September 14, 2013 by NowhereButPop
I’ve gone through most of my life under the assumption that I was the only sane person living in an insane world. Then I started to think the exact opposite-that I may be the only nutjob in a relatively sane world. That’s about the time that I realized that the world is an absurdly chaotic and insane place that has somehow become normalized in our everyday lives. When I say “insane” I don’t mean it in terms of awe or shock like global war, or the commoditization of our humanity as a byproduct of globalization, or the dictatorship of Mao Zedong, but in a more mundane and inane sense like the NBA, Pancho Villa being an alcoholic milkman before he became a revolutionary, and the career of Sinbad.
Insanity of a grand scale is to be expected, but it’s still something that we as human beings are used to. Insanity on a much smaller and intimate scale is overlooked and taken for granted. There’s one group of people who don’t take it for granted and they understand that’s it’s the little things, the everyday things that makes the world a crazy place. These people are comedians.
The best comedians are the ones who portray the world as boringly insane place where they themselves are affected each and every day because of it. It’s easy to see this commonality in the standup routines of Louis CK, George Carlin, Lewis Black, Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy, just to name a few. All five of these comedians describe the world as not only a ridiculously insane place, but also in a very micro, every day sense that most people can relate to. Obviously the key to comedy is relateability, the more people who understand what’s funny about a joke; the more people will find it funny, especially if they see it pertaining to them. The clincher comes when we realize that our life might not be so different from that of the person onstage telling the jokes, and as a result we begin to see our life as being a very nutty and amusing adventure.
Lewis Black frames most of his standup routine around the fact that the world is an insanely stupid place. Most of his punch lines then reflect how he is adversely affected by the world, and how the stupidity of other people and society as a hole has driven him insane. It’s easily recognized, because that’s the part of the joke when he starts to change his voice and begins to shout like a frantic maniac. To Lewis Black, everyone else is an idiot and these idiots are constantly adding insanity and stupidity to his life. Not only is the world absurd, but it’s amazingly idiotic.
In contrast stand Richard Pryor who is the summation of this microcosmic insanity. His life was mired in horrible events as he was born to a prostitute, raised in a brothel by his abusive grandmother, spent time in and out of jail, and led a fairly destructive personal life. His perception of the world influenced his standup where he presents himself as the totality of his surrounding insanity. Yes the world is insane, but he is the insane byproduct of an insane world. It’s hard to imagine but for the first few years of his career, Pryor was a fairly straight laced comedian who refrain from using profanity. He even used his own legal troubles and drug abuse as standup material to demonstrate that he is the product of an absurd life. Pryor’s world was a very chaotic, hectic, and adverse version of insane and it was these factors that made him who he was. Not only is the world absurd, but it’s directly responsible for making him the man he was.
George Carlin most overtly demonstrates the paradigm that 1) the world is a wacky place and 2) it’s kinda funny because of its wackiness. His entire career is based around lampooning what he calls “bullshit”; these are essentially things that he considers to be absurd, ridiculous, or stupid. For Carlin these things ranged from religion and politics to rush hour and censorship. His most famous sketch, “The 7 Dirty Words” is a direct comment on what he perceives to be the microcosmic insanity of censorship. Why can’t he say these words, and who says we can’t? The gist of it is that it’s stupid that someone came up with an arbitrary list of words too deplorable to say. Not only was Carlin trying to demonstrate examples of everyday ludicrousness, but he was trying to enlighten his audience. He saw himself as the only sane and rational person on the planet and tried his best to instill his version of sanity to his audience. The world is crazy and illogical, and Carlin took it upon himself to inject it with rationality and common sense.
Conversely we get Eddie Murphy who’s best standup routines were captured in Delirious and Raw. Both are some of the funniest specials that will ever be recorded, and the linking theme between them is that they are both reflections of his newfound fame and the absurdity borne from it. Most of the jokes revolve around the over the top and exaggerated response to his sudden rise to superstardom. Everyone wants a piece of Eddie Murphy whether it’s his idol Bill Cosby, Michael Jackson, the denizens of San Francisco or his African “Bush Bitch”. At his peak, his brand of comedy emanated from the outrageous responses of those around him. People loved him, people hated him, and they told him as much. For Murphy the fact that people felt so strongly about a comedian and how they treated him became more joke fodder for him. The world is an outlandish and over the top place and it wanted Eddie to know this.
Louis CK is not only my favorite of the five comedians, but he’s also the most neutral when it comes to depicting the inane insanity of everyday life. You can tell from his jokes that he sees the world as a naturally chaotic and strange place, as if the default state is inane madness. He’s doesn’t portray himself as being the only sane one, or one of the legion of nutjobs, he simply portrays himself as a regular guy who lives in this shared crazy world. He is as average a person in as crazy a world. The world affects him and he contributes to the world without ever adding to the insanity. For Louis CK, the world cannot be anything but ridiculous and maddening. The world is a crazy and fucked up place, because it just is. According to Louis CK “Some things are and some things are not; things that are can’t not be”.
Comedians are funny because they make jokes. The best jokes are ones that everyone is in on and there’s nothing funnier than realizing that the world itself is just as crazy as the seven billion people who make it up. It’s a joke alright, and only are we all in on it, sometimes even we get to be the comedian.