Funny Thing Is melds philosophy, science, and personal observations to result in a multifaceted take on modern comedy.
Stephen Evans’s The Funny Thing Is is a perceptive dissection of the science and philosophy of comedy and comedic writing.
This thorough analysis of the evolution of comedy is part philosophy primer, part social science, and part writing advice. While it is a book about comedy, it does not joke in its approach: it is a scholarly investigation of comedy as theory, of laughter as a physiological reaction, and of theoretical considerations about what makes people laugh and why. It analyzes the ideas of philosophers and writers including Immanuel Kant and Neil Simon, and incorporates Evans’s firsthand experience as actor, author, and comedy playwright. The result is a savvy and complex anatomy of funniness, with suggestions for how to replicate it.
The origins of funniness are scrutinized from a scientific lens, exploring the etymology of “funny” as a word, what triggers a laugh on a neurological level, and the evolutionary implications of perceiving something as funny. In particular, the book delves into the function of laughter in the evolution of humans. The breadth of its exploration is impressive and original, while its observations and opinions on comedy and comedic writing, such as that commas “are the enemy of comedy,” are pithy and fresh, helping to temper the scope of the topic. A substantial portion of the book is made up of excerpts from the philosophical works it references, though, and these lengthy passages, with their scientific jargon, obscure the more valuable original analysis around them.
While the book declares that it is not trying to be funny, it says this with a wink and a nudge. When recounting two important elements of comedy writing, it includes an aside to the audience to “ask me after class,” showing that its narration is holding back. Such conversational moments are a reprieve from the book’s more dense theory, and its appeals to comics to use the power of comedy to illustrate the universal hilarity of the human condition, rather than take cheap jabs and reinforce reductive stereotypes, are effective.
Evans’s bold judgments about modern comedy are laid out in such a straightforward manner that they become difficult to counter. He declares that SNL is too topical and shallow, that viral internet comedy is nonsensical, and that tragicomedies are actually unsuccessful comedic works with grim messages. Such opinions make the book more than a historical recitation of comedy—it is a text with a clear point of view.
Funny Thing Is melds philosophy, science, and personal observations to result in a multifaceted take on modern comedy—one with a heartfelt message.
Paige Van De Winkle
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