Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A few words about humor (actually, more than a few!)

From Jonathan Swift to Saturday Night Live and The Onion -- and now, absrdCOMEDY -- writers have used satire to offer what Wikipedia (see below) describes as “constructive social criticism.” In other words, food for thought, served with humor. Parody -- a close, if lighter, cousin -- aims less to be constructive than to get laughs (and perhaps provide a degree of insight) by revealing ironies, inconsistencies and contradictions, often with the use of mockery and ridicule.

Since first discovering these two genres, in high-school freshman English, I have savored both for their potential to make people laugh and their power to prompt serious thought about real-life social, cultural, political and international issues. I began writing satire and parody myself while editor of my high school newspaper and I continued in college, after which I got a “real” writing job. 

So imagine my delight earlier this year when I discovered absrdCOMEDY, a flourishing home for parody and satire. Actually, I discovered Michigan comedian Jeff Dwoskin’s absrdNEWS Twitter account first. Open-sourced, anyone could contribute. I started to. Jeff was already thinking web site when I and others encouraged him to take the plunge. He did. I wrote some of the earliest entries for absrdCOMEDY -- specifically, The Cave Times and Real Putin News, which I continue to write, along with posts under my own name. I also wrote part of the site's disclaimer, which I still think is kinda, sorta, maybe funny: Individual opinions expressed are those of the individual authors, not necessarily of absrdComedy, and may not even be those of the individual authors.

Jonathan Swift. Read his famous "A Modest Proposal"

Some people spend their few spare moments in the busy day playing Angry Birds or Candy Crush, or noodling around on Facebook or Twitter, or arranging their spice shelves, or whatever. In my leisurely moments, I write snippets of satire and parody, and stuff without higher purpose beyond a smile or a laugh. Whether they’re funny and thought-provoking or not -- well, you be the judge.

Under Jeff’s stewardship -- he calls himself Chief Creative Officer (I like that one!) -- absrdCOMEDY has continued to grow and grow. I am happy to be a part-time part of things -- and I like how it brings me down Memory Lane. One of my acquaintances in college was the great humorist Jim Downey, who went from Harvard and the Harvard Lampoon to become one of the legendary writers (and occasional actor) for Saturday Night Live. And two of my college friends were the late Mark O’Donnell and his Emmy-winning twin brother Steve, marvelous comedians and satirists/parodists themselves. I am hardly in their league, of course, nor in the rarefied place held by New York Times satirist Gail Collins, whose columns never fail to hit the mark. 

But in and around my "real" writing (mostly at 5 or 6 a.m.), I am having fun, with my modest little contributions to two genres of literature whose roots are in ancient Greece -- but which have never been more relevant than in today’s crazy world.

Satire is a genre of literature, and sometimes graphic and performing arts, in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government or society itself, into improvement.[1] Although satire is usually meant to be humorous, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit as a weapon and as a tool to draw attention to both particular and wider issues in society.
Read more about satire's long history here.

And if you are really into wasting time (that's parody, folks... or is it satire?), read about parody here.

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