There is one question that keeps popping up wherever you go these days. Whether you are waiting in line at the supermarket to buy Raisin Bran and Drano or ordering your non-alcoholic wine (fine, call it grape juice) from a chatty bartender or arguing with the valet at that hipster new restaurant, you know you have to be prepared for the same query: who is the funniest comedian working today?
Based on the previous paragraph, I think it is safe to say that everyone has a different sense of humor, but the truth is more subtle than that. Victorian lectures covered a multitude of subjects- the original TED talks, only much, much longer. They even included stage effects and more. Those speakers who laced humor into their lectures were more likely to be praised for being entertaining than for being funny: Charles Dickens and Mark Twain were notable in this regard and highly in demand for public speaking engagements. Dickens even worked in a little tragedy as he was renown for his one man reenactment of the death of Dombey’s son from Dombey and Son (all right, it’s a spoiler, but not really- and were you really planning to read it any time soon?)
I don’t know how many people found Will Rogers funny. We tend to run into him these days in quotes that are supposed to scatter wisdom into our lives, which is fine, but he was no Groucho Marx. For that matter, neither was Groucho. The man was hilarious, but his one man show had more reminisce than joke. Once again, fine, but what are we looking for in our humorists?
Political humor, angry comics, foul-mouthed comedians, topical comedy, physical and prop gags, and so many more varieties… So who really touches us? How was it that Twain and Dickens and Rogers made that connection that transforms the street corner preacher to the artist whom we all pay beau coup bucks to see?
I think that the comedians that we personally love tend to give voice to our inner lives. Something in their words and actions allow us to define our internal monologue. We hear our own voices reflected back, perhaps with a slight off-kilter-ness, but the person on that stage offers us the opportunity to move just a little down the road of self-comprehension. This may often be something we already knew about ourselves, but the jokes make the step palatable. After all, we may not like what we see, but humor allows us to embrace the inner being and have that long talk that we have been meaning to have.
For me, Dylan Moran has to be the guy. I first ran into him on Black Books, that magnificent, deranged show where he was the perfect misanthrope. You wanted to despise him when you weren’t too busy wishing you were him, hiding from the world surrounded by books he never meant to sell (ok, that could just be me). If you have not seen it, then you owe yourself a few episodes right now.
I heard Moran did stand-up. Fortunately, technology has caught up in recent years and his stage work is available wherever streaming services go. The sad fact is that this is my internal monologue, even with the accent. Pity me with a smile, but I am laughing inside.
You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 246 more to go.
New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out are released regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry are posted irregularly. Notifications are posted on Facebook which you can receive by friending or following Craig.