As the difference in age between me (now 36) and my students (eternally 13-14) continues to grow, one sad, sad fact has come to light: I don’t think I am funny to them. I am now only getting “polite laughs” from students who think a chuckle from them will help boost their grades. Besides the fact that they are probably right, it bums me out that my sense of humor no longer jibes with what the kids are into.
It used to. When I first starting teaching, I was 25- scarcely a decade removed from my students. I pretty much listened to the same music, watched the same TV shows, and went to the same movies as them. And they laughed at my witticisms, asides, and humorous takes on the oddities of life. Oh, how they laughed.
Anyway, what this confirms is something I have always thought to be true: Comedy does not age well. It’s a dangerous profession to grow old in; maybe the most dangerous, besides hip-hop.
Fletch has been running on HBO recently. This is one of my favorite 80’s comedies, and probably one of Chevy Chase’s two best movies (the other being Vacation. Sorry, Caddyshack people). Now, I still find it funny. But the jokes for me are frozen in time, much like a Jurassic Park mosquito trapped in amber.
My wife has tried to watch it- remember, she didn’t grow up with it- and didn’t find it nearly as amusing as I. Some of the big laughs I was sure would produce a chuckle fell flat. Dr. Rosenpenis? Nothing. Ball-bearings? Confused look. Steak sandwich and a steak sandwich? I think she was making herself some tea during this joke, so I paused it because, you know, she wouldn’t want to miss any of the jokes. Of course, I got the dreaded “You don’t have to pause it,” which translates to “I’m bored with Fletch, Brian.”
Did Fletch become less funny? No, but what was funny then isn’t necessarily funny now. Comedy is a weird thing; it really seems to have an expiration date. Look at Chevy Chase himself- what happened there? Who switched his comedy switch to ‘Off?’ For every funny movie that Chevy Chase has ever done, there are at least two that are unwatchable. I’m talking ‘Cops and Robbersons.’ I’m talking ‘Memoirs of an Invisible Man.’ I’m talking ‘Vegas Vacation.’
But before tangent off into how Chevy Chase has lost whatever ‘it’ is, let me retrace my steps back to the idea of a Comedy Lifespan. What is that lifespan? How long does something remain funny? And what translates to future generations?
I confess, I just don’t find the following things funny, and never have: The Three Stooges, The Little Rascals, The Marx Brothers, I Love Lucy, most of the Mel Brooks canon, MASH (the TV series), Alan King, or Rich Little.
But more disturbing are the things I used to find funny, and no longer do: Robin Williams. Billy Crystal. Most Saturday Night Live episodes. I haven’t found a Christopher Guest mockumentary funny since Best in Show. Steve Martin hasn’t made a funny movie since Bowfinger. Neither had Eddie Murphy, for that matter. And Bowfinger isn’t even that great.
The list goes on. Where is Dan Aykroyd? Martin Short? More recently, what has happened to Jim Carrey? I fear we have lost him as well, as his attempts at funny recently have yielded Yes Man and Fun With Dick and Jane. Or Mike Myers- somehow this guy, who was considered an heir to Peter Sellers throne a mere 12 years ago with the first Austin Powers movie produced last summer what was (apparently) the worst movie ever on earth that could ever be created even if someone created a terrible comedy machine that’s only job was to create terrible comedies and then the machine gained intelligence and somehow created even worse comedies: The Love Guru. But I haven’t seen it. Maybe it’s great.
Is it age that destroys the funny in someone? Losing touch with the comedy scene? I don’t know… All I know is what you think is hilarious today is going to be the subject of some kid’s eye roll tomorrow. Still, here are a few things that I do find funny today, right now. We’ll see tomorrow.
1. 30 Rock
2. Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show Good Job
3. Ricky Gervais’ podcasts
4. At least one joke per week on Family Guy
5. Chris Lilley – Summer Heights High
6. Flight of the Conchords (although I am already fading on them during the second season… see what I mean?)