Conventional wisdom says that people are funnier or need humor more when times are dark. This is a great idea and yet like so many ideas it cannot be proved. Theorizing about the comic impulse is like trying to figure out which came first: Moses or monotheism. (I think Moses came first since he saw he had an opportunity to move the theosophical furniture around while everyone else was looking for a decent cup of coffee and a bunch of lost goats.)
When I was a child and living in small town New Hampshire there was a family we knew who had somehow taken it into their heads that they could become acrobats together and land a spot on a famous national TV show. They would all stand on their heads and walk around on their hands. Their act never got anywhere but they looked splendidly alert and sweetly philosophical as they staggered about on their hands, their faces gone beat red, the father of the tribe sputtering orders while trying to maintain his contra-natural position, dimes falling from his pockets. In those days a dime would buy you a gallon of gasoline so losing change for the sake of art was no small matter. This of course isn’t the point. Those people were unintentionally funny and some of us knew it.
Lately as I’ve surveyed American TV comedy–both the sitcoms and the evening standup-variety shows I’ve gotten this odd feeling that the unintentionally funny aspects of comedy are missing. I wish to hell we had something more like Ernie Kovacs. God save us from Conan O’Brien and more of Leno. But now I’m back to monotheism. What happened to those goats? Where did Moses go? He said he was coming back with the coffee. Hey have you noticed that Moses hasn’t been himself lately? He keeps talking to the sun. Really. Just walks in circles and talks to the sun. Yeah, the kids hide in the bushes and watch. They shake the leaves and talk to him. Really.