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Bradley Whitford: I think it is hard to beat Mel Brooks’ statement about the difference between tragedy and comedy. “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall in an open sewer and die.” This brilliant definition embodies the function of all comedy—to smash the wall of pretense and show us the truth that lies beneath (in this case, the petty, insecure, selfish beast within us all).
I am fascinated by the power and the brilliance of political humor today. I am obsessed by Jon Stewart, Steven Colbert, Bill Maher etc. Political discourse has become so absurd in the age of television that the only truthful way to report on it is with enough humor to rip away the blatant attempts at manipulation. I feel sorry for the conventional, irony-deficient anchormen and women who dutifully report the political “news”. They look like patsies.
Floyd King: The question makes me laugh. It’s just very personal. Not that I can’t share it, just that I can’t really describe it – it’s in the moment. Our sense of humor is probably the most personal thing about us. Everyone agrees on what’s sad and no one agrees on what’s funny. It is age; your development as a person. It’s intelligence. It’s cultural.
David Ives: Many more plays, movies and songs make me cry than make me laugh. Maybe this is true about life in general for those of us who aren’t bodhisattvas, or maybe it’s just true of life the longer I live. I cry the moment the opening credits begin in Brief Encounter, and there’s a song by the Pogues that can reduce me with the first chords. Laughter is harder. There are also plenty of things that other people find funny which are largely torture to me (don’t get me started on the Marx Brothers) and stand-up comedians with their desperation to please make me reach for my pistol.
Few stage comedies make me laugh out loud and I won’t name them because that would probably take away their magic. Also, having laughed at them once I rarely laugh on the return, surprise being the heart and soul of comedy. I don’t go to comedies to laugh in any case: I go for the humanity and for the clearheadedness of comedy, for a world that is sprung with delight, shot through with it, preferably with a crystal salty subterranean stream of melancholy.
Sabrina Mandell and Mark Jaster of Happenstance Theatre
Sabrina: What makes me laugh are either completely random and unexpected comic moments, usually physical, that are not consciously intended to be comedic, or else well crafted moments that capture the essence of the random and unexpected. …I mostly find myself belly laughing when the funny is physical and does not seem deliberate.
Mark: Moments of surprise, when I see the balance of human resilience and stupidity. Absurd incongruities, especially those not perceived by those executing or inhabiting them. Moments when the mechanical, rhythmical rigidity of a behavior pattern is suddenly upset.