I am forty years old and I still don’t remember a time I haven’t seen Short Circuit, my favorite movie. The big emotional climax is where Number 5 and his programmer are trying to prove that he’s “alive”. And after several psychological tests, Newton Crosby (Ph.D.) gets the idea to see if he laughs spontaneously at a joke. It’s a beautiful moment with swelling music and epic victory.
Except I don’t understand the joke. I never have.
It seems to be something to do with Jewish humor. It’s either anti-semitic or poking gentle fun at Judaism. Does it have something to do with the fact Jews believe God is more involved with humans than Christians think (as demonstrated in Fiddler on the Roof)?
Best I can figure, either “whatever God wants, He keeps” means Jews believe God is so real He can scoop coins out from the sky. Or that Jews are greedy so they count on the fact that God won’t intervene, so they get to keep all the money.
Mark Twain said that examining humor is like dissecting a frog. You may learn something, but the frog is dead.
But then I saw My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and I was like…
Call me a brony, call me a nutjob, call me mentally deficient. All I know is I have two little girls. Either I can let them choose whatever trashy, shallow 20-minute commercial happens to be on when Daddy needs to pay bills, or I can choose for them. I choose MLP, and they approve. When I pop in the DVD, they fly around with their Rainbow Dash toys which we got from McDonald’s months ago, and had no context for until now.
This is not a show I just set on, then go do other work. This is a show I sit down and watch with them. I know they say you’re supposed to do that as a parent, not just use the TV as a babysitter. But I mean I refuse to do other things while the show is on — it’s that good. In fact, I have to stop myself from watching ahead.
Do I need to say why the show’s good? No, you can find that anywhere. But I can say why I do.
One is the animation. I like a certain style with clean, thick, well-defined lines and smooth, flash-style animation. I hate pencil-sketchy, squiggly, vibrate-y experimental indie-pencil. My favorite comic strips, art-wise, are Peanuts, PvP, Penny Arcade, Real Life, Ctrl+Alt+Del, Sinfest, and VG Cats.
So it’s no surprise that when I looked up Lauren Faust, the Seth MacFarlane/Matt Groening of MLP, that she was the storyboard artist for “The Powerpuff Girls”. To show what that means to me, here is an excerpt from CS Wars: Refreshed, a humorous, in-joke piece I wrote a long time ago for my CS buddies.
She approached the door to his room and knocked softly. “Nick?” she said as she peeked in. “Are you in-“
“I’M NOT WATCHING THE POWERPUFF GIRLS!” he yelled out as he scrambled for the remote.
“I… didn’t say-“
“I DON’T FIND THEM WITTY AND ADORABLE, OR FUN FOR ALL AGES! WHY ARE YOU PUSHING THE ISSUE?”
“Uh, it’s almost time for you to go.”
“Oh… okay then.”
If you can’t tell, I’m the stand-in for Nick.
Next is the plot and characters. Mostly characters. The plots are, well, nothing special. Nothing that hasn’t been wrung dry in children’s shows. There’s the “overcoming fear” episode (“Dragonshy”), the “trouble with tribbles” knock-off (“Swarm of the Century”), the “competition” episode (“Fall-Weather Friends”), the “picking favorites” one (“The Ticket Master”), prejudice via rumor (“Bridle Gossip”), and the “let’s put on a show!” one (“The Show Stoppers”) — all standard fare for 6-11 year old girls. And rightly so.
Boys cartoons are often about defeating the villain or sci-fi gadgets or how much wacky, grossness you can get past the censors. Girls cartoons are about deeper things. They’re about coping and relationships and how to deal when problems arise. But uber-simplified, since this is a children’s show.
And as an adult, I appreciate that much more than the latest anime import. True, a lot of the plots involve characters carrying the idiot ball to work. But I’m too old to watch Shredder steal the latest ruby needed to power the Technodrome. I already know that Donatello’s going to say it’s “highly unstable” and no one learns anything.
The thing that makes it fun for adults is the characters. You never quite know what they’re going to do next. Especially Pinkie Pie. All the best parts of the show come from small lines of dialogue. I especially appreciate humor that’s both family-friendly AND actually funny, because that is SO hard to do. It’s easy to make jokes based on racism, misogyny, or offensive material — stand-up comedians and sitcoms do it all the time. But search on YouTube for “Funny MLP moments” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
You don’t need to be an adult or child to laugh out loud, and I love silly, absurd humor the best (Monty Python, Firesign Theater, Hitchhiker’s Guide) because I so often know what’s going to happen next because I’m good at reading context clues and have a good memory. So few things surprise me. And you need surprise to make comedy work. MLP has it in bunches. Bunches of balloons, that is! (See what I did there?)
They’re as diverse as in Sex & the City. But unlike Sex & the City, these people could/would actually be friends in real life. I know that because the strong traits in each one are like my circle of female friends in college (my wife is Applejack, by the way). Also, not self-absorbed sluts.
Most female-oriented shows for young girls make me shudder. Like “Dora the Explorer” who treats my kids like the lowest common denominator. Or “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” whose greatest goal is to be on the cheerleading squad or win the approval of the “coolest girl in school”.
Here, there is no coolest girl. They all have flaws and strengths. They’re all archetypes, but they’re also characters. They make mistakes and they make up for them. They take action. They go up the mountain to see the dragon (no boys to protect them!). They’re not regency-novel-style where all they do is talk about it. There’s action, they learn from the consequences of those actions. Even the slumber party one is riveting, because two of the friends can’t get along and the third is too busy studying what you’re supposed to do in a slumber party.
My favorite character is Fluttershy, because I most identify with her. I’m also extremely introverted to the point of suffering. So when I saw her first scene with the assertive Twilight Sparkle (the show’s main/hub character), I fell in love right away.
It’s just one of the many nods to the more geeky community that can sympathise. Everyone can latch onto someone, from the highly competitive Rainbow Dash to the meticulous Rarity to the book-smart Twilight Sparkle.
But I guess the main reason I love the show is because, it’s just so damn happy there. It’s not a utopia — there are plenty of problems I wouldn’t want to deal with, like the bitchy griffin friend of Rainbow Dash. But there’s no hate. No cynicism. No prejudice. No one trolls. No one hates. No one has a brooding dark past or an unrequited crush on a personality-less boy.
But I was thinking the other day, wouldn’t this be horrible? You die, and you go to a place with 72 women (I’m making assumptions about orientation here. Substitute your favorite gender where appropriate). I’m not going to make the cliche joke of 72 shrews complaining and nagging. Let’s assume they’re there just to have sex with you.
But none of them know how. You have to teach them all how to have sex, and it’s going to be no fun for them the first time. As this classic Saturday Night Live sketch demonstrates, it rather defeats the purpose of heaven to make them all virgins. I mean, even the experienced women still have trouble with some things.
There will be no variety. They only know what you know, what you can teach them. And let’s hope that God provides some kind of toy chest. If all you’ve got is two bodies and an imagination limited by your own experiences, you are in trouble.
Second, if you’re really into taking someone’s virginity, you only get 72 enterprises until you run out. For eternity. No more for you.
Third, where do they get these women? If they’re just made-up automatons, that’s no fun. Nothing to talk about, no personalities, no histories, no flavor. It would be like having sex with robots. If they aren’t made-up, where do they come from? Only 4% of U.S. adults over 25 are virgins, and those people are still alive. Are you going to be having sex with some cystic fibrosis sufferer? Someone with morbid obesity who can’t get out of bed?
Are you going to be having sex with some 12-year-old who got in a car accident? (Maybe this is her hell?) Or is your heaven going to be littered with 72 toddlers and stillborn babies? That’s sick!
There’s nothing really great about virginity. As far as real life goes, it’s something to get out of the way. These days, what people think of as virginity is really chastity. But they’re hinged on the technical aspects, thinking they equate to the spiritual aspects. They don’t. So claiming to be a virgin while doing all that other naughty stuff is like saying you’ve never drank orange juice, but you’ve eaten an orange. If that’s the way you’re rolling, you may need to rethink your reasons.
So I had my Fantasy Football draft last night. Here’s the 2011-2012 edition of Juneau’s Juggernauts.
Philip Rivers (QB) – San Diego Chargers
-A modest leader. He is taking the role of the quarterback after the former was shot during a failed revolution. Although unfamiliar with the position, Rivers must attempt to be a strong presence in a chaotic land. But will he be able to succeed when he finds out that one of his futrue opponents is his own father?
Miles Austin (WR) – Dallas Cowboys
-Miles Austin is the pseudonym of a yorbagatrax — an alien trying to learn human ways. He learned that the biggest difference between the strongest sovereign territory on the planet and any others is the existence of a form of entertainment known as “American football”. And like any good scientist knows, the best way to learn about something is to do it. But with fellow player Steven Jackson becoming suspicious, how much longer will his disguise last? (I say “his” for simplicity’s sake, since a yorbagatrax has five genders.)
Jeremy Maclin (WR) – Philadelphia Eagles
-A man trying to do right by his daughter. He has a former past with the drug “Bash”, a powerful, highly addictive muscle enhancement that has the power to create hallucinations of structures that look like boobs. Now clean, he’s joined the team in hopes of proving he still has what it takes to be an athlete. But how long will he stay sober when he finds out Owen Daniels is the creator of “Bash”?
Rashard Mendenhall (RB) – Pittsburgh Steelers
-Absent last year due to being kidnapped and forced to participate in a killer martial arts tournament. He was the only survivor, after defeating Kinzo Matsuzishi, the tournament champion, who planned to merge his corporation with an extradimensional dragon. Mendenhall, with his signature Power-Pack Punch move, defeated Matsuzishi in the bowels of Shimatta’s Caverns, keeping the Earth Realm safe for another 900 years.
Steven Jackson (RB) – St. Louis Rams
-A follower of the Star Wars movies, his dream is to become an actor in Hollywood. However, the twin assassin sisters, Yolanda and Baranda, stand in his way. Jackson escaped into the league to avoid them, but every so often, he sees the glow of their neon cloaks skulking around the stands. Is that them in the hot dog bin? Are they in the mascot costume? What’s in this water? Do I know you? Is that a poison autograph pen? What about my pickle?
Owen Daniels (TE) – Houston Oilers
-Delivered a pizza into the stadium and got lost. They put a suit on him, and sent him out during a preseason game. No one noticed the difference.
Garrett Hartley (K) – New Orleans Saints
-Really a wizard.
Jon Beason (LB) – Carolina Panthers, James Harrison (LB) – Pittsburgh Steelers, D.J. Williams (LB) – Denver Broncos
-The defensive line. A triple threat, the three met in college during a Super Smash Brothers tournament. They discovered that with their combined powers, they can call on the awesome power of Commander Jupiter! Protector of the Earth and fighter for great justice. Unfortunately, league rules prevent summoning of gods or demi-gods during play.
Yeremiah Bell (S) – Miami Dolphins
-Has a record of reaching 128 kill screens in arcade games. Football is part of his rehabilitation. Plans to become a puppeteer after the season. Owns a pet xebec. What’s a xebec? I don’t know, he won’t tell us. Also plans on suing Taco Bell with his winnings for copyright infringement.
Robert Mathis (DE) – Indianapolis Colts
The son of a slain mob boss. By winning the season, he intends to restore his family legacy to its rightful place by cornering the market on jock straps. Well, one has to start small. First, he takes over the league, then the world. Now if he could only stop buying all those Transformer toys.
London Fletcher (LB) – Washington Redskins
As the star linebacker, he is the lone wolf. He has fish and chips before every game, and afterwards, he takes a wicked googly down the tube to the loo. He spends most of his time trying to convince people he’s not British.
I have no idea if I’m funny. My wife thinks I’m funny. I have written comedy before. Some absurdist (CS Wars), some functional (Playable Character, Influx Capacitor) Most of my comedy comes from a MST3K/Monty Python root of silliness and sarcasm. But comedy is very difficult to translate to the narrative written word.
See? But I inject as much humor as I can into my writing. Much of my humor comes from sources that kids today wouldn’t know if it bit them on the bum, dadgummit. So here’s some of my influences. You probably don’t care, but I do, dadgummit! And if That Guy With The Glasses did it, why can’t I?
The 70’s and 80’s were a time of big change for comedians. Cable provided a new avenue of exposure, free of FCC regulations. And the “say anything” attitude of the hippies had integrated into entertainment. Free speech was getting load tested thanks to comics like Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Woody Allen, and George Carlin. What this meant was a lot of weed humor, foul mouths, rednecks, and neurotics. Not my cup of tea.
But Bill Cosby was immensely funny while still being respectable. My first exposure to him (like most people) was on The Cosby Show. I never understood why they called it The Cosby Show when no one was named Cosby. Very confusing. But the show was about the ridiculousness of children’s behavior, the difficulty of maintaining a happy marriage with multiple children, and the importance of family. It was one of the last shows to feature a man that loved his wife and kids. Then there was Roseanne, Married with Children, and The Simpsons made it popular to make poor life decisions.
Don’t make the mistake — Bill Cosby isn’t wholesome. In fact, I rather disliked him. I thought he was a mean father. He was strict. His wife was a bitch. The children were doing the best they could for their age, and there was little forgiveness for their mistakes. So as a child, I wasn’t too interested.
But then I discovered my dad’s old comedy records (yes, records — the big, black discs). He had Bill Cosby’s first album, “Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow… Right!” with the famous Noah’s Ark bit I’d heard about, but doesn’t translate to text. And some live stuff and a “Best Of”.
Early on, his style is “Newhart-esque” “what if” scenarios. I don’t like Bob Newhart, but I liked Bill Cosby. As much as he makes fun of having kids, he makes fun of himself as a kid with memorable characters like Fat Albert and Old Weird Harold. He tells stories like they’re tall tales, which I love.
My favorite thing about Bill Cosby is that he’s so fun to imitate. You can almost hear his Richard Mulligan rubberface through his voice. Most other people, all you have to do is a country accent or a stutter to do a bad impression. But like Christopher Walken, Cosby has his own way of speaking — that curmudgeonly, perpetually perturbed, grandfatherly accent full of nonsense words and scat-like consonants. I love using it on my kids, but they have no idea what I’m talking about.
Mad Magazine has an interesting history. It started off as the brainchild of William Gaines, the godfather of adult comics. He created the horror comic genre with works like “Tales From the Crypt”, “Weird Science”, and such. In his day, comics were aimed at kids and kids only. Not many people realize he was his generation’s Larry Flynt, challenging the ridiculous censorship laws of America. The graphic depictions of violence and sex were not kosher with the senate subcommittee.
That included Mad, which started as a comic. They had to divert the Comics Code (a self-imposed ethics code that no longer means anything. Kinda like movie ratings.) so they made it into a magazine. That meant they could publish what they wanted, even though there wasn’t anything offensive I saw.
It’s hard to describe what Mad is. There are satires (all of which I was unable to appreciate until I was old enough to see the movies or TV shows they were making fun of), one-page comics, funny articles, lots of lists and pictorials (much of which you see in today’s Internet humor, with the plethora of Top Tens and Infographics), and incredibly detailed parodies of current events and pop culture. In lots of places, it was like an activity book, with the puzzles, humorous questionnaires, and the fold-in at the back of each issue. Al Jaffee was my favorite.
Mad caught my eye in 1989, when I saw the cover which depicted Who Framed Roger Rabbit? which I was into at the time. Don’t know why my dad bought it for me, but he did, and I became a fan. The thing I had trouble wrapping my mind around when I was young was that, as much as they made of fun of everybody, especially the fools who wrote in to complain about the content, they made fun of themselves. Frequently, they’d refer to their magazine as bird-cage material, and Bill Gaines as a grossly obese man, often the punchline of an article. This didn’t make sense to my eight-year-old self who was constantly exposed to feel-good messages of “you’re special” and “be yourself” and “everyone loves you”.
But then I got it. It was like a light bulb, and I started adopting their sarcastic, cynical, acerbic sense of humor in my own personality. It taught me the value of parody and satire.
Like Spider-Man, this is a text adventure game, but loads better. Anyone who was into computing in the 80’s should be able to tell you about the successful Sierra adventure games. As opposed to crap like Wumpus Hunter, these were able to combine text and graphics to make a successful adventure. Basically all you did was move your guy closer to the object you were supposed to interact with, but it made a surprising difference, just like the guitar peripheral for Guitar Hero, you need that help to make the jump from interactive to immersing.
Anyone who has played LSL should be crying foul that I played this game when I was eight years old. And moreso, I played it with MY FATHER! Anyone who hasn’t played LSL, let quote from the details of the Wikipedia entry:
Because of the adult nature of the game, it featured an age verification system, which consisted of a series of questions to which the authors reasoned only adults would know the answer.
This was mostly the reason I had to play with my father, since I didn’t know any of the answers. Also, I wasn’t a fast typer, and I didn’t understand anything that was going on (I couldn’t even pronounce “prophylactic”, let alone try and buy one from the Quick-E-Mart). Plus it made the game more fun, because we could solve the problems together, get stuck together. I’d mostly direct him (boss him around) to finding how to get Larry to meet the girl of his dreams. I can’t imagine how my dad could have played this without breaking a sweat (“Dad, what’s Spanish Fly?”). The great part is the game was actually educational. Since it’s all text, it’s all reading. What better for an eight-year-old than to do with his time?
Everything was very logical, but very humorous. Al Lowe was a master with the jokes, leaning on the ridiculous and silly (a bum in a barrel walking through the street, pocket lint in your inventory, the “boss key”). This is probably some of the reason my sense of humor is so warped. The subsequent sequels doubled up on this, especially with the variety of locations, pursuit by the KGB, and the “trite phrase” which we had endless fun with. Number three combined an adventure game with an arcade game, and had one of the greatest lines in humordom – “where’s my pants?”.
This was my first real exposure to pretending to be someone else in a video game. And as I write this, I realize that when being someone else, it’s got very little to do with the person and more to do with the environment and supporting characters. These are the things that make you feel like you’re there, that you’re doing something.
But Leisure Suit Larry wasn’t about being someone else. It was more like a comic novel or movie, like American Pie, where the pervert hero goes on a raunchy sex romp, and hilarity ensues as you accidentally tumble onto a dating game show, fall from an airplane, dance in a peacock outfit, save an island of topless natives from an evil doctor by crushing him with a piano, and follow a flying inflatable doll to the woman of your dreams (at the time). Funny mature games are few and far between these days – most are satirically dark like Grand Theft Auto or Destroy All Humans. I don’t think we’ll see anything as ridiculous, customizable, and laugh-out-loud funny like Larry Laffer again for a long time.