Part II, utterly senseless.
Part III, slapstick silly.
Slapstick comedy is a shameless sort of humour that is considered lowbrow and better suited for children. As silly as it is, do you know what is the funniest thing about it? Answer: The pleasure of slapstick is universally shared among pretty much everybody I’ve talked with regarding humour ... which means nothing more than we all laugh at it.
The basis for this kind of joke is pain ... you know, people falling down, smacking into a brick wall, knocked in the shin with a bat, a potted plant falls on your head, a tumble down the stairs, a frying pan upside the head, or a slip on a banana peel and land on your butt kind of thing. I don’t know what it is exactly, but for some reason that sort of stuff just makes us laugh and laugh. We even laugh at ourselves when we are the victim of a smack or a whack or a trip, go figure.
Interestingly, and this is something I say in my own defense all the time, laughing IS a natural pain killer. I prefer to think that when I laugh at the bozo who fell down, I am actually expressing thoughtful support by giggling because I know laughter is also contagious and, like it or not, the boinked one will ease his own pain by laughing right along with me. I am grateful for the scientific study that gave me this excuse, and I’m sticking to it.
The term ‘slapstick’ actually describes a common stage prop used during the vaudevillian era and was, litreally, a piece of wood that had been split on the long side - like a sword with a cut all the way down the blade on the thin edge. When one guy whacked a second guy with the stick, the two pieces of wood slapped against each other and the impact sound was emphasized by the wood hitting against itself. What sounded like a wicked hit was actually rather harmless and pain free. But, the audience’s perception was audible inflicted pain and they roared at the idea of that.
Vaudeville was not the first to implement such a theatrical prop; it was just the most notable generation where that style of comedy was explored extensively and, because of technical advances during that age, the ‘golden era’ of black and white silent movies spread this style of comedy far and wide. Wacky characters flash in our minds whenever we hear their name: Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, the Keystone Kops, and the Three Stooges. If we dug for the root of this goof-ball practice (pain via stick whacking as humour), we’d find a slapstick sort of prop at least somewhat present in Ancient Greece, Rome, even in the Middle Ages where rejuvenation of theater in church liturgical dramas had actors beating the devil right off the stage. Renaissance carried it forward with Shakespeare incorporating many chase scenes and beatings into his comedies. It seems like the halarity of pain and suffering is a primitive emotion that goes right to the bone of who we are, and it’s been with us since the beginning of recorded time. I imagine and believe, actually, that cave men whacked each other with a club just to hear the other clan members gawfaw at the pain ... I wish that were etched or painted onto a cave wall so my point would be proven without a doubt.
It has always been a big hit for children, too. Animated cartoons such as Tom and Jerry and Looney Tunes taught us all about how funny it was to trip a friend, then point and laugh as they lay on the ground crying. I got in trouble for doing that a lot as a kid. It took me a while to comprehend that the fun of the joke was the illusion of the thing and not the real hitting, and encouraging a friend to learn a stunt roll or a hollywood smack saved at least one of us from a trip to the principal’s office ... because his stick was not a slapstick and that bona fide butt-whacker hurt like hell. The point here is, no matter how lowbrow or simpleton one makes this sort of humour out to be, truth is it kept us kids playing hard while honing our minds to be sharp as a tack.
And with that, here is the wilderlife critter that honours the slapstick. Sit back on your whoopie cushion and enjoy:
COMMON NAME: Chipundale
Species: Jesterian smartassicus rodentian. Other names include tree clown, lil’ buger, chuck monk, Ivan and the punk. The chipundale can be confused with it’s less humorous cousin, the chipmunk.
General facts: Chipundales are daylight omnivores that grow 4 to 7 inches long, including the bushy tail, and weigh between 2 and 15 pounds. They feed primarily on bird legs and nuts, but also eat other creatures such as bunnies, crickets, ants, locus, and butterflies. Highly developed senses of humour and irony allow this excellent tree climbing nut to annoy other members of its clan. It’s greatest advantage is keeping its predators amused long enough for the chipundale to get away. A forest prankster, it is not unusual to see one sneak up behind another and push him off a limb, or simply say ‘boo’ and then laugh as the unsuspecting butt-of-the-joke jumps with a start. Apparently, the greatest prize of all is to actually force a competitor to fall to the forest floor. The echoing cackle of their laugher can be heard on any given day. It sounds like ‘yuck, yuck, yuck’ (swallow your tongue when you try this).
STATISTICS: Chipundales live in dens called funhouses. Their homes are full of booby-traps that keep competing critters from stealing stored grub. Traps include, but are not limited to: false floors, stairs that turn into slides, doors that lead nowhere, and trick mirrors. It is unknown where the mirrors come from, however, they do say ‘objects are closer than they appear’ along the bottom edge. They have dribble glasses, flowers that squirt water, and whoopie cushions. Palm buzzers stopped being used weeks ago, and these forest rodents do seem to be fond of fake lottery tickets. Migrating along with the circus, these critters love using discarded clown wigs as bedding and furniture stuffing. Their natural enemy is the paper cup. They often get their head stuck inside and the other chipundales laugh and laugh, seemingly too amused to help the critter out of his bind. Their mating habits are unknown ... we assume they are humorous. For some unexplainable reason, our view of them always fades to black before the big finale. We do know they have litters, or clutches, of up to 89 off-spring, often including siamese twins.
HABITAT: North America and surrounding regions. Resides along the normal migratory trails of reputable, or not so reputable circus troops. When over populated, they occasionally frequent county fairs and political rallies. As strange as it may sound, most sightings are witnessed by fishermen from Alabama. Go figure.