Published: May 11, 2017 12:00:00 PM

mst3k-monster-song-small.gifThe best joke illuminates the silliness of a widely-recognized inaccuracy.

We need reeducation in comedy. It's fashionable these days for flailing failures to wheeze defensively about certain audiences not noticing what is or is not a joke, and it's somebody else's fault that THEY don't get THEIR joke. What they're often telling aren't jokes, they're battle-lines and barriers. 

The recent Mystery Science Theater 3000 revival on Netflix (winner of Ghost Little’s coveted Shrieking Robot award, the highest honor this office can bestow) is god-tier comedy. Why is that, you wonder? For a billion reasons, most relevant: it’s tasteful...

How MST3K can teach us proper comedy.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K), a comedy show where sharp minds lob silly riffs at cheesy movies nobody has ever heard of, understands humor on a level abandoned by the standard joke purveyors. It knows what we've always known about funniness: incorrectness is the root of humor.

This isn't the "incorrectness" referred in the oft-misunderstood "political incorrectness," that confused, uh, let's say, Republicans, hide beneath when they're too cowardly to admit they've been wrong all their lives. No, this is the incorrectness at the much more root-level. This is down-to-the-bone, genetic, species-specific comedy that I'm talking about.

MST3K knows the self-serious idiots trying to act in the movies they heckle are out of their minds. There's a pervasive, "oh, this isn't how movies are supposed to be" feeling we can all cackle at on MST3K. It's hide-your face / can't look away humor. It's good-natured and inclusive comedy. It's funny and childish the way a kid knows that his father is joking with him when he insists the kid's green crayon is, in fact, blue. It's so harmlessly wrong, but the kid will be in stitches.

It's the reality-snapping. The MST3K movies surface a shared disbelief that these atrocious movies, and all the people that contributed to them, and all the months or years of work spent, could produce this trash-art. We laugh together at the incorrectness and inaccurate unrealities of the movies as we'd laugh at ourselves. 

MST3K not only elevates these kinds of inaccuracies in the movies, the show guides the viewer on how to riff along with the silliness. MST3K draws attention to the characters' most moronic, mockable traits.

Nerdy boys become mouth-breathing ultra-nerds (The Final Sacrifice).

Ditzy girls become ditzier airheads (Hobgoblins).

Buff heroes become shallower shitheads (At the Earth's Core).

There's little to no punching down in MST3K. Nobody is a "victim" of a joke. That's the wrong word.

The mockery is tasteful. It's inclusive. Everybody is invited to joke along in this participatory entertainment. It participates with the target to create entertainment out of, well, nonsense. It’s unification through comedy.

Comedy dies when the communication between the joke and the audience breaks. That’s because comedy is about timing, context, and reading a room. A room's size can range from the literal room you're in, scaled up to your social media following, and maxing out at the human race's entire expanse. Our current global climate has created a feedback hyperloop. Technology means you'll receive a critique of your observation (or "joke") from an instantly-attentive audience.

Again, it comes back to the notion of alienation through mockery and the notion of punching up versus punching down.


Alienation through mockery is simply "othering," in the simplest sense.

The notion, "You are different from me, ergo, ha ha," fences others out from humor's elation. You'll feel a stone grow in your stomach right now, thinking back to a moment in life where you weren't in on a joke, and the joke grew, piling your disclusion on top of that, coughing up more laughs, now at your expense.

That isn't what comedy is for because comedy is meant to mock those deserving. Comedy is meant to punch up, at the kings and lords, shouted for an audience at a theater, where voices can't be halted. Tasteful comedy remains a razor-thin line, and MST3K's silliness knows how to involve everyone.

It wants to be silly. Silliness is a robot puppet co-hosting a movie heckling program, breaking sometimes to wear a bad wig and re-enact certain scenes. Silliness is inaccuracy and inaccuracy is the root of comedy. Even babies know that.

-- Alex Crumb
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