From 1980 to 2016 Prairie Home Companion was the Saturday night choice of entertainment for approximately 2.6 million listeners who tuned into NPR radio for 2 hours of fun.
On one Saturday each year they did “The Joke Show”.
The Joke Show was a fast-paced 2 hours of humor that poked fun at everyone and everything that makes the human race interesting and entertaining. It was 2 hours of fun, laughing at ourselves.
There were stupid word jokes such as the Knock Knock jokes. There were bawdy and irreverent limericks; you know the kind … “There once was a girl from Nantucket …”. There were jokes that made fun of women … “A blond, a brunette, and a redhead walked into a bar ….” And the same that made fun of religions … “A priest, a rabbi, and a preacher walked into a bar…”
There were “Your Momma” jokes. Marriage jokes made fun of Husband and Wife stereotype behaviors. There were animal jokes and jokes about being fat, or being thin. There were jokes that made fun of professions … “How many lawyers does it take to screw in a light bulb?”
They took the ordinary things and stereotypes of normal life and made us laugh at them.
I miss that kind of laughter. I would love to hear a two-hour joke show again. We’ve become a country where it’s no longer OK to laugh at our differences. A joke about any type of human difference is now called shaming. Or even worse, construed as intolerance or bigotry.
Rolling Stone magazine published a list of the 50 best stand-up comics of all time. Most of the best are no longer with us. For them, that’s a good thing. They would be lambasted for delivering the kind of comedy routines that used to make us laugh and made them so funny.
Richard Pryor did more to expose and increase awareness of the depth of racism and police violence against blacks through comedy than any protest group has achieved through marches. He didn’t go on rants about white privilege; he made it obvious and undeniable through humor that was often very irreverent, but increased understanding and made us realize that white privilege is a real thing.
Pryor is considered the greatest and most influential stand-up comic ever.
No one captured the scope of all the annoying things human beings do, better than George Carlin. He made us laugh at self-obsessed prima donnas, people with entitlement issues, corrupt politicians, rudeness, stupidity, and the absurdities of war. Carlin helped us laugh about things that cause anger and frustration as part of our daily lives.
Can you imagine a stand-up comic routine like Carlin’s “18 Types of People Who Ought to be Killed” being aired today? But we laughed at it because it gave voice to the way we felt. And if you can laugh at it you can understand how to fix it. Carlin is called “the dean of counterculture comedians.”
Both Pryor and Carlin peppered their comedy with the “f”… bomb, which I think took away from the brilliance of their messages. But still, being able to laugh is a release without the rage.
Joan Rivers got us to laugh at ourselves by making fun of herself. She mastered the art of self-deprecating humor, using it to tackle insecurities we all have about our body image, our career choices, our relationships, financial status, and our inner divas. In 1968 Rivers was called “quite possibly the most intuitively funny woman alive.”
There was the soft and gentle deadpan comedy of Bob Newhart whose first album in 1960, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, is a comedy classic still funny today. He made fun of everyday common situations. He is best known for his straight man routine where he would be one end of a conversation replying to what we imagined was being said on the other end.
These comic geniuses paved the way for other masters of comedy. The hyper-speed improvisational comedy of Robin Williams. Jerry Seinfeld’s stand-up and TV comedy that exposed the absurdities of things we humans do every day.
Each of these comedians allowed us to laugh at ourselves, while at the same time seeing the deeper more serious message about the frailties, meanness, and vulnerabilities we all have within us, delivered in a way that helped us see how much we are all alike.
Today, social media forces self censorship on stand-up comics as the idea of what is offensive shifts daily, and career-destroying posts and tweets can be used by anyone who sees him/her self as a critic. It makes me wonder if there is going to be a generation in the future that won’t know how to use laughter to cope with life.
“A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.”Steve Martin
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