Comedy is a very personal thing. Different things make some people laugh, while leaving others cold. My sense of humor tends to revolve around satire and wordplay. My comedy heroes include Douglas Adams (who had an astounding way with words), Dave Barry (who can manage to set up five jokes at the same time), Steven Wright (who can generate punchlines with no setup at all), and Groucho Marx (who could deliver a joke like no other).
On the other hand, I have no real affinity for slapstick humor. The one trait I can relate to in women is the inability to see the appeal of the Three Stooges. And I have a pretty low tolerance for vulgarity, so getting a nervous laugh simply by swearing is wrong to me on many levels. But even if I don’t share the sentiment, I can understand what makes most people laugh.
And then there’s Christopher, my friend’s 5 year old son.
(Disclaimer: I have not seen Christopher and his mother for many years. Working from the dates below, today Christopher is about 25 years old. And yet I’m certain his mother looks 23.)
Sometimes, in order to get away from the horrible dreck that is 3 Ninjas, Christopher’s mother and I would take him to the movies. Each time, I was left with a memory of the experience that far surpassed the experience of the movie.
The first movie we went to see was Cool Runnings, the “true” story of the Jamaican bobsled team in the 1988 Olympics. Cool Runnings is a heartwarming film about setting lofty ambitions and failing at them, and has inspired a generation of people to fail spectacularly at achieving their ridiculous dreams.*
As we watched the movie, Christopher sat stone-faced through all the hijinks as the Jamaicans try to learn bobsledding in the Caribbean from John Candy. When the team finally reaches Calgary, there is an opening shot of the Olympic flag. At this moment, Christopher points at the screen, shouts “Five circles!” and begins roaring with laughter. Both his mother and I turned to look at him. I guess we had to be there.
The second time we went to the movies was to see The Three Musketeers. In the 1993 version, Kiefer Sutherland plays Jack Athos, an agent of the French Counterterrorism Musketeers, who has 24 hours to rescue Rebecca De Mornay from Cardinal Richelieu. (Or maybe the other way around. But there was definitely a lot of Rebecca De Mornay.)
At one critical juncture, Milady Rebecca gives Jack a letter to deliver to her lover, the Duke of Buckingham. Sensing the tension of the moment, Christopher points at the screen, shouts “Duke of Buckingham!” and begins cackling like a madman, while his mother and I sat nearby, staring in mute confusion.
The third time, we went to see I Love Trouble. I Love Trouble is a romantic comedy starring Nick Nolte and Julia Roberts, probably behaving romantically in a comical manner. (Disclaimer: I remember nothing about this film. I’m not even sure this was the movie we saw. It just sounds like the kind of movie we would have seen at that time.) We had told Christopher that the movie was a comedy. But it wasn’t really good at all. And at the end, as the lights in the theater came up, Christopher stood up on his chair, looked me in the eye, and sternly reproached me:
“That was NOT a funny movie!”
I gotta say, the kid knows what he likes: multiple geometric shapes and minor English nobility.
* Interesting historic fact #1: Of all the people in my lifetime who were told as children that they could grow up to be president, all but 9 were lied to. And two of them were shot, one fatally.
* Interesting historic fact #2: Of all the people who failed to study in school because they wanted to be Kobe Bryant, exactly one person has succeeded. (Disclaimer: I am not a basketball fan. It is possible that more than one person is Kobe Bryant. But I’m pretty sure it’s a small number.)