Jokes are a devices meant to generate mirth, humor, laughter and general amusement. In the hands of the talented and eloquent, jokes can make light of weighty situations, obscuring the seriousness and presenting a more casual perspective. In the hands of the dubious, jokes can hurt, belittle and cause even the most meek of lambs into raving lunatics or the stoic to whimper. The more intelligent of us can make into art, often reflecting the current paradigm, or proving insight hidden between the lines of witty delivery.
The punchline can be so right on the money that it can even be more cruel than any crude and blatant insult. It hits right at home, cutting deep and proves to be more sad than funny, and yet we can't help but laugh in the sheer honesty of it all.
The funniest persons I know are usually the saddest persons I know. Humor is but a way to cope with the world's brutal ass-kicking we receive on a daily basis. With their insecurities and hang ups, the funny man, the comedian amongst us finds solace in making others laugh as a way to veil their own sadness. A joke that best describes this is taken from Alan Moore's Watchmen:
Heard a joke once: Man goes to doctor. Says he's depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says "Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up." Man bursts into tears. Says "But Doctor... I am Pagliacci."
Context plays a critical role in the telling of jokes. One cannot illicit humor if the intended audience "isn't in on it". The relationship between a comedian and his/her audience by itself, serve as the very basis of the joke. Accepting that would mean that sometimes witty one-liners and zingers tells us more about the relationship, the dynamics behind it and why it exists.
Jokes are cultural, meaning what may be funny to a Frenchman may go way above the head of Somalian, obviously. Again, it reflects the popular paradigm that exists in that culture. Is it any wonder that majority of comics are also the smartest people around? Yet again, while the hahas and guffaws are plenty, taking a long look at the punchline usually results into a different perspective to a seemingly hopeless situation. So much so that the best we can do to cope with it is to make it sound cynically humorous.
One is led to ask why? Why is it that the comic in us would consider grave circumstances as material for our latest jape? Is it perhaps, that for us, life in itself is one big joke? Paraphrasing a quote taken from Alan Moore's Batman: The Killing Joke, is everything some monstrous, demented gag and we have no choice but to see the funny side? What if we refuse to see it? or worse... what if we don't get it?