In the classic movie “The Caine Mutiny” the petty tyrant Captain Queeg assigns the deceptive title of morale officer to one of his unfortunate junior officers. His responsibility in this position was to ruthlessly enforce the dress code down to the buttoning of shirts and the length of hair on the enlisted men. Whereas this was a mockery of the concept of morale I believe that a morale officer is exactly what the country needs right now. And to a large extent that is what President Trump has been attempting to do with his COVID-19 press conferences. He’s trying to provide helpful information and an optimistic assessment of the progress we’re making in the dreary business of navigating through the pandemic swamp. But we need more than that. Trapped in our homes and deprived of even the opportunity to work we need some distractions. We need some entertainment.
In a happier time, even just a short generation ago we could turn on the television and we would find on every network at least one show that was funny enough to distract us. Back in the early 1990s you could watch Home Improvement with Tim Allen as a tv dad with his wife and three boys stumbling through the foibles of American family life with gentle humor and a very muted take on the battle of the sexes and the revolt of the young against their parents. Later on, you could still laugh at the misanthropic but relatively harmless antics of Seinfeld and his neurotic associates. Even during the 2000s you could see a show like King of Queens where the humor was more like a pitched battle between the husband and wife and the dysfunctionality of the older generation was on full display with Jerry Stiller’s portrayal of Arthur Spooner more resembling a mental patient than a normal adult. But it was funny and the characters somewhat resembled real people.
That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. The loss of any originality on network television seems to have killed off the sitcom. The stupidity of the writing and the restrictions on the plot dictated by political correctness have rendered these shows unwatchable. Maybe the better writers have moved over to cable stations like HBO and Netflix but the darkness of most of what passes for comedy on cable is pretty extreme.
And that is where we are. As a society we are surrounded by joyless dysfunctional productions that are supposed to be entertainment. The action shows aren’t good but they’re just supposed to tell a simple story of good versus evil. That’s easy enough to do. Comedy is harder. It takes intelligence and an actual sense of humor. Those two things are mostly absent now. But that’s what we need. A good laugh.
Luckily, there is a lot of old comedy available. And there is probably something there for all tastes. Everything from the tame antics of the Marx Brothers and Abbott and Costello and the screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s, to the early modern comedy of George Carlin, Mel Brooks and Rodney Dangerfield, to the outrageous Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy, right up to the current rants of Dave Chappelle. Of course, the definition of funny varies enormously depending on the audience. It’s probably safe to say that generational tastes will divide the audience into several camps. But what is undeniable is that the modern entertainment industry has destroyed comedy.
But we still need a laugh. So, go looking for something that is funny and put it on and have a good laugh. You need it and the rest of us do too.
What I would recommend is do a search online for what movies, tv shows and comedy recordings are considered the funniest for the time periods when your concept of comedy was formed and see if you agree with the opinion. Look at general lists of comedies for these time periods and make a list of your own favorites. Then rent or buy or stream a few of these comedies together in your own film festival. Make sure you have your favorite popcorn or other snacks and enjoy. Maybe tell a friend or two and have a virtual movie festival in separate homes. You can make a deal to swap favorites and compare notes after the fact.
Just to show that my heart is in the right place I’ll throw a few out. Now mind you, I’ll start off by saying my tastes are peculiar. But there they are. I’ll go with two W. C. Fields movies, “It’s a Gift” and “The Man on the Flying Trapeze.” I always enjoy his henpecked husband routine and the melodramatic actress who plays his wife in both these movies is perfect. I love telling Camera Girl that she treats me just as badly as Field’s wife in the movies.
Add in the first installment of the “Thin Man” series. And finish off the early movies with the Marx Brother’s “A Night at the Opera.” For the later decades we could take a couple of Bill Murray movies, say “Ghostbusters” and “Groundhog Day.” Maybe add a Jim Carrey movie, say the “Mask.” And finish off with a cartoon that’s mostly a comedy like “The Incredibles.” For a classic tv series I’d go with Jackie Gleason’s, “The Honeymooners.”
If you have any picks you’d like to volunteer leave them in the comments and share the wealth.