I have a theory about comedy. Or rather, I have a theory about my ability to enjoy comedy. It’s best explained by using graphs.
This graph represents a normal, healthy person’s relationship to comedy. The funnier it is, the more they enjoy it. This makes sense.
My enjoyment chart looks more like this.
I can enjoy comedy a normal amount up to a point, but then it passes the personal threat threshold (1). This represents a point at which I find the comedy threateningly funny. Comedy in this region is something that, if I really tried my hardest, I could maybe have created, but I didn’t. I find it very hard to enjoy this comedy because of jealousy. Then there is a second point. the existential angst barrier (2). Beyond this point the comedy is so funny that I know deep down I couldn’t have created it, ever. I can’t enjoy this comedy (or, indeed, most things after I watch it) because I’m too angry at myself and the world.
But then there is the genius release point (3). This is for comedy that is so good that it completely bypasses my ego and allows me to enjoy it with an absolutely childish glee. Often these are things that are really, really stupid. I’ve tried to gather some of them here.
1. This set from Anne Edmonds
By now it’s probably redundant to point out how funny Anne is. But: I: remember seeing her doing a Raw Comedy set back around 2009. She used her five minutes to perform a full musical about applying for a rental property. She somehow crammed more effort and ideas into her tiny set than there would be in most people’s hour-long show. With everything Anne does, there’s a frantic sense of her being trapped in her own mind, with her thoughts, her memories and her anxieties, and we’re just seeing what bubbles over. This set is a great example of that.
2. This Elliott Gould photoshoot
This tweet is so rich for me. The world-building is remarkable. There’s a beautiful intersection of the known and the unknown. The timeless familiarity of Grover. The surprising sexiness of Elliott Gould. The dynamic of an imagined relationship with such fundamental communication problems.
After you’ve understood the funny imaginary relationship in the text, it’s time to mull the reality. The fact is, someone DID take this photo. And they DID make it real fucking sexy. What was going on there?
And underlying this is the realization of our own mortality. The deeper truth that we were all young and beautiful once, and ultimately we will all become the old guy in the Ocean’s Eleven franchise.
3. This cartoon from Worry__Lines
Worry__Lines puts out a new comic every single day, and is consistently minting great jokes and profound insights while maintaining a simplicity and purity. I love it. This one is so relatable to me, as someone who consistently tries to adopt new productivity regimes and then abandons them with a startling efficiency. It is a perfect joke.
4. This tweet from Martin Dunlop
There’s a wanton cruelty to this tweet. A complete disregard for common decency. Why would you do this? You’d have to be a: real bastard. But it’s also a beautiful demonstration of the leveling power of fiction and social media working hand-in-hand. What has Serkis done to deserve this? Nothing. He seems quite nice both as a man and as a wire frame model for a monkey, as far as I can tell. But there’s a chance he will one day see this tweet, and be forced to feel something as a result. It’s the written version of running around a corner and getting whacked in the head with a giant frying pan.
5. This McSweeney’s article about being Billy Joel
This piece by Michael Ian Black, titled What I would be thinking about if I were Billy Joel driving toward a holiday party where I knew there was going to be a piano, was one of the first bits of “funny internet writing” that I remember really opening up my mind. Oh, you can write anything. About anyone. You can get inside someone’s head and control their thoughts. There’s so much power there.
And it’s like that clear: comic premise. It’s perfect.
6. This opening scene of Phil Burgers’ show The Passage
This whole episode is like the funniest dream you ever had. But the opening scene is riveting. Burgers’ performance is perfect, and there’s nobody else on earth who could perform such unflappable innocence under what is truly the highest-stakes setting of a comic scene ever. And the punchline is so surreal and yet mundane. Like a dream, you could read this scene as a metaphor for all sorts of things, or nothing at all. I could watch this over and over.
7. The series of badly designed ducks from @peaderthomas
Each one asks the question why? would you try and design this duck? Ducks are already fine. They do the job of being a duck really, really well. But like how Mark Zuckerberg has decided he can build a better version of reality in the metaverse, inevitably someone is out there trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. building a better duck. This one is my favorite because it is the worst duck I can imagine. Peader has a gift for tiny, obscure details that imply a rich, hidden world. It’s something he has done flawlessly in the Gustav and Henri series of adventure books for young readers, which I got to work on with him. Peader is the only person in the world who could think of giving a time machine legs so it can backflip into the time-stream.
8. Pretty much anything by Laura Davis
Davis is maybe the funniest comedian Australia ever produced and then drove overseas with institutional neglect. She should be making her own TV shows here, but the industry can’t seem to take a risk, even on someone who is so funny and: so hard working. I don’t know for sure, but I have a feeling that at some point in her life, Laura made a decision to never apologize or let anyone stop her from doing what she thinks is funny. Which, in the wrong hands, could be a recipe for disaster – but the fact is she knows exactly what she is doing and she just keeps getting better.
9. This clip from Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell
Mad as Hell aired its final ever episode recently. I was lucky to write on this show for about eight years. It’s difficult to put into words how thrilling it was to get to work in the orbit of probably my biggest comedy hero. There are so many great sketches, so many incredible performances from the cast, and so many brilliant bits of satire. But in terms of something that brings me to tears; this sketch, which is just Shaun sitting there, talking to himself, about something both insane and inane, is hard to beat. John Howard has somehow morphed into an elder statesman of Australian politics. In its absurd way, this sketch is fighting that. No, you’re not an elder statesman. You’re an old idiot, and we are all laughing at you.
10. This tweet from Alasdair Tremblay-Birchall
Another of my favorite types of comedy is the endless quest for a new spin on an old idea, like gymnasts trying to rework the same set of moves into a new floor routine. In this tweet, Alasdair has triumphed. He starts in the “I wear the pants in my relationship” position and executes a perfect aerial twist into the “two people wearing a long coat” stance, and absolutely sticks the landing in the absurd scenario of two grown adults needlessly complicating the simple business of buying a ticket to a movie.
Andy Matthews is the author of the Gustav and Henri books, illustrated by Peader Thomas (Hardie Grant), and host of the Two in the Think Tank podcast with Alasdair Tremblay-Birchall.