NOTE: This article is a republication- Source: The Atlantic (by James Parker)
What do you get if you give a whale a cellphone? Moby Dick pics.
I made that one up. Is it funny? I don’t think so. Nonetheless, it’s a joke. Or what Jesse David Fox, in his compendious, deeply considered, provoking, and rather dizzying new Comedy Book, calls a “joke-joke.” A verbal-conceptual circuit, an abstract frivolity. “Joke-jokes,” Fox writes, “are jokes you find in joke books. They’re freestanding, authorless, utilitarian tools to produce laughter.” Or if not laughter, then perhaps just a faint tickle in the forebrain, as of a very tiny problem, solved.
Fox, a comedy critic at New York magazine, is explaining joke-jokes to distinguish them from what comedians mean when they say “jokes”—comedy jokes—which are bits, stories, ideas, images, moods, themes, words, basically anything that produces the comedy feeling, that does the thing that comedy is supposed to do.
Which is what, exactly? What’s comedy for? Ah, well, now we’re in it. Comedy is for jabbing us in our pleasure centers. For being nice by being nasty. For puncturing grandiosity. For relieving tension, creating tension, living in tension. It’s for making us laugh, but then again—is it?
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