Kilgore Books & Comics

publishing fine comics since 2009

Some thoughts on humor

Dan StaffordComment

Comedy is significantly harder than drama and, I think, more important. Drama is life, comedy is relief from life. Drama is day in/day out/repeat. Comedy is dealing with the day in/day out.

Yet as a society we really undervalue comedy. We think of laughs as cheap and casually throw them away. We give awards to serious dramatists, and spend our money on escapism. Within most mass culture, the most popular stories either serious, falling into the drama/thriller/horror pile, or are escapist, and fall into the action/adventure/western/musical pile.

And that gives comedy short shrift. The importance of humor is that it allows us to look at tragedies in life and process them. The serious stuff is important because it forces us to look at a problem. Maus made us look at the Holocaust with fresh eyes. Persepolis made us consider a child’s take on civil war and extremism. And, while I don’t particularly care for it, escapism/fantasy is a way for people to cope with the seriousness of life. However, when one is done escaping, those problems still exist. Comedy, on the other hand, makes us look at a problem or situation, analyze it, and synthesize a response. Yeah, that’s right, it’s higher-level Bloom’s Taxonomy people.

Part of the reason comedy is maligned is because there is so much BAD comedy/humor out there. First there’s all the racist, homophobic, trans-phobic, misogynistic comedy, then there’s pabulum like The King of Queens or The Big Bang Theory. But I believer the fact that there is so much dreck comedy actually proves humor’s importance.

Want to make people tear up? Go film some trees getting clear-cut, slap a Joni Mitchel song on it. Bam, enviro documentary. Want to see people really choke up? Go film some footage of Syria, add some Adagio for Strings and a voiceover. Recording drama or tragedy isn’t hard because it is all around us. We do not create it, it just is, and we need only to turn the camera/pen on. Make a comic about your alcoholic father or absentee mother. It can be a not-great comic, but people will still slowly nod their heads and say how brave you are (and, for the record, you are).

But comedy looks at that tragedy, that horror, that drama, squarely, and responds to it.

We can use satire,  dry humor, or slapstick to show the ridiculous comedy of errors that lead to Syria, or the hypocrisy of clear cutting, or that your dad is an buffoon. Here’s the thing, though. If we get it wrong, suddenly we’re making fun of you your (or Syria’s or Earth’s) pain. And that’s not cool. Which is why there is so much weak ineffectual comedy out there.

Humor can be used as a weapon far more than drama or escapism. Has anyone every cut you down to size with the truth about arsenic in your drinking water? Nope. But has anyone made fun of you for the way you look/act/dress? Yep, me too. Humor can hurt, can sting, can be personally assaulting in a way those other genres cannot. So comedy and humor are dulled down until it is palatable - and that’s how we got Friends (which, by the way, is super duper homophobic).

Humor is riskier, harder to get right, and - when it’s on the mark - far more effective than other genres. And that’s why Kilgore publishes humor comics. When Robert Sergel is asked by a TSA agent, ‘Do you have a boner?’ it’s funny. Boner is a funny word. But then you realize it’s a government agent asking a civilian about his genitals. That’s shockingly inappropriate, and makes you ask some questions.

And this is why humor are so important to me. Because humor does more than make you think. It makes you face a situation, address it, analyze it, and have a response to it. Humor can cut a problem down to size too. In the face of the gallows, people turn to humor, not drama or Darth Vader.