Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What we find funny then and now

I just had to share this music clip. Mavis Staples, Wilco and Nick Lowe rehearsing the old Band song “The Weight.” I’ve been on a bit of The Band kick as of late and this is just an amazing cover of the song. Mavis Staples just sings the hell out of the song. You can even see the guys in Wilco just take a step back in wonder when she starts to sing.

I’ve been thinking recently about just where my sense of humor comes from. Meaning just what was I exposed to as a child that determined what I felt was funny and, more importantly, influenced my writing style and my brand of humor. Ok, at least I think that at times I can be a funny writer intentionally. But what I wanted to think about is what drove it.

If you made me list the TV shows that I watched as a kid (say before I turned 10) that influenced me the most I would say The Muppet Show, The Monkees and Monty Python. Yes, even as a 10 year old I was aware of Monty Python. Add in the Douglas Adams “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” series and Dave Barry columns and you have the main components of what would make up my brand of humor and I would have to say that I am not alone in that regard. Now here is the interesting bit, not only were all those shows meant for adults but they instilled in myself and a lot of other people in Gen X a very specific brand of comedy.

Think about those shows. All three of the TV shows completely ignored the fourth wall and were full of self-referential, meta-humor. The idea of a running plot was only vaguely considered important and in many instance it was just gag upon gag upon gag. Now is it surprising that Seth MacFarlane, who created Family Guy, is a month younger than I am? We have the same influences and create what we have always found to be funny. Even a show like How I Met Your Mother is written to my generation due to the reliance on running jokes and constant gags while something like Two and a Half Men with its more classic sitcom format is geared to the aging Baby Boomers who grew up with more straightforward sitcoms.

You can see the same thing with music. When I was young I was first introduced to music with new wave and punk and when I grew older that combined itself into grunge. Add in country music and you have the entire alternative country scene. We take the influences that we have as children and meld them to what we want to create as we age.

Sadly this means that as I continue to age and move out of the target market what I find funny will no longer make the air. Music today is being made by those who grew up in the latest era of the boy bands and bubble gum pop. Someone who thought that Friends was the epitome of comedy is working on a new sitcom. That is just the way the cycle of culture works. Thank god for DVD collections.

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