milk in the TV room, a geyser of milk would have shot through his nose in that traditional gesture of respect kids reserve for what is truly hilarious. But you don’t really have to be a kid to love Blazing Saddles, and the fart scene in particular. You have only to love a blessed moment of surrender, of relinquishing fuss-budget-y adult concerns to revel in silliness. As a wise person once said (wish I knew who and Google won’t tell me), “Sophomoric is a synonym for funny.”

WalterI’ve never thought of myself as a fan of the sophomoric. After all, I read serious books like The Road and watch serious movies like The Lives of Others. I ponder serious matters like what I’m going to do with the rest of my life, and what my generation will be leaving behind for our grandchildren. Which is precisely why I crave the release of laughter, especially when it’s shared (a glorious thing, in this age of division and suspicion). Glen Murray, co-author of the hugely successful kids’ books about Walter the Farting Dog, tells me that many of the copies he signs are for adults. “People of all ages are laughing at exactly the same thing….Flatulence is, in the end, the great leveler.”

So here’s to humour, be it high or low, bubbly or verging on brutal. When I need a laugh, or a whole cascade of them, I can always rely on these tried-and-true favourites:

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. I’ve already told you that Lucky Jim tops my list of funny books, but I’m fickle when it comes to these first-person essays by a mordant gay exile (raised in North Carolina, a misfit in New York, now living in France with his boyfriend and butchering the language). Sedaris has an excruciatingly comic flair for staying out of step with the rest of the world; from his angst he spins transporting dramas of misunderstanding and misadventure. I once lent this book to a friend who was on her way to the ER for an unspecified problem. She later told me she’d been pregnant, and knew she was about to miscarry. But while reading Sedaris in the waiting room, she still couldn’t stop laughing.

Santatoys“Give the Jew Girl Toys” by Sarah Silverman. Comedy’s taboo-breaking bad girl, famous for riffing on race and religion, takes the stuffing out of Santa Claus in this merrily rude Christmas ditty about exclusion from that very special list (“Claus? Claus? Is that German?”). Silverman could have been just another perky starlet with an acceptably sweet singing voice, but she had the chutzpah to be her subversive self, and I love her for it. No one else would think of chirping to the fat guy in red, “What does Jesus have to do with you?/ You’ve got as much to do with Jesus as you do with Scooby Doo.” Now, who can argue with that?

The Office” (both British and American versions). I feared the worst when U.S. network types got their hands on the British original, but if anything their version is even more explosively funny than its inspiration. True, Steve Carell makes a less loathsome boss than Ricky Gervais, but his longing to be liked infuses every show with a squirm-inducing tenderness. And he’s supported by an array of beautifully developed characters whose quirks and agendas create endless comic possibilities.

Some people (critics among them) seem determined to believe that British TV is by nature smarter than its American counterpart. But I’m betting they haven’t sat in a British hotel room, vainly searching for one watchable show amid the dreck that will never cross the ocean. What is it with critics, anyway? Have you noticed how they like to crib from one another?

“One Leg Too Few” by Peter Cook, performed by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Now, here’s some British humour I can’t resist. This classic sketch pits Dudley Moore, a very determined one-legged man auditioning for the role of Tarzan, against a smarmily polite casting agent (Cook), who says (reminding me of every hard truth I’ve ever danced frantically around), “I like your right leg. A lovely leg for the role. That’s what I said when I saw you come in. I said, ‘A lovely leg for the role.’ I’ve got nothing against your right leg. The trouble is—neither have you.”

BUbabyScrewball comedies from the 30s and 40s. Bringing Up BabyThe Philadelphia StoryIt Happened One Night, The Thin Man…I can’t choose just one of these fizzy concoctions, every one of which goes down like a kir royale on New Year’s Eve. As far as I’m concerned, these movies have just one limitation: the comedy’s not broad enough for my grandson. Oh, well. We can always watch Blazing Saddles again. In fact, we’re making plans right now.

Posted by Rona

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