When exactly is it that comics, as in newspaper comics (also known as funny papers), became unfunny? And I’m not talking Family Circus unfunny, I mean in some cases downright depressing.
Take for example the never stellar but previously okay For Better or For Worse. Looking it up on the internet (cause let’s face it, that’s what I do), I found it’s a Canadian panel about a suburban Toronto family and that one of the remarkable things about it was that the characters aged in real time. As a child, I remember it being a sort of my-family’s-so-silly sort of funny. Maybe it’s my faulty memory making it slightly more amusing than it really was, but when I returned to reading the comics several years later the plotline was about somebody’s rape and the subsequent trial and emotional trauma. Not even remotely funny.
Funky Winkerbean is another example. I remember it being mostly revolving around a high school. I remember there were characters in the band, I remember a pizza place where characters slacked off, I remember the occasional laugh or so. This week when I opened the paper for some meaningless laughs it featured a middle aged couple walking around a fairground discussing which living facility to place an aging parent. There was actually a line that read “It’s sad to think she’s so young and already knows life will break her heart.”
Even Crankshaft, a spin-off from Winkerbean, about a crotchety old man has turned into some serious life commentary. Crankshaft’s antics used to be sort of funny, now it’s just about getting older and older and all the complications that come with that.
To which I say; really?? Are these supposed to be mindless escapism? Perhaps they take longer to read but I’ve always preferred to find my social commentary in books. Hell, even television does better than this shit. The comics are supposed to be the frothy section, the section I couldn’t wait to read every Sunday morning when I was a kid. I am unsure as to whether or not I want my ten year old sister reading about somebody’s rape.
Now, it wasn’t until writing this down that I realized what the problem is. Real time. Charlie Brown never got any older, and every once in while I still chuckle when Lucy jerks that football away from him. As soon as you get real time involved real life comes along with it, and there is nothing funny about that. Things like rape, and cancer, and people getting older and decrepit happen in real life, why do we need them in the so called funny papers?
I suppose I need to go to other places in order to find my comedy.
Sometimes I read the ‘Missed Connections’ in personals columns. Usually it’s to give myself a bit of a laugh at the skeevy people who write them looking for so and so who was wearing that sexy skirt at the mall that day (whoever that fountain jumper was at Easton mall a couple years ago definitely managed to turn a few heads). The misspellings and the incorrect grammar… they’re really hilarious. But sometimes I read them and I don’t chuckle. Sometimes I start thinking about the people who must be behind that, writing in a newpaper or website trying to find someone they genuinely liked and didn’t have the courage to talk to, and I just get sad.
I like shows about socially awkward people, probably because I’m sort of socially awkward myself. The sort of shows where everything goes wrong for the characters. Yeah, I know they aren’t real, but it’s nice to know there’s someone else out there who everything goes wrong for, and who are incapable (apparently) of making things work right for themselves.
I was watching Peep Show while thinking of this. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this program it’s about two utterly ridiculous guys, Mark and Jeremy, living together in a flat in South London. It’s pretty much an Odd Couple situation except neither of them, no matter what they think, can manage to function like normal human beings. Mark’s an uptight, suit clad, pessimistic, loan manager and Jeremy is an arrogant slacker who doesn’t do much except loaf around all day and call himself a musician. There’s honestly not much to like about Jeremy as a person except that he’s played by Robert Webb and is hysterical. Mark, on the other hand, well… I have a soft spot for Mark. I might have a soft spot for David Mitchell in general, but he’s just so completely clueless and inept at his job, his women, and well… his life. What’s more; Mark is always so willing to accept the inevitable depressing outcome that will most likely come his way. Take this exchange from episode three of the brand new series, a conversation between Mark and a girl he’s interested in;
Dobby: “You don’t want to be happy, it makes you worried because you think it will end and then you’ll be more miserable.”
Mark: [Interior monologue] “Pop psychology, but pretty much on the money.”
I suppose it is it shouldn’t be surprising that I would find this sort of thing amusing, but, after enjoying Mark yelling at a hot water boiler for far too long in one episode I had to start examining this further.
Take for example another British sitcom, The IT Crowd. I have introduced this show to several people and haven’t had a miss yet. Probably because it’s just hilarious. It centers around two IT guys and their ‘relationship manager’ who work for a ‘leading industrial corporation’ called Reynholm Industries (seriously, http://www.reynholm.co.uk/). They are basically the lowest of the low, cordoned into the junk piled basement where they have many socially awkward escapades. And I mean socially awkward. For example; in a memorable episode in series three the two male characters attempt to have normal friendships with men by visiting a website that teaches them football (read: soccer) statistics and lingo. I’m sorry, they need a website to interact with other people. And oh how I wish that website existed (http://www.bluffball.co.uk/). Then there’s Jen, the relationship manager who acts as a bridge between the IT department and the rest of the company, basically because the IT department can not seem to speak to anyone else without causing calamity. Yet, just by being in the IT department her social skills seem to be declining. Of course, my social skills wouldn’t be too hot either if I was dating a man who looked like a magician. All three characters, with the careful application of The Mighty Boosh‘s Noel Fielding as the goth Richmond in some episodes, are ridiculous… which is obviously what makes the show, but really it’s Jen acting as comedic foil against Roy and Moss’s ineptitude. It seems like it’s always guys.
Take The Big Bang Theory for example. Here we have four physicists hanging out blissfully in their Pasadena apartment doing their typically geeky things like video games, arguing over which Sci-Fi series to watch, or playing Klingon Boggle. Enter Penny, the blonde waitress from across the hall with all the social skills. The point of the show, really, is what happens when you take some seriously ridiculous smart people and thrust them into the real world. Or, well, their version of the real world. And their version of the real world is sort of a lot like mine. They get take out, they watch videos, they go to all night marathons of Planet of the Apes, they go to the comic book store, bars, have occasional dates, but mostly they hang out together. Well, I can relate, even if when I am hanging out with friends I’m usually not trying to help fix a toilet for the International Space Station that my friend fucked up designing. And seriously… their jokes are funny. I mean, I know I’m a loser but I laugh, and not just at them. Okay, so I went to science camp when I was a kid, but I’m not exactly proficient in it now. When exactly did I start thinking science jokes were funny? Maybe it’s just because I’m so ultra clever and exceptionally well read (ps. I’m modest too). It’s probably just that I’ve spent far too many long hours on Wikipedia looking up base info on particle colliders.
Then there is Felicia Day’s The Guild, which revolves around a group who call themselves the Knights of Good playing a, World of Warcraftesque, Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (or MMORPG have you). Day created the series as a way of showing the world that not everyone who plays MMORPGs are either high school losers or thirty year old men still living in their mother’s basement. Well, I really don’t play World of Warcraft but that doesn’t mean I can’t relate to the tendency to withdraw from the world and into the internet, at least a little bit. In the first season of webisodes the Guild emerge from behind their avatars and meet each other, helping each other through various ups and downs and basic crises, all while managing to keep up with their busy eight hour a day gaming schedule. This is one of the few examples of equal opportunity geekiness, and it may not be my brand of geekiness, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining, or the social awkwardness less pronounced.
Now, why do I like these types of show? Well, that’s obvious. I’m socially awkward myself. I know I have said this before, but surprisingly a rather substantial amount of people don’t seem to believe me. It stems from one thing, shyness. And this is another thing that people tend not to believe. Well, yes, once I know you (or if I have had a few too many) I tend to talk the ear off you. I can be downright annoying in that respect, I am sure. But when I am confronted with a group of people I do not know, I am inundated with a crippling weight of panic, which generally results in me awkwardly standing in the corner wishing it was socially acceptable to pull out a book and read during a party. I generally opt for alcohol instead, it helps. This is also not helped by the fact that I can not dance. Seriously. Literally my body does not move. I am sometimes convinced my hips are locked in place via some sort of genetic malfunction. It’s not a good idea to expect me to dance without imbibing me with far too much alcohol to even remember the event in the morning. And in my defense, I have tried.
I also don’t like being places on my own. Take this example as a for instance. About a year ago my best friend and her husband invited me along to see some paintings up at a bar near us that were inspired by John Waters. I mean, I was obviously going, they are paintings inspired by John Waters. But the bar in question in located in between our two domiciles. I would be completely stupid for them to pick me up and arrive together, so we decided to do the normal thing and meet there. Well, said friend and her husband are always late. Always. And I am not even talking a couple minutes. I mean, I don’t even bother getting ready on time anymore cause they’re not arriving for ten to twenty minutes after they said they’d be there. I should have taken this into account. I also should have checked which bar it was. The way the Grog Shop and the B Side Liquor Lounge are set up is this; they are basically on top of each other and somewhat interchangeable. That being said they are by no means the same place. The B Side is the logical choice for a John Waters art exhibit, which is what I was thinking as I wrote down The Grog Shop on my perfectly color coded calender (I shouldn’t be quite so excited by that triple alliteration). I arrived, paid the admission at the Grog Shop and proceeded to wait for K and J for nearly twenty minutes alone in the bar getting more and more traumatized as the time went on. By the time I called them and discovered they were at the B Side waiting for me I might as well have been catatonic. They thought it was oh so hilarious.
Another example is this: About five years ago, give or take, my good friend D had a birthday party. I was living in Columbus at the time, going to school and working at a movie theatre which is where I met D in the first place. We were friendly but had never done anything outside of work until he invited me to his birthday party. Now, I knew that I had to go, that was unquestionable, but the anxiety I had working myself up about going to this party was just ridiculous. The night arrived, I picked my outfit, freaked out so much that I required six antidepressants, and stayed on the phone with K until I was actually inside the door. Okay, it’s not like I thought anyone was going to be mean to me or anything or kick me out of their party, but I only knew one person there and I didn’t think that he would have all that much time to hang out with me… birthday party and all. It didn’t help matters any when I walked through the door and the first thing anyone said to be was ‘Who are you?’ I almost ran back out. In the end everything was fine, I ended up making friends with a huge group of them and still consider them friends now. My anxiety was quickly averted with cosmopolitans, other substances, and the fact that D is, generally, a very good host. Still, no one should freak out so much about going to a party.
In conclusion? I’m ridiculous. I know I’m ridiculous but it doesn’t seem like that’s really going to change any time soon. I don’t know, maybe they should make a sitcom about me.