Comedy as has been noted tends to date badly. That’s not always the fault of comedy writers – comedy is hard and they work hard at it – but it’s just how things go. Time shifts, topical jokes fall flat fifteen years later or get a confused reaction, and values change often for the better. There are dozens of transphobic jokes from the 1980’s into the 2000’s from comedies that are in retrospect utterly cruel to people who have been ostracized enough as it is. I feel horrible for ever laughing at them.
But this makes me think of what I’d like to phrase as Righteous Jokes. These are jokes that are elemental or come from a pervasive cultural truth, a fragment of thought that just feels absolutely true, either to a mass audience or a few satirical rogues with contempt for one or two institutions. Sometimes they becomes aphorisms: “Never follow a hippie to a second location” from 30 Rock or “Beer, the cause and solution to all of life’s problems!” from The Simpsons. (The Simpsons has dozens upon dozens of Righteous Jokes as the brainchild of smart and cynical people obsessed with silly things.)
Sometimes they’re just batshit heightened jokes, like the General in Meaning of Life declaring that “We will always need a military or may God strike me down!” (God does.) Sometimes an exchange: “Do you love him, Loretta?” “Ma, I love him awful.” “That’s too bad.” Sometimes an absolutely beautiful throwaway: “It was worse than Detroit.”
Those Righteous Jokes formed my sense of humor, even my personality. (Feeding a lot of irreverent Mel Brooks and Harold Ramis movies to an already non-conformist kid was a dangerous thing.) So what are your favorites? What are ones that say what no one else has or confirm your greatest suspicions and feelings? What’s a joke that got to you?