Podcasts on Comedy

My improv partner Shannon turned me on to The Sound of Young America, a radio show about things that are awesome. Actually its more like an interview show that focuses on comedians. I like it because on most shows when they interview comedians, they ask the comedians to re-hash their schtick. But on Sound of Young America he asks them about their technique and philosophies as well as their careers in comedy.

Sound of Young America turned me on to the Word Nerds, a weekly podcast about words and language hosted by three high school teachers. I’ve only listened to one show, but I really liked it. It was all about jokes and the structure and method of jokes. Most of the show, they went through all the different kinds of jokes and humor and what made things funny. But what struck me as most interesting was they opened the show with asserting that jokes are aggressive by nature. They say that humor is a tool for expressing the taboo or inexpressible in an acceptable way, by making it something funny and palatable. They point to racist or sexist humor and give an example of a blonde joke.

I wonder if comedy is aggressive by its very nature. I do agree that often comedy is about communicating truths that are often unspoken. And I guess that saying the unspoken is aggressive. But what about self-deprecating humor, is that aggressive? Bob Newhart? There is a lot of standup comics that I label “angry comics.” These guys yell into microphones and vent their anger and are usually not my favorite. But I also think there are lots of kind and even positive comics. Ellen Degeneris, for example.

But this comedy is aggressive thing fits with my experience with women in comedy. I think it is part of why it is less acceptable or encouraged for women to be funny, because comedy is a aggressive and powerful act. It means you can cut someone down and take away their power. A trait not often welcomed in a lady.

Any thoughts on whether comedy is aggressive? Is all art aggressive? Or all good art? What do you think?

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About Shana Merlin

Merlin Works is the brainchild of Shana Merlin: improviser, teacher, and performer. Since 1996, she’s been leading classes that stretch people’s imaginations, push them out of their comfort zones, and make them laugh out loud for hours at a time.
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  1. Sara said:

    Though laughter can be an expression of joy, I have also seen it used as a defense mechanism. Maybe “humor” can be defined as a play off that defense mechanism — an agressive social comment that triggers laughter? Often when I hear something agressive, I will laugh to show that I am not offended (unless I really am offended).

    I have also made the mistake of trying to desiguise a harsh truth in humor to make the truth less painful and more acceptable – it never works. Maybe the reason why defining humor is so hard is that it is based on an standard that is constantly changing, socially and personally?


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