Are we amused?
‘I guess when I think about it, one of the things I like to dramatize, and what is sometimes funny, is someone coming unglued. I don’t consider myself someone who is making the argument that I support these choices. I just think it can be funny
Wes Anderson Filmmaker/Director
Humour is a strange thing. I once had a close friend I’d known since high school but our senses of humour were totally different.
Whenever she told that she particularly loathed a comedic film, I couldn’t wait to hustle over to the movie theatre and see it for myself. Especially if she found it mind-numbingly tedious and dull.
It was the best review she could have given me. Why? Because I knew there was an excellent chance that I’d find it engaging and quite possibly hilarious.
Director Wes Anderson is one of my favourite film makers. There are three of his films that I love and never tire of watching, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Darjeeling Limited.
But even though I greatly appreciate these films, I’ve met quite a few people who just don’t get Anderson’s brand of humour.
I could happily live in Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel. I love the way Anderson uses his humour to switch and bait. One minute you’re laughing at the absurdities of fate and then suddenly you’re confronting the abyss.
If only it were possible to take the funicular railway – or even better a black vintage Rolls Royce – to the Grand Budapest Hotel. And upon arrival, be invited to dine with Monsieur Gustave H, Dmitri Desgoffe und Taxis, Madame Celine Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis, Agatha, Zero, the Young Author and Monsieur Chuck.
What is the indefinable X factor that makes something funny? And how is that that taste in humour is so variable, even among close friends who have similar tastes in just about everything else?
Mark Twain – American writer, humourist, entrepreneur, publisher, and lecturer – was a very busy gentleman who spent a lot of time thinking about what made people laugh. He kickstarted his incredibly successful writing career with a deceptively simple story about jumping frogs.
It was first published in New York’s Saturday Press in 1865 and then it developed a life of its own and was reprinted right across the country. For some reason jumping frogs really tickled America’s funny bone and after that folk just couldn’t get enough of Twain.
Unfortunately Twain had many setbacks and failures in life. Having made his pile he promptly became addicted to risk and invested in dodgy enterprises that failed and cost him millions. But he never lost his sense of humour.
When I was thinking about the sources of humour, the connection between sorrow/grief and humour kept coming up.
American comic actor, Jim Carrey, stated that, ‘My focus is to forget the pain of life. Forget the pain, mock the pain, reduce it. And laugh.’
I came across professionals who’d researched humour and there was some consensus in their results. Apparently, those who are suspected of possessing a sense of humour, tend to see the world through a different lens and we’re also attuned to the absurdities of life.
But defining what makes something universally funny, becomes as slippery as an oiled eel. As Peter McGraw Director of the University of Colorado’s Humour Research Lab put it,
‘The very same joke can make one person laugh, another person yawn, and another person cry. That is, there are these vast cultural differences in what people find funny … Gender is a terrible predictor of who’s going to be funny … The one good predictor of who is funny is intelligence … ‘
McGraw went on to say that people who are emotionally intelligent are in touch with their own experiences, as well as the experiences of others. Apparently they have the ability to combine seemingly unconnected ideas in a way that generates laughter.
Photograph: movie poster for The Grand Budapest Hotel.