Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Anatomy of a Funny

Understanding humor is the key to understanding people. If you understand why a joke is superior, you can express your approval through measured laughter.

Let's begin our study.

A priest and a rabbi walk into a bar. They should have ducked.

That's funny because when you hear the phrase "walk into a bar," you think the priest and rabbi are walking into a pub or tavern, but it turns out they are walking into a low-hanging bar, probably made of metal because when a metal bar and a human head come into contact, the result is a funny clunk sound. This form of humor is called ad absurdium deus. The "ad" prefix has no known meaning in Greek, "absurdum" is derived from the Celtic words "absur" and "dum," and God only knows what "deus" means.

Great, so that's a funny joke. When someone tells it, you can laugh the appropriate amount. But how can we make it funnier?

A goose and a swan walk into a bar. It remains unclear why they did not duck.

This joke is twice packed with double entendres, making what the French would call a quartois entendre. On the one hand, you have the same funny thing going on with "bar" referring not to a tavern but to a metal pipe likely covered with barbed spikes. Now add to that the humor association among the goose, the swan, and "duck," and you have a delightfully fowl joke. That's called "word play," and it's something that is funny. Also know that it's funny when an animal hits its head against something metal, especially if it causes the animal to wobble or bleed.

Dare we make this joke funnier? We dare.

A mallard walks into a bar. Duck!

Some humor strikes the senses at such odd angles and with such twisted force that all mental processing of said humor is bypassed, resulting in a gut-level guffaw. This joke does exactly that.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Donut Panic

One of the things I like about Southern California is how the stores in strip malls are named. While driving from my parents' house to one of my sibling's houses, we see stores called "Liquor," "Pretzels," "Taxes," "Pets," and "Nails." Every now and then, someone like a dentist decides to get creative and call his store "Implants," but under the bright California sun, I can forgive that.*

* Note that I wrote "his" instead of "her" when referring to the dentist. I did that because in this example, the dentist is a Jewish male. Or maybe he's an elective surgeon. I don't actually live in California, so how would I know?

When we visited Portland later in the summer to visit Stan and Grey, I proclaimed to Wendy that Portland is a great city for two things: beer and donuts. (No, not the highly overrated Voodoo Donuts, which is nearly as mediocre as Top Pot donuts in Seattle.) Just as I made that proclamation during a rush of confidence, we both saw the same store:


I half-skidded into the parking lot and expected everyone to pile out of the car in a frenzy. The boys were busy with iPads and Wendy has issues with gluten and the like, so I walked into the store alone.

What happened next could only be described as panic.

With all the trays of delicious donuts to my left and center, my heart pounded. I had to blink a few times to clear my head. No good. My brain had stopped processing information in language and flashed thoughts in kaleidoscopic color. I saw a glazed raspberry donut that I used to like when I was in college, but I knew for a fact on some level that a glazed raspberry donut—even though you can see the enticing little red opening—is too sweet and seedy. In that donut store, the thought flitted into my head and left in a whirl. When asked what could be gotten for me, I replied:

"Raspberry donut, please."

In a moment of crisis, I choked. I suppose that I can take comfort in the number of times that I have ordered successfully in a similar situation, like that time I ordered Beef Wellington at Fresh Bistro. Or I can tell myself that I'm gainfully employed with a job I like and a family I love, and that I'm an above average wiffleball player, but that's all cold comfort in a time like that. I know what happened.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Lance Boils

Mr. Lance Armstrong made it into the news by confessing that he cheated in order to win his seven Tour de France titles. As a commuter cyclist, I have opinions about this matter. But before I offer my opinions, I'll offer some thoughts.

* My only personal experience with Mr. Armstrong occurred in August 2008. I was about 3 miles from the Leadville finish. While drinking a beer in the back of a pickup truck, Lance said to me, "Good job. Keep going." Or he might have been talking to the cyclist next to me—I was tired. Regardless, Lance and I have a personal relationship, which gives me extra insight into this matter.

* It's common knowledge that a whole bunch of cyclists were doping. Whenever the subject of doping comes up with my friends who track this kind of thing a whole lot more than I do, I raise two questions:

Question 1: In any given tour during Lance's run, who was the top-finishing clean rider? Was it the sixth-place rider, the 18th-place rider, 126th-place rider? My guess is that it was one of the French riders who finished somewhere around 30th place, but I have no idea.

Question 2: Who was the last clean rider to win the Tour? Greg LeMond? Probably.

Miguel Indurain and the Spaniards most likely started the heightened EPO-style cheating back in the early 90s that made other riders believe they had no shot at winning without using PEDs. Are more recent winners like Cadel Evans and Carlos Sastre clean? Again, I don't know.

One nice thing I've noticed while half-watching the tour over the last few years is that even the strongest climbers look like they're struggling on the steep ascents. It's possible they're clean.

Now, my opinions:

* While the cheating is bad, it makes sense on the "everyone else is doing it" level. What makes Armstrong's behavior particularly loathsome is how he went after accusers. He actually sued people for accusing him of doing something he was actually doing. He acted like a bully, both personally and legally.

* Armstrong has one of those great and terrible personalities like the best and worst conquerors. Armstrong starting LiveStrong is like Mussolini getting the trains to run on time.

* We don't celebrate moral courage that often. When was the last time you heard of a corporate executive who made a decision based on moral good rather than financial profit?

There is an interesting story in the news about the dramatic decline of violent crime coinciding with the drop in lead pollutants—especially lead paint and leaded gasoline. Apparently, lead made a bunch of urban youths more prone to violent behavior. Back in the day, energy executives saw studies about the damaging effects of lead, but instead of using ethanol as a gasoline additive, they went with the cheaper lead approach. Once the lead paint got cleaned up and we switched to unleaded gasoline, urban folks became less crazed.

I want to hear more stories about people doing the right thing, even though it costs them. There's no better place to start that with Lance Armstrong, who showed the courage of a winner in admitting to cheating. Bravo, Lance!

Good job. Keep going.