Have you ever not gotten a joke? Occasionally, during a round of joke-telling, someone will laugh nervously, looking around at the rest of the group, before sheepishly saying, “I don’t get it.” When the joke is explained, they say, “Oh, yeah. I get it. That’s funny.” But it’s not the same as a laugh. Verbal recognition of something’s comic potential is just an empty signifier, standing in place of a laugh. Imagine if that’s how we all responded to comedy: not by laughing, but by saying, “That’s funny.” I’m picturing Louis C.K.’s next stand-up gig, and a room full of people just nonchalantly agreeing that what he’s saying is funny.
Now that I think about it, that’s actually kind of funny.
But sometimes someone doesn’t get a joke because they have no idea it’s a joke. You see this happen a lot online, as when Fox Nation reported an Onion article as truth. Other times, individuals don’t understand that what they are watching is a joke, a satire, a parody, etc. One great example of this is the Scary Movie franchise, which emerged as a parody of Scream (with other horror film elements thrown in). Now, the irony here is that Scream is itself a satiric parody of the horror genre–and specifically, of Wes Craven’s (its creator’s) own horror oeuvre. It’s scary, and it adheres to the conventions of horror–but that’s what a good parody does or satire does. Etymology helps here:
Satire: From the Latin for “full plate.” So, take the general idea of a thing, and exaggerate it, expand it.
Parody: From the Greek for “beside” and “song.” So, it’s poetry that is meant to stand beside something, mimicking it in a sort of burlesque. Often, parody necessitates an understanding of the original piece, but some skilled parodies can stand on their own (you don’t need to understand the phenomena of airplane/airport disaster films that Airplane! is parodying to find the film funny, for example).
Scary Movie, then, is a parody of a satirical parody. It’s a clone of a clone. And we all know what happens when clones clone themselves. This is why, in my opinion, Scary Movie is a failed premise out of the gate. They didn’t get the inherent joke of Scream.
MTV’s Wonder Showzen is an interesting little experiment. A parody of children’s programming, Wonder Showzen uses all the tropes of children’s TV, but combines them with issues related to substance abuse, sexuality, blasphemy, vulgarity… the list goes on. It’s an ugly, dark, and pretty overt joke. There’s nothing else really happening on the show–no grand narrative, no major social satire à la South Park. Just a dark parody that pushes the boundaries of taste and aims to offend. However, Pastor Daniel Castle just didn’t get it. And he proceeds to give a play-by-play recount of the satanic, diabolic, blasphemous, heathen, profane, noxious “children’s program” to his congregation. The result is… well, just watch it:
Tell me that wasn’t amazing. I want every episode of Wonder Showzen to be narrated by this dude. I mean he makes this thing so goddamn meta that I thought it had to be fake when I first saw it. The thing keeps folding over on itself–it’s almost as if the show is responding in time to Castle’s accusations, getting uglier and uglier as he gets angrier and angrier. It’s like Inception, but with puppets and bibles. It had to be fake, I thought. But all signs point to this as an honest, sincere, heated diatribe against the satanic cult of MTV 2 (not even MTV… MTV 2. Which he says at the beginning of his diatribe, and I’ll be damned if that doesn’t make it even better). Wonder Showzen even starts with the disclaimer:
Wonder Showzen contains offensive, despicable content that is too controversial and too awesome for actual children. The stark, ugly and profound truths Wonder Showzen exposes may be soul-crushing to the weak of spirit. If you allow a child to watch this show, you are a bad parent or guardian.
He just doesn’t get it, and without even realizing it, he turns the episode into a perfect storm of pure, undiluted God-rage and complete and utter cluelessness. When his audience begins to chime in, things really get good. He’s winning them over, I thought. They’re buying this. And there were probably children in the audience. Which keeps making it better. This video is like a goddamn Hydra. Castle chops off one head and two grow back in its place.
Sometimes, when you don’t get the joke, you end up embarrassing yourself. But sometimes, there are those rare moments where not getting a joke leads to the whole thing getting even funnier. Now I can’t explain why exactly that happens, nor do I really want to dissect it.
I don’t get it. But I like it.