Something that appears to separate humans from other species is our unquenchable thirst for pleasure and laughter. Stephen Hawking said that, “Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny”. It would be fascinating to know when on the evolutionary timeline animals first started to find things funny, and why.
Unlike the comparatively niche audiences of text, exhibitions and art, those interested in curating research explore tools and outputs which have universal appeal and borderless reach. Comedy ticks both those boxes – we all like to laugh.
“Pain is knowledge rushing in to fill a gap” – Jerry Seinfeld
Comedy has a lot in common with art. It reacts to an observation, experience or emotional resonance, presenting it to an audience. When a painter sees something profound they make a painting of it, a sculptor makes a sculpture, a photographer takes a photograph, a comedian builds a joke around it. The effect a well-written and well-delivered joke can have on someone could be compared to that of good art in that it deals in knowledge transfer. It is such a good delivery system for information because it can give pleasure whilst covering uncomfortable topics. It is almost literally the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. Delightful. A pleasure-seeking people are also a forgetful people. Comedy’s other form of genius is to make us remember things long after we hear them.
We might say comedy has undergone an educational (or even journalistic) turn in the past two decades driven in part by American TV shows (The Daily Show, 1996-, Last Week Tonight, 2014- and Patriot Act, 2018-) satirising the news with some journalistic rigor of their own. The most watched TED talk of all time is Sir Ken Robinson (TED, 2006) talking about education systems with no visual aids. This alone doesn’t sound compelling, but a series of anecdotes delivered in a well shaped stand-up routine is charming, demystifying and leaves you wanting more. John Leguizamo (Netflix, 2018) takes the idea of a comedy lecture one step further with elements of theatre and performance beamed straight in to our living rooms.
Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (2018) Netflix [Web series] USA: Netflix
Last Week Tonight (2014-) HBO [TV series] USA: CBS
Patriot Act (2018) Netflix [Web series] USA: Netflix
TED (2006) Ken Robinson: Do Schools Kill Creativity? Available at: ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity
The Daily Show (1996-) Comedy Central [TV series] USA: Comedy Central