Sunday, December 11, 2011

Have we forgotten what's funny?

A couple of nights ago, like so many of us after a long day, I plonked my butt down and grabbed the remote, hoping there was something entertaining on tv to help my mind relax. My current evening project involves beads, glue and a costume, so it's not so much that I need to actually watch something, it's more a desire to let my brain stand down.

Half an hour later, with a twitchy remote finger, I leaned back in frustration and realized that tv, mostly, sucks. There were "comedies" galore, and landing on any of them completely failed to produce more than a wince at the overloud sound track and the attempts at humor which would have embarrassed a sixth grader. In fact, I've heard better jokes FROM a sixth grader.

So I gave it one more shot, paying closer attention to the automated screen guide (whatever happened to that wonderful little magazine everyone threw across the living room at each other? The one that always had corners ripped off where someone had needed a toothpick in a hurry? Gone. Dead as a dodo I guess.) Sorry...I digress.

I finally ended up on a local public television station. No, it wasn't Masterpiece Theater, it was one of their fundraiser shows. This one caught my attention - it was featuring the work of a man who was a genius (IMHO) - Victor Borge. The Insane Dane. The Great Dane. Whatever you want to call him. For the next two hours, I howled with laughter.

And I wondered what was so funny about Mr. Borge's performances, why I was aching, bleary eyed and still giggling afterward. What had caught my funny bone and tickled the hell out of it, as opposed to the slick Hollywood sitcoms which left me stone faced and shrugging.

This man was technically brilliant, a pianist and maestro on a par with the best of the best. A musician who loved music and loved sharing it. Okay, all well and good. There are many who fit that description. But for some reason, his dramatic double take and stumble when his soprano launches into a High C that nearly shattered the chandelier...well, I cracked up along with his audience.

And there were so many more achingly funny moments. His way of talking to his audience, his use of the piano as a "straight man" or a sidekick in some way - it was amazingly funny, subtly brilliant and warmly affectionate, establishing a relationship between entertainer, instrument and audience. That takes talent. And it left me awed, even as I wiped away the lingering traces of tears of laughter.

Maybe, I thought later...maybe that's what it's all about. Talking TO an audience as if they are your friends. Not talking DOWN to them, trying to BE them, or telegraphing a joke five minutes before it's made. Not being silly, angsty, dirty or snarky. Not insulting your audience or treating them as if the only thing they have going for them is their desire to see YOU.

Sitcoms have their appeal, I'm sure. But if I had to choose between an hour of Ashton Kutcher and the MEN, or Victor Borge in black-and-white with greats like Perry Como and Dean Martin...I know which I would choose. I might just put his set of concert DVD's on my Christmas list for those times when I need a laugh to lift me back onto my feet after a long day. Because laughter does that. And sadly, today, it seems like a lot of tv producers have forgotten that making people laugh is a skill, and a gift. It doesn't come from a box or a piece of software that mixes up words and spits out "jokes". It comes from the heart and the brain of the performer.

Here's a vintage clip of Victor Borge and Dean Martin sharing that wonderful phenomenon "Phonetic Punctuation". In my mind, this is timeless, and still makes me laugh like hell. And there is some of the most subtle dirty joke insinuation in there that I've heard in a while. Take a few minutes, sit back and just relax into the moment. I hope you'll find it as delightful as I have.

Now go find some more Victor Borge clips. And spend the day with a smile on your face!!!

Sahara Kelly