The first rule of comedy: Aim up

Last night in Vancouver comedian Ian Harris came to town as part of his “Critical & Thinking” Tour. The show has been promoted by the BC Humanist Association and other skeptical groups, so naturally many of my friends in town went to the event.

From the reports, it sounds like Ian Harris was funny and a hit.

Unfortunately, the host for the evening at Yuk Yuk’s, the comedy club that hosted the event, was less humorous: discussing rape, ranting about feminists, and generally complaining about half* of the human species. When his ‘jokes’ fell flat, he suggested men would pretend to not find them funny or boo him just to get laid.

This line isn’t unfamiliar to anyone who tries to defend their jokes against the “politically correct police” or the liberal censorship brigade.

What it misses though is one of the keys to good comedy and satire: The targets of your jokes should be at least as well off as you.

Consider the medieval court jester. This ancient comedian’s job was not to mock the poor and destitute but to provide some relief to them by satirizing the nobility.

Jokes and comedy are a means of social equalizing. We make fun of ourselves, those like us, and poke fun at those in positions of privilege relative to us.

When the jokes are used the other way – when the rich mock the poor, when men make fun of female stereotypes, when white people joke about Asians or people of colour, etc. – it’s merely another form of oppression. Making fun of someone beneath you is pathetic. It’s kicking someone when their down.

There’s a human need to cheer for the underdog. We like it when our team comes from a few points behind to win and feel outraged when a dictator prosecutes their citizens. Similarly, the most effective comedy breaks down privilege and gives the otherwise disadvantaged a chance to stand up for themselves.

Aim your jokes up, otherwise you just look like a dick.



5 thoughts on “The first rule of comedy: Aim up”

  1. If you think humour is about what you ‘should’ laugh at… you’re missing quite a lot. Humour is much more complex than that… and so are human beings. We often laugh hardest, in spite of ourselves. And what we laugh at often tells us quite a bit. Aim for understanding not ideological purity.

    1. It’s not about whether we should laugh at them or find them funny – even a rape joke has the potential to be hilarious – this is about whether he should be telling the jokes. Its obvious they fell flat because the audience wasnt laughing. People don’t prrtend not to find stuff funny, have you ever managed to stifle a laugh at a good joke? Making fun of ‘feminazis’ is played out- its boring comedy. ‘Aim up’ isn’t even about liberals or censorship, it’s comedy 101.

      1. — Making fun of ‘feminazis’ is played out- its boring comedy.

        Your opinion.

        Comedy 101: making “people” laugh.

        It’s not just about you.

        You can certainly say: I don’t find that funny.

        Telling others what is funny… is just preaching…

        This is where the old joke about there not being a comedy section in the feminist bookstore comes from. People preaching what is funny and what is not.

        If I laugh. It is funny.

        Comedians obviously want to make lots of people laugh, not just ‘progressives’.

  2. Agreed. Pointing out that the emperor has no clothes is edgy. Pointing out that a poor person has no clothes just makes you an asshole.

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