the thing about 70s to mid 80s sitcoms is there weren’t many flat out comedies they were dramas with humorous characters or situations like barney miller- mash ect …. or had social points to put across like all in the family ……
Most art is mediocre and 1970s era comedy is no exception. There were, however, some genuinely great comedy from the period: Richard Pryor, the Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Young Frankenstein for example. Most of what’s being produced now is mediocre and most of what going to be produced 20 years from now will be mediocre.
Discussing what is funny is fun but ultimately pointless.
As Gene Siskel used to say (this was before he died): Two things you cannot define for another person - what is funny and what is sexy.*
I think we can all agree that dead Gene Siskel is sexy and kind of funny.
I think this is the answer to this thread and the one about conservative comedians. Just because some people don’t see the humor doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.
Most successful humor relies on surprise; we laugh in response to things we did not expect, but do not find directly threatening. The source of the surprise varies, and some approaches to eliciting that surprised reaction age better than others. I will now discuss humor at painful and utterly unfunny length.
Violation of taboo - A lot of comedians use violations of cultural norms to achieve shock; they use language society considers “inappropriate”, talk about subjects that society considers out of bounds for discussion, or say things about “acceptable” subjects that people would not normally say. This approach decays as taboos change; when the “shocking” topic or language has become common in normal conversation, it has little humor value.
Surreal humor - Absurdity and subversion of logical cause-and-effect have often been used to provide the necessary surprise for humor, both in situational absurdity and in straight-up jokes. Surreal humor is mixed bag; subversion of logic ages relatively well, because logic doesn’t really change, but absurdity can fall by the wayside. Things and situations that might have seemed absurd decades ago may well be "normal"now.
Physical humor - Slapstick is one of the most direct forms of comedy, in that the surprise often comes from something that appears to be a hazard, but not to the audience. Pratfalls, objects falling on the focus of attention, and such are surprising and look like they could cause injury, so they poke pretty directly at the laugh button. The effectiveness of physical humor varies with the empathy of the audience; I’d kind of like to say that it has decayed over time…but then I look at YouTube.
Repetition humor - We all expect things to stop eventually. Repetition humor relies on a thing continuing to happen long after the point where we expect them to stop. Beyond that point, each additional repetition is a small surprise, which eventually add up to a laugh. It could be argued to be a subset of surreal or absurdist humor, but the absurdity is not inherent in the situation. Repetition humor ages well, but its comedy value varies widely from person to person; many people just find it annoying, and the point at which they become annoyed varies as well.
Repetition/disruption humor - An extension of repetition humor, repetition/disruption relies on getting the audience to expect something to continue, then abruptly stopping or changing it. It may condition the audience to this by stretching a repetition humor bit “too far”, to the point at which it has become unfunny again, or by using something that the audience would reasonably expect to go on for a long time. This one crops up a fair bit in musical humor, I find. It generally ages well, because it doesn’t rely much on externalities; it’s a matter of audience conditioning. However, like repetition humor in general, its impact is highly variable among individuals.
So, “shock” comics (even the relatively tame ones who only hint at taboo subjects) lose their edge quickly. Surrealism has more staying power, decaying only as quickly as our understanding of what constitutes absurdity changes. Physical and repetition-based humor probably age the least, remaining as funny (or unfunny) as they ever were for long spans of time.
Monty Python–often cited in this thread–blended all of these types of comedy, with satire, surrealism, repetition, and physical comedy. I attribute much of the endurance of their humor to this blend.
Now that Monty Python’s Flying Circus is on Netflix, I’m finally getting to watch the original episodes in their entirety for the first time. I was already familiar with their most-famous classic sketches, but this is the first time I’ve seen them “in context” within the original episodes and …
… I’m not sure if this is a case of “when they were good, they were very very good, but when they were bad they were dreadful”, or simply that some 1970s humor doesn’t translate well to the 2010s. I watch these utterly brilliant sketches (I particularly love John Cleese’s complete befuddlement at the end of the “Fish Licence” sketch after the Lord Mayor appears), and these brilliant bits seem to be bookended by utter crap. I don’t enjoy Gilliam’s animations at all - to me they’re boring and pointless and rarely funny, and largely seem to exist simply to pad out the runtime of the episode. And too often Python crosses the line between “recurring joke” and “running it into the ground”.
Comedy is very time/space specific. Recently rewatched “Stalag 17”. The drama held up superbly, the comedy parts not so much.
Perhaps you were switching between ‘Stalag 17’ and ‘Hogan’s Heroes.’
One of the few things in this universe you can always count on is that people will say SNL sucks 'cause it’s not as good as it used to be.
in actual fact, of course, SNL has always been very hit or miss. The thing is that when people think about the SNLs of years ago, the mind doesn’t recall the mediocre stuff; it recalls the sketches that really, really landed. You remember the Bass-o-Matic, Sprockets, and Old Glory Robot Insurance, and forget all the crap, but when you watch last week’s SNL you see the crap-to-quality ratio is at least three to one. You see that, but forget yesteryear’s crap.
this is generally true of ALL comedy. It’s true most Monty Python was shitty; you just don’t remember the filler, and do remember the Dead Parrot sketch. Most Far Side cartoons were so-so, but those aren’t the ones people pin up in their cubicles.
Yeah, the “comic relief” parts are cringe-worthy. I dare say that I might have thought so even back then ( assuming I was around then in '54 )
I’m 26 (for reference) and tbh I don’t really find 70s humour that funny, aside from some SNL episodes. It’s not that I don’t get the references, it’s just that they aren’t relayed in a way that makes my brain laugh.
I think it has to do with early life experience; I grew up (mostly) with the internet, and I am extremely internet. If I don’t have memes daily, I will die.
Not to make the conversation dark, but an extremely important part of my theory has to do with 9/11. People my age, people a bit older (late 80s babies), and kids born up until 9/11 lived in a very strange world. While this event didn’t touch many of us in personal ways, it definitely made a psychological impact to see such a large scale man-made catastrophe on TV (and everywhere, basically). It “set the tone” in a strange way, for an entire generation’s comedic tastes.
After this event, the media, and by extenstion comedy, became darker. We entered into a world where these terrible things are something we know could happen again. Comedy is a natural way to deal with the darkness we now are unable to ignore on a mass scale. Of course, many other events contributed to this shift, but for some reason it always stick in my mind as a turning point for our culture, at least to a 9 year old me.
My mom, born in 1960, didn’t know about South African apartheid until she was 17, not because she didn’t care or because she was dumb, but because that was the way information was for her while she was growing up. That is a stark contrast with kids my age who remember Columbine, 9/11, the Iraq war, etc, as defining points in our childhoods. My parents didn’t have any answers for me when I asked about why these events occurred; they were just as mind blowing to them. But it changed how I saw the world in a big way.
When it comes to comedy, I like offensive (tastefully offensive - think Russell Brand or Joe Rogan; not Dane Cook or others who just think insults are jokes), dark, absurd humour. I love South Park, Family Guy, The Office, etc.
Many older folks think this stuff is unintelligent or crass, but to my generation, this bait and switch, the proposition of normalcy, followed by an absurd, shocking, strange, or uncomfortable punchline. Its a framework we know of, having had our childhoods affected in a similar way, we express our comedy tastes this way.
Millennials like to be shocked because we have always been shocked by something, and usually, what we are shocked by doesn’t make us laugh. These dark, vulgar comedies are a way for us to make sense of this juxtaposition we have always known.
Obviously these are all generalisations, there is of course many older people who love shocking and dark humour, and have long before these events. And there’s people my age who find it tasteless. I just mean more general, overarching cultural themes.
Deviating a bit from the darkness, honestly, not a word of a lie, my favourite comedian is Jenna Marbles. The fact that she, and many, many other Youtubers, are so authentic and relatable, is so refreshing to me. I hate sitcoms, I hate laugh tracks. I love humour that makes no sense, like a 32 year old woman camoflauging herself into her green screen. This humour never would have been popular before now, and I love the novelty of it, and the fact that it’s my peers making it. There’s a vulnerability to that form of comedy that I think is actually really healthy, it inspires a sense of staying childlike through adulthood.
All the memes and self referential internet humour seems pointless on the surface, but something about it is so new and fascinating to me. Its a neat way to experience culture and it’s been a neat way to grow up (the fun meme aspects, not the crimes against humanity aspects).
Sorry if this was rambling or made no sense, I was actually thinking about this recently; specifically the difference in humour between those my parent’s age and those my age. I had so many thoughts lol
I didn’t like Monty Python at the time: it was too British for me, and not American enough. But at the time, I thought it was just absurdist. Several of my friends liked that anyway: we were just teenage boys.
It was only much later, talking to Brits and anglophile Australians, that I learned that Monty Python’s Flying Circus was also satirical.
I’m 34. I also grew up watching old movies and not-so-old movies and lots of other stuff. I won’t pretend I can bridge any great cultural gaps here, but I do want to say a few things.
… I remember not having Internet, I remember dial-up Internet, and I remember when “meme” was this odd idea Dawkins had about self-replicating ideas as analogous to “gene”.
Monty Python did it. It’s hard to get fully these days, because our baseline of normal isn’t 1960s Britain, but a number of Monty Python gags centered on having somethiing absurd occur in a normal context. That’s what the “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!” gag was all about, for example.
This is more novel, because it’s driven by technology: Jenna Marbles and Todd in the Shadows and The Angry Video Game Nerd and all the others can do what they do without a studio saying anything about it. They just are, and their fans can find them and watch them, and that wasn’t really feasible before the Internet came to be as it is now.
Also: Laugh tracks have been on TV shows for decades but I’ve never heard anyone say anything good about them. They must insert themselves in secret, without human intervention.
Re: laugh tracks…in the early days of television, programs were often filmed as though you were sitting there as part of a live audience. Closeups and counterpoints eventually became the norm, but in the beginning it was more like watching a stage play. I believe the laugh track was adopted to create the auditory illusion that there was an audience there with you. A night on the town without having to go anywhere, if you will. Many comedies today (eg. Curb Your Enthusiasm) but many other comedies from the nit so distant past (eg. Seinfeld) has them.
“I wash born then, an I wash raished then, and dad gum it, I am gonna die there, an no sidewindin’ bushwackin’, hornswagglin’ cracker croaker is gonna rouin me bishen cutter.”
I’ve been watching Hogan’s Heroes lately without a laugh track. I was amazed at what a different experience it is, compared to the show I’m used to seeing.
But that is sort of my point. “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition” is a cringey skit to me. It’s not absurd for a bunch of British men to be falling down and wearing random outfits, it’s just one of those things that is incredibly dated to watch. It more along the lines of the Three Stooges than a satire.
One example I like to use is from The Office; this bait and switch is one that genuinely had me laughing until I cried:
“A boss is like a teacher. And I am like the cool teacher. Like Mr. Handell. Mr. Handell would hang out with us, and he would tell us awesome jokes. And he actually hooked up with one of the students, and then, like, 12 other kids came forward. It was in all the papers. Really ruined eighth grade for us.”
Of course, the video is needed as well to see how Carrell delivers this line, but stuff like this is so much more funny to me than safe jokes about things that are no longer relevant. It’s not even clever writing, to be honest. I feel like Monty Python was one of least funny shows that’s ever been made, honestly. Its like “oh, you have an imaginary horse! You fell over in a comedic fashion! You made a play on words! That’s…hilarious?”
Not sure who Jenna Marbles and Todd in the Shadows and The Angry Video Game Nerd are, but if their novelty is driven by technology, I wonder if they did anything Ernie Kovacs couldn’t (wouldn’t) have done with access to the same tech.
What sterile, pointless speculation!
Of course people would have done different things in a different cultural context! We are our cultural context plus our biology! Make it so someone with Ernie Kovacs’ biology was born in 1984 and he wouldn’t be Ernie Kovacs, he’d be someone else entirely.