“Wenn ist das Nunstück git und Slotermeyer? Ja! Beiherhund das Oder die Flipperwaldt gersput!” You have just read the funniest joke known to mankind. It is guaranteed to make anyone die of laughter, and it has been translated into German for your safety. The joke itself was first heard in an early episode of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” The program in question has been referred to as jolly, hysterical and downright humorous.
Most people laughed when this joke was first aired on television, but I don’t think most of you reading this laughed when you read the joke. This is mainly due to it being in another language, but it is also due to the fact that most of you do not know the context around this joke. I assume most of you would laugh if I showed the clip from the episode, and you could see that this joke was used as a weapon in a farcical version of World War II. Every time a German soldier heard the joke they would laugh uncontrollably and then die in a loony manner. All of a sudden this episode from “Monty Python” is starting to sound more hilarious.
Please understand, the joke in its actual context is much more impactful and memorable than simply showing German soldiers fall dead after guffawing themselves off their rockers. This slapstick is hilarious, but this alone does not make the joke “art.” Frankly, this simple element of predictable slapstick makes the joke a science.
Most humor is more akin to a science than an art. Science can be tested and proven, and so can humor. A long “Seinfeld” routine will receive more laughs than a simple knock-knock joke, Charlie Chaplin tripping three times is funnier than him only tripping twice and Honest Trailers will always receive high view counts because their videos are tied to popular culture; these are proven scenarios. They are humorous, but these things alone are not art. When the purpose of a joke is only to ensure that an audience listens and laughs, it is not art. It is proven pandering.
Art is ideas, concepts and emotions expressed in a form that can be perceived by the masses. Humor, in and of itself, is not directly an art form. What makes humor artistic is the way in which it is used–the way it elicits emotion from its audience. There needs to be more to humor than simply making someone laugh.
Jerry Seinfeld’s long, built-up comedy routine is filled with jabs at the ridiculousness of people’s unnecessary rituals and why they do them without even knowing why they do them. Charlie Chaplin kept tripping because he was trying to race after a beautiful maiden. Honest Trailers removes a film’s suspense of disbelief by primarily stating that every new movie is essentially the same thing. All of these are humorous, and they are art. When an artist conveys humor to an audience through a relatable context, their jokes become funnier than the sum of their words.
Monty Python’s lethal joke features elements of slapstick, absurdity and realism. What makes this art is that all of these elements are brought together in order to illustrate the ridiculousness of war, and how most wars are won because one side just so happened to have the better weapon. This idea could have been told through an essay, it could have been shown through a documentary, but it was acted out by a bunch of British comedians on national television. It makes the joke memorable. It makes the joke humorous. It makes the joke art.