Ian Birnbaum is wondering where his comic mojo went:
For the longest time as a kid, I was known amongst my friends for being very, very funny. I was quick on the draw with an insult, comebacks would snap away like a whip, and I can joke or deadpan like a comedian. Comedy Central was my favorite channel, and Douglas Adams was my favorite author.
I’ve grown up a lot in ways I like. Responsibility, ambition. Spiritually, I feel closer to my center than I have in a long time, and being an adult is actually kind of fun.
But somewhere along the line, I lost the ability to write “funny”. Somewhere between a needless war, a dangerously powerful president, pathetic ass-covering politicians, the mainstream adulation of Paris Hilton as a celebrity to look up to, a war in Lebanon (again), terror warning level Orange, and China becoming an economic superpower — somewhere between “I care about you but this isn’t working” and “I need $100 by Tuesday or I can’t pay bills,” I forgot what it was like to feel a good belly-laugh. And the thought of being able to cause a good chuckle became foreign to the level of impossibility.
I think what Mr Birnbaum is discovering is that one’s sense of humor migrates a bit: its center wanders about as experiences pile up, and the edges get a mite ragged here and there. Especially there [gestures].
Mark Twain figured out a long time ago that the secret source of humor is not joy, but sorrow, and the worse things get, the greater the potential for yocks. I can’t imagine anyone of a jocular bent, even a comparatively gentle soul like, say, Garrison Keillor, scratching around for material today. And let’s face it: were it not for pathetic ass-covering politicians, Stephen Colbert would be doing the weather in Dubuque.
The ultimate extension of this premise, of course, is so-called gallows humor. We don’t execute a lot of people these days — at least, none of the ones I want — and their sentences are normally carried out behind very thick walls so it’s impossible to know for sure, but I have always believed that if you don’t actually go insane as your time approaches, the quality of your remarks is bound to go up sharply. And when the Nanny State finally achieves the dominance it desires and I’m sent before a firing squad for extreme disloyalty, seditious remarks and ownership of a George Foreman grill, I plan to ask the riflemen if those things have trigger locks. Because if I have to die, and I assume I do — and if I don’t, I’m wasting a crapload of money on insurance — I intend to die laughing.