Postponing the End of Humor


I often worry about the end of humor. What will the last joke look like? Will there be difficulty in recognizing it? Will people find themselves responding, “Heard that one,” “Nope—been done,” until months later, they realize there’s nothing left? Or will the last joke be so extravagantly, lusciously funny that humor will simply retire by universal acclaim? End-of-humor skeptics may argue that new situations breed new jokes, but one must point to the literary experts. Everything has been done before, usually in a language you can’t read. It is well known that tube worms, on first acquiring communication skills, immediately said, “Take my recent mate’s synclonal antecedent—please.”

If one could develop an anti-humor and expunge a particular joke from universal memory, it might be reusable. Unfortunately the most effective form of anti-humor is the American sitcom, and I for one would rather have a colonoscopy.

I would like to advance an alternative called “humor fragmentation.” Consider the Dave Barry classic about women who, faced with a choice between saving a child and catching a fly ball, will invariable save the child, without even considering whether there are men on base. True economy of humor could extend the use of this joke in a business context, and thus postpone the end of humor, by allowing subcontracted comedians to draw on a fragmented joke pool. One comedian would use a child of zero to five years of age, while another gets older children, a third might pay less for beloved family pets, and other comedians would pay nominal syndication rights to use the joke structure, or template, with beloved cars, vases, or synclonal antecedents. Variants including “women on base” and “stopping a grounder” would go for less; in fact Barry might pay his competitors not to use them. Application of these principles to international business, however, will require specially trained experts; for example, the Chinese knee-slapper “Sticky rice on your ear makes your neighbor’s wife eat the dog with crying chopsticks” cannot readily be parceled for resale unless an expert in Chinese culture is there to judge whether the rice can be replaced by pickled cabbage, or whether the wife could be a snow leopard.

There is said to be a vast field of humor under the eastern half of the Indian Subcontinent, and Australia is virtually floating on an untapped sea of chuckles, yet environmental considerations are central. Laughing expels copious quantities of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Responding to this threat, a highly progressive group of Senators from the intellectually advanced state of <your state> has advanced the proposal of taxing humor, both to moderate consumption and to generate revenue for research into renewable humor sources. The initial difficulty in deciding whether relation of the joke or the laughter itself should be the taxable event was eventually resolved by considering the joke-response system as a holistic humor-involving process, with value added at each stage.

But the Senate just laughed.