I find humor in things that don’t make any sense. No, I’m not talking about some dark corner of the human psyche, I just mean I regularly laugh when others don’t. While I used to think this was a problem, I don’t anymore because I’ve more or less figured out what types of humor crack me up and, more importantly, why.
If you’re like me, you’re curious about the broader view of things. So one day, after watching a combination of Victor Borge YouTubes, Steve Martin’s Tiny Desk Concert, and a bit of a new Demetri Martin Netflix special (welcome to my Sunday afternoons), I looked up the wikipedia article on comedic genres to get my bearings. Some are definitely not my style (I try, Ricky Gervais, I really do...), but I immediately connected with Surreal Humor. While some examples of this are less effective than others (see Exhibit A, “The Elephant Joke” and its permutations), it is amazing how far one can go if all you really need to do is connect two things that don’t make any sense, and the lack of sense makes it funny. Think of it as absurdist, subversion, unpredictable, or just plain weird.
As you can probably tell by my posts in this Synectic Artistry series (in particular my Everything Is Potential Inspiration post), this fits well with synectics. Well-crafted humor comes in all shapes and sizes, including allowing our brain to do the work. In this case, it involves us making outlandish connections which the brain finds ridiculous, making it humorous. From a musical standpoint, you can have soundtracks reveal the absurdity of individuals’ actions (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) or pieces that don’t mean anything yet everything to a culture all at the same time (consider the traditional Yoik and Jaakko Mäntyjärvi’s brilliant commentary on it). Consider how two seemingly unrelated musical textures work together to make a new sound. This is, by all intents and purposes, orchestration 101.
It took me a while to come to this conclusion about my own humor or thoughts about music. For a long time I felt as though I wasn’t measuring up to others’ brains and the way they worked. But taking a step back from both the music and the humor, I realized the value of a unique view. That someone doesn’t have to understand their own music or humor to love it and grow with it. That you can be the odd one out and find value in that alone. Whether you’re a composer, a vocalist, a conductor, or somewhere in between, remember this as you grow in your own compositional and/or programmatic voice. It will free up unconventional paths for your material, something that compounds with interest (multiple meanings intended) in the long run.
Forge your own path no matter how funny it may be to others… You’ll subvert your own expectations and reap the sort of unexpected benefits others can only dream up.
New Music as Teaching Tools