It’s amazing how well certain things stand up to the test of time, especially comedy. Comedy, for the most part, tends to be subjective, and frequently contextual – something is usually only funny when it’s in the right context, and it often dates badly; some of the comedy shows made in the 1960s tend to be less funny today because context has changed.
Sometimes, though, it dates very well – and lives on today as strongly as it did then. Except people miss the point entirely.
I don’t mean that people miss the point of the humour, because it’s still funny – but they miss the point of where the humour came from.
I refer, most specifically, to Monty Python’s Flying Circus, a show that debuted at the end of the 1960s, with several major films through the 1970s and so on. A show heralded for its imagination, its ingenuity and sheer innovation.
Up until then, it wasn’t so obvious that humour could be ingeniously clever at the same time as being itself funny; it seems like most of what came before Monty Python was a much simpler form of comedy, if that makes sense.
Monty Python’s legacy includes so many moments that we can all relate to in some fashion, so many quotable moments, so many grains of truth and comedy and bizarreness and mixes them all together. And rightly so, it has been recognised as one of the most important shows for comedy.
Then, you get situations like http://xkcd.com/16/ describes, where people just quote it randomly without context. It can be funny, because it’s then an in-joke for those ‘in the know’ but it’s nowhere near as funny as when it was done for the first time.
And I can’t help but think that these people, who quote such things, have entirely missed the point.
Monty Python was about pushing the boundaries of what could be done, it was innovating humour at its absolute core, and it did it so well that decades later, it’s still funny. And as xkcd puts it so elegantly, “Does anyone else find it funny that decades later, people are still quoting — word for word — a group loved for their mastery of shock, the unexpected, and defiance of convention?”
In other words – by quoting Monty Python, in or out of context, you’re not taking to heart what Monty Python was about. It was about doing something different – and by copying it, you’re subverting it, imitating it.
I’ve found the same is true of just about anything that tries to be innovative, that people miss the point and just end up trying to copy it without understanding what it is that made it innovative in the first place, as though somehow by duplicating it, they’re being innovative themselves.