I like beginning these with apologies and mea maxima culpas, so, let me say I’m sorry for being a bit absent. I been sleepwalking through a vicious cold for I don’t know how long. I had to get over said cold quickly enough to sit on a panel at ComicFest, and the sheer experience of being out in a crowd and talking to people killed me. I feel like a trembly Victorian who can’t go out of the house without a coming down with a fatal cough.
At any rate, that’s why there was no column. I was too sick to go see anything. Too sick to hook up the XBOX. I remember falling asleep to The Hangover, which may be where this little rant came from. I imagine it was also spun out of all the hours I spent under my comforter, waiting for cold meds to kick in, contemplating my life and the people in it.
You see, I’ve discovered something — I’m tired of Funny People. Not the Judd Apatow movie, and not even people who are actually funny (or at least not all of the time), but people who seem to make it their goal to be Hilarious.
I’m not humorless. I love comedy. I love goofy people. When I’m around people, I’m rarely the real and serious me — though I actually want to be — because the circumstances are always some heightened and zany thing. We’re having fun! Everyone be funny! The online world in particular is one of catchy phrases, snark, and wit. Irreverence has trickled into every aspect of our world, even news programs, because everyone behind a desk wants to be Jon Stewart.
Maybe I’m just suffering post-cold malaise, or perhaps I’m just bitter and old. But I find myself craving conversation. Not even serious conversation, necessarily (I have plenty of light conversations with people about comics, films, pets, even normally heated subjects like politics or religion) but just the real back and forth that human beings are supposed to have. Instead, I find myself subjected to a series of wisecracks. I’ll say or tweet something perfectly normal about the film, the food, the atmosphere, or the music that’s playing, and the response is some “hey hey!” remark that just isn’t that amusing. Even if I’m not technically part of the conversation, and I’m just reading the updates of my far flung world on Twitter or Facebook, I’m struck by how many “Look at me, I’m juggling, Ha ha, Jesus Christ I’m so funny, listen to me!” posts there are. It’s like a constant open mic night.
I even have a theory about it. I don’t think it’s all to do with social networking — though that’s a huge part of it; attention only comes from being garish — but I can’t help but notice that all the participants are about the same age. We’re all in our 20s to 30s and at various ends of the timeline. We all (but not necessarily) have an enthusiastic interest in cinema and television, and we all were turned onto that love by the same films. Plenty of snarky and bitter commentary has been written about the nostalgic deathgrip so many have on those films — Back to the Future, The Karate Kid, Star Wars, The Goonies, Lethal Weapon, Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, Big Trouble in Little China, Top Gun, etc. — but has anyone stopped and wondered if too many used them to shape their identity in the most literal way?
Perhaps I should boil it down to one example — I run into a lot of Peter Venkmans. I always loved Peter Venkman, or the sarcastic and quippy Christian Slater types, so this appealed enormously to me when I was younger, and these are the types of men I would fall for. I’ve slowly come to realize that for many, this is a persona they’ve applied. There is nothing else underneath. The wisecracks are all they’ve got. The harder you push them to care about something, anything, the more desperate and sweaty the one-liners become. Because what they forgot, above all else, was that Venkman was Bill Murray, and Murray studied philosophy and history at the Sorbonne. Ok, he did that post-Ghostbusters, but pre-Scrooged, and no one goes to the Sorbonne without a vested interested in humanities, so my point still stands — there’s a person under Venkman. Venkman is not just a wisecrack, and even as a character, he had a doctorate. Humor — real humor — comes from experience, life, and a deeper understanding of the world.
I think this is why so many of my generation cling so desperately to these films and television shows. They are the foundations of too many personalities, and you have to keep refreshing the well. I don’t know what happened that so many failed to develop something besides an imitation — politicians would probably blame The Home and feminism or something — but it’s startling and strange. Why are so many inventing personalities? Why did they stop developing and start imitating in the hopes of being beloved?
And I do feel it’s altered the tone of everything. Everything has to be presented to us in light and palatable form, full of jazz hands and winks, because it’s the only language we understand. Mark Harris’ much discussed article on The Day the Movies Died pointed to this — the way the industry has “dumbed down” and shunned the intelligent, mature film in favor of the quickie sensations given by a blockbuster, how we enshrine arrested development — but even he doesn’t touch on how this might actually affect or reinforce every day behavior. Probably because it’s crazy. But I don’t think it’s an accident that any conversation I have with an older person (say, 40 and upward) can actually be a conversation. No one undercuts a point with a “joke” and the awkward pause where they expect me to laugh at their sheer, incredible timing and inability to take themselves and any issue seriously. (Someone quite recently said “I bet you still live the quippy Christian Slater types” and I couldn’t deny fast enough. “NO! I want someone who can shut the fuck up once and awhile!”)
I’d like to put it down to what I do for a living, but it’s not that. I don’t even think it’s exclusive to the socially awkward geek crowd. It’s everywhere. And though I’ve mentioned men a lot, I’ve seen it growing in women now that we’ve got Leslie Mann, Cameron Diaz and Tina Fey running around. Again, they don’t seem to realize Fey’s humor isn’t something you ape, but that it comes from having been a certain, brainy, awkward type and learning to laugh to laugh at it, not deciding that’s who you will be because it’s popular. You have to be serious before you can be funny. And not everyone is funny. There’s always been that obnoxious guy/girl who thinks they are … but when did there get to be so damn many of them?