Everyone seems to be grousing about how bad things are today, and maybe they are right, but I wonder how much our sense of humor contributes to our mindset. If you listen to the late night comics on television, everyone is an idiot. Sure we might chuckle now and then, but I find this to be more cynical and destructive than positive and beneficial.

Comedy has changed a lot over the years and I believe it is a reflection of our culture. First, our language has become cruder and more sexually explicit. I believe we can thank Lenny Bruce for this. Just prior to Bruce, standup comedians like Bill Cosby and Bob Newhart won over their audiences with observational comedy whereby they drew upon past experiences and embellished on them. Their routines could hardly be considered risqué, but they would consistently pack the house. This all changed with the likes of Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Sam Kinison, and many others who introduced shock comedy. Today, nothing is sacred, and it seems we no longer see the humor in simple things anymore, and seem to prefer grungy images instead.

Let me give you an example, years ago Jack Benny and Mel Blanc would bring the house down with their Mexican “Si, Sy, Sue” routine. Abbot and Costello would make the house howl over some of their bits involving math or “Who’s on First?” Groucho Marx had a fast wit and tongue who could make your head spin. Today, all of these routines would be considered lame. I think the difference here is that the comedians of yesteryear wanted you to use your head and think. They offered mental gymnastics based on some very simple observations familiar to the common man. If you wanted something risqué, you either had to go to Las Vegas or a nightclub. Today, you can find it on just about any channel on your television set, including Disney.

Today’s humor can best be described as “in your face” leaving nothing to the imagination. I’m not saying the humor of yesteryear is necessarily better than today’s, but I am noting the differences in perspective and to suggest comedy influences our perceptions and attitudes. We have gone from poking fun at ourselves, our foibles and frailties, to vicious attacks on others; from subtle to biting humor; from suggestive to explicit; from witty to crude; from avant-garde to shocking; from positive to negative. Probably nothing clarifies the difference in comedy better than the Dean Martin roasts of the 1970’s to the roasts on Comedy Central these days. The differences are substantial.

The reason I stopped reading Garry Trudeau’s “Doonesbury” years ago was because I believed he had nothing positive to say. Maybe it’s just me, but I find it tiresome to constantly hear the glass is half empty as opposed to half full. I guess that is why I eventually tuned out Leno, Letterman, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert, even though they still command good ratings.

As the producers of Monty Python’s “Spamalot” said at the show’s opening, “We need silly,” meaning we need comedy to relieve the stress in our lives, but I don’t think we’re really getting it. Instead of diverting us away from our problems, the humor of today tends to emphasize our problems by telling us how screwed up we all are, that we are losers living in a no-win world. I would much rather hear something like Henny Youngman’s, “Take my wife, please.” Or Rodney Dangerfield’s, “I could tell my parents hated me. My bath toys were a toaster and a radio.” And Groucho Marx who asked, “What do you get when you cross an insomniac, an agnostic, and a dyslexic? Someone who stays up all night wondering if there is a Dog.”

What’s funny is funny regardless of when it was said, but also understand what’s cynical is cynical.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the field. He can be reached at [email protected]

For a listing of Tim’s Pet Peeves, click HERE.

Copyright © 2009 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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