The Absurd Epistolary Adventures of the Astonishing FartMan chronicles the amusing escapades
of the lovable, stinky, and obnoxious Cape & Tights Super Hero, and his maudlin Alter Ego, W____,
as they learn to cope with Stage IV colon cancer, each other, and their annoying fellow human beings.

Monday, September 19, 2011

If You Have to Explain It, How Funny Can It Be?

From: T. A. FartMan
Sent: September 19, 2011 4:03 AM
To: W_____
Subject: Of Coyotes and Road Runners

Dear W_____,

When I read this piece by Christopher Hitchens, I thought of you and me and S____.

It seems that humor is a formidably serious subject, so much so that Hitchens must write 1500 words to explain an old joke, the oldest, cruelest, stalest, most unfunny joke ever, which is the eternal battle of the sexes.

It is often said that anger interferes with the ability to think. To the contrary, anger concentrates thinking intensely . . . toward revenge! It's laughter that hinders thinking. Laughter disarms precisely because one cannot remain angry while laughing, but more precisely because one cannot think (about revenge!) while laughing.

Wit is always cruel. A joke, unlike you white people, always has a butt. Hobbes, not wrongly, defined laughter as the involuntary expression of a feeling of "sudden glory" upon the observation of someone else's misery, humiliation, or deformity. Even supposedly self-deprecating humor is cruel, the cruelest, because the table-turning martyr tricks his audience into playing the role of a laughing sadist. The cruelest thing, and the funniest, is to make someone else appear haplessly cruel. Thus, the philosopher's irony, the highest form of humor, is the form of humor most cruel toward one's fellow human beings--a substitute for the physical injury the philosopher is too lazy, too cowardly, or too uncaring to inflict. (Every law student, if they weren't all such 5FUing idiots, would identify the professor's purportedly ironic purportedly Socratic method neither as a teaching tool, nor as a rhetorical strategy, but as revenge extracted in advance.)

Because humor both disarms and wounds, nothing can be more frustratingly infuriating than to be made the butt of a joke. We all know this truth--learned from the playground mob--although the wiser among us pretend otherwise. With ears on fire, we laugh along, so that we might plot revenge without exciting suspicion. Nothing infuriates more than to see oneself made the butt of a joke, unless it is one's own joke, i.e., a joke about a martyred saint or a philosopher, in which cases one pretends to be the victim.

Humor is always duplicitous: deceptive, even deceitful, yet revelatory. It makes unspeakable truth speakable, civilizing the cruelty of truth within the dubious poetry and perfume of the absurd: the sound of cannon and the whiff of powder and a loud, smelly, perfectly synchronized fart. Humor absolutely requires a confusion of the cruel and the ridiculous. To sense the confusion is to "get" the joke. Of those who can't quickly sort out that confusion, we say they don't get the joke.

The best humor is that of which the ones laughing think they have sorted out the confusion, but have not, while the ones not laughing think there's nothing worth sorting out. The best humor inspires no false laughter. Either they get the joke, or they think they get the joke, or they don't get the joke and don't care, or they don't think there's a joke to be got, but no one pretends to get it. No one chuckles politely, and no one chuckles nervously from feeling left out. No one feels indignant, unless that's what's wanted.  The best humor is that of which only a very sad few can get the joke.

The best humor commonly arouses indignation or boredom, because one or the other of two necessary elements, either truth or ridiculousness, although present, appears to be absent: indignation, if truth appears to have been neglected, because false ridicule seems malicious to good people, especially when aimed at themselves; boredom, if ridicule appears to have been left out, because truth unadorned with ridicule seems tiresome to most people, especially when aimed at themselves.

(Even truth adorned with beauty seems tiresome to almost everyone. Of course, most of us deny this accusation as to ourselves, as I do. We deny the accusation because we don't realize that what we perceive as beautiful is not beautiful but ridiculous, if not in itself, then in our perception of it. Unfortunately, even the absurdity of our perception of beauty will not always be sufficient to prevent our frequently becoming bored by it, probably because there is so much of it around. That we are not all of us permanently irredeemably bored by beauty is the Astonishing thing . . .  one of the great mysterious unaccountable blessings. So worry not! There are many, many, many failings much, much, much worse than having no sense of beauty, so long as you have a sense of humor about it . . . and so long as you keep up a longing for it, even if you haven't the faintest idea what it is you're longing for.)

The very best humor is that of which only the jokester himself gets the joke, the cut so sharp that the wound is painless or seems insignificant, and heals instantly, but leaves its victim unsettled and forever altered in ways he will not easily perceive, similar to the experience of having been abducted by aliens. The very best humor manifests the philosopher's irony as his highest practical virtue, which is his utter uselessness.

The very best humor is at least doubly duplicitous . . .  just like we are,  you and me,  W___ and The Astonishing One, the Loyal Long-Suffering Alter Ego and his One and Only Cape & Tights Super Hero, you and me.

And I remain . . .

Your Melodious and Malodorous,
T.A. FartMan

PS. Along the same lines, here's a "beautiful piece of heartache," to encourge a "healthy apathy":

Latter Days *
What a beautiful piece of heartache this has all turned out to be.
Lord knows we've learned the hard way all about healthy apathy.
And I use these words pretty loosely.
There's so much more to life than words.
There is a me you would not recognize, dear. Call it the shadow of myself.
And if the music starts before I get there dance without me. You dance so gracefully.
I really think I'll be o.k. They've taken their toll these latter days.
Nothin' like sleepin' on a bed of nails. Nothin' much here but our broken dreams.
Ah, but baby if all else fails, nothin' is ever quite what it seems.
And I'm dyin' inside to leave you with more than just cliches.
There is a me you would not recognize, dear. Call it the shadow of myself.
And if the music starts before I get there dance without me. You dance so gracefully.
I really think I'll be o.k. They've taken their toll these latter days.
But tell them it's real. Tell them it's really real.
I just don't have much left to say.
They've taken their toll these latter days.
They've taken their toll these latter days.

* Lyrics by Linford Detweiler from Over the Rhine's song "Latter Days" on the album Good Dog Bad Dog. You should buy it, either the original 1996 release or the live 2010 version.