Comedy is a Unit Test

I’m a fan of comedy, but I hate dumb guy comedy. I’ve always preferred smart guy analytical routines. There’s a reason why George Carlin and Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks and any comedian pushing the boundaries are important. You can think about their pointed explorations of taboos and the edges of what makes us uncomfortable as unit tests for a society. These are the things the challenge the atomic beliefs and the intrinsic operations that make us tick. If we don’t know how to deal the questions they pose in this isolated, entertainment framework then how the hell will we deal with them when they matter?

I found it very distressing in the days and weeks following the death of George Carlin that no one seems to actually know the name of his most famous routine. It’s not “The Seven Dirty Words”. There are way more than seven of those and Carlin knew that. He did a routine where he named hundreds. It was “The Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television” and it was a very specific examination of hypocrisy of the time, pointing out that you couldn’t use the word “fuck” on network television but most television shows insinuate the act constantly. Three’s Company was about nothing else. That is a unit test, and listening to it is running the test. (As an aside, in the 35 years since the routine came out I’ve never heard anyone but myself notice that the list is in iambic hexameter.)

Dumb guy comedy does nothing for you. At its best, it makes you chuckle and then you forget it. Larry the Cable guy and Jeff Foxworthy and Gallagher come and then are gone. The best of smart guy comedy makes you sharper, it hones your edge and teaches you how to think. I credit some of whatever analytical, skeptical thinking ability I have to guys like Carlin and Bruce. A while back I pointed out that its insulting to talk about “colored people” but perfectly fine to refer to “people of color”, noting that apparently “of’ is the magic preposition that makes everything all right. That line of thinking is pure Carlin. Now that we don’t have him anymore we better grow some more quickly. Our society needs all the unit testing we can muster.