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A poll: Has a joke ever changed your mind?
C'mon now, be honest.
The modern comedy business rests on a single belief: comedy is important. That’s the one thing every comedy person agrees with. And that rests on the single belief that jokes change minds.
I don’t buy it. In my experience, people get defensive and double-down in the face of scorn. It’s just such a small needle to thread—to be changed by satire, an audience member must first 1) encounter the material; 2) consider it with an open mind; and 3) honestly judge themselves with the possibility of experiencing serious shame and regret.
At $50 per ticket, with a two-drink minimum? Who would sign up for that?
What satire can do is weld like-minded people together. Is that useful? Salutary? Depends on the belief, I suppose—the Nazis made more comedies than any other type of movie. But even when the beliefs are mainstream, it’s tough. Take a look at a comedian everyone seems to admire, George Carlin. His universally praised late stuff is harmless observational gags, larded with commonplace political opinions. Because he delivers the latter like jokes, we call them satire. “I look at war a little bit differently,” he said in the 1992 HBO special he considered his personal best, Jammin’ in New York, “To me, war is a lot of prick-waving…Men are insecure about the size of their dicks, and so they have to kill one another over the idea.”
A good rule of thumb is, if you hear something and think, “I’ve had that very same thought!” chances are it’s not timeless wisdom. But it is a warm, tribal, “I’m right” feeling people will pay good money to feel.
This is not George’s fault—first he was the Hippy Dippy Weatherman, then he was the Stoned Semanticist, then finally Angry Uncle George—because that’s what we’d pay him to do. I think we’d all be a lot better off if we jettisoned this whole standups-are-our-philosophers thing. It was hype from the very beginning, from the first time Mort Sahl walked onstage with a newspaper. To sell us more entertainment, they told us that satire is educating, enlightening, ennobling. Well, there’s more satire than ever, and do we seem enlightened? Ennobled? Or simply splintered and angry? “Those people are angry because their dicks are small!”
I’m willing to be convinced, however. Please vote, and fill the comments with comedy-conversion tales, if you have any.