There are jokes that are just funny, and those are great, but there are also jokes where you feel as if you’re seeing the true face of God. Comedy is based on truth, even when it’s based on its lack; because of this, every now and again you get a joke that compresses a difficult or painful truth down to tis essence, as if someone has ripped the superficial nature of reality away to reveal the principles really guiding it – which of course only serves to make a joke funnier. One of the most famous of these is Abe Simpson’s monologue in “Homerpalooza”, in which he neatly summarises the experience of losing one’s connection to the zeitgeist. Now, I’ve never been with it, never had the slightest interest in being with it, and in fact quite enjoy being a strange guy living on the fringe, but even I can admire the way he crushes that experience down to its essential salts. The ominous final shot is a classic example of The Simpsons using serious staging to underline the comedy.
Another famous example is George Costanza declaring “Ya know, we’re living in a society! We’re supposed to act in a civilised way!” in the Seinfeld episode “The Chinese Restaurant”. I always enjoyed the interpretation that he meant to say ‘society of laws’ and tripped over his words a bit, but that awkward slamming into a brick wall at the end of the sentence somehow gives it more power and rage. The very phrasing feels like a mixture of power and weakness – it’s sharp and punchy in style but impotent in content. The most insulting thing George can say isn’t even really about the woman he’s angry at; there’s nothing quite so pathetic as someone complaining that something isn’t fair. The line is a dizzying mixture of sympathies, where I feel bad for George but he’s also quite laughable.
What are your favourite examples of jokes that also have a poetic reveal of fundamental truth?