"Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it."
~ E. B. White
Humor is one of those phenomena, like teenagers, that everyone knows about but nobody can really explain. The New Yorker magazine, where E.B. White was a contributor for six decades, is a treasure trove for connoisseurs of humor in the whimsical-satirical-absurdist style.
"Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing."
~ William James
The New Yorker Festival is a weekend-long series of events, conversations, performances and laughs that the magazine has sponsored for the past nine years. On Sunday afternoon, Divinipotent Daily attended the final event of the 2009 Festival, the Humor Panel.
"A joke is a very serious thing."
~ Winston Churchill
The Humor Panel brought together thirteen of The New Yorker's funniest writers and coerced them into reading their stories. Actually, little coercing was likely involved since many of the writers turned out to be gifted hams.
"Comedy has to be based on truth. You take the truth and you put a little curlicue at the end."
~ Sid Caesar
The multitalented Noah Baumbach performed his his hilarious story "Buzzed" — a look through the crazed, cocaine-addled eyes of a homicidal honeybee. Jenny Allen read "I Have to Go Now," in which a weekend house guest gradually escalates from mild discomfort to all-out panic as she pokes through her hosts' kitchen in search of a coffee filter. Other writer-readers included Yoni Brenner, Ian Frazier, Patricia Marx, David Owen, Amy Ozols, Simon Rich, Paul Rudnick, George Saunders, Paul Simms and the wonderful Calvin Trillin; all were funny and charming. The final guest was long-time New Yorker contributor Woody Allen, who read a story the magazine had rejected. Although still funny, Allen's writing has acquired a Gaudi-like ornateness, with curlicues not only at the end but at the beginning, in the middle, everywhere; every line is stuffed with fusty $10 words. One hopes he re-reads his copy of E.B. White and William Strunk's Elements of Style soon.
Many people, including some very funny people, have given serious thought to humor. Here's a brief selection of their observations. The last is a personal favorite.
“It is a curious fact that people are never so trivial as when they take themselves seriously.”
~ Oscar Wilde
“A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It's jolted by every pebble on the road.”
~ Henry Ward Beecher
“There is hope for the future because God has a sense of humor and we are funny to God.”
~ Bill Cosby
"Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious."
~ Peter Ustinov
“Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not; a sense of humor to console him for what he is.”
~ Francis Bacon, Sr.