In the second of our new series Thinking Comedy, film comedian Seth Rogen ruminates on the benefits of analysis on his Comic Art.
Many comedians believe that over-thinking comedy can be the death of a joke, that to think (in the words of Keats) is ‘to be full of sorrow’, and so they avoid any kind of analysis at all, preferring to work on instinct and adrenalin.
Andrew ‘Dice-man’ Clay at his height eschewed comic theory and Eddie Murphy in the Raw years likewise boasted of his unschooled approach to the comedy scene.
However, I’ve always been a comic who has taken succor and encouragement from the intellectual and philosophical approach to my art. When I was making Funny People with Adam Sandler, Adam and I would sit for hours discussing Freud’s 1905 masterpiece Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. By the way, if you are going to read it I would advise you read the original German Der Witz und Seine Beziehung zum Unbewußten. As with most humor, too much is lost in translation.
Sandler is a supremely rational comic. It isn’t enough that he is funny; he has to know why he is funny. This is what makes him so similar to the British comedian Ricky Gervais, the man we all look up to as the true intellectual heir of Benny Hill’s comedy crown.
For my own part, for a joke simply to be funny isn’t enough. It has to say something and it has to say something that is coherent with my political and ethical outlook on life. For instance, some people have seen a consistent strain of misogyny in my comedy, especially in Zack and Miri Make a Porno and Knocked Up. Other people give me the benefit of the doubt and think of me as a lovable doped up man child but the truth is I do hate and fear women and those films are deliberate expressions of my anxiety. I mask my very real and sometimes frightening hatred in an easy-going laid-back style, but this makes it all the more pernicious and effective. Some of you no doubt are thinking: ‘Ah ha! Intellectual coherence, analyzing comedy? But what about Green Hornet?’ Well, to that I’m afraid I only have two words: Cash Grab.