Comedian. Humorist. Although both are supposed to be entertaining they bring different expectations to mind.
The comedian is supposed to be funny all the time and cause laughter on a variety of subjects that may or may not include the vulgar or tragic. Comedy is outspoken, often loud, often irreverent.
Humor tends to be more laid back. It may be subtle, wry, or even sarcastic. Humor is often deemed to be more intellectual than comedy. Comedy clubs abound while humor suffers slings and arrows, etc.
It’s the braver (or more stupid) comedian who makes much of ‘gallows humor’ with jokes about tragedy or death. It’s comedy with a bit of shame attached…we know we shouldn’t laugh but can’t help ourselves. Humor may be dark but it’s often without shame.
Sometimes one encounters darker comedy by accident, such as the newspaper article in which the light of a fish tank ignited a fire; the fire broke the glass, the water put out the fire, and the article ended with the words, ‘all the fish died.’ I laughed. Then I felt bad. As a pet owner I know how close a person get to pets, even fish.
Perspective often draws the line between what one person laughs at and another doesn’t. In some cases an inablility to recognize humor may be a sign of mental illness. Then again, some people naturally have no sense of humor. I’ve encountered a few. To me it’s always a bit of a shock. In my family, if we don’t tease you we simply don’t love you. Unfortunately we also know just how and when to use humor as a weapon for those rare occasions that call for it.
Personally I prefer ‘harmless’ humor, but again the definition can vary. I was a fan of the old Canadian duo, Wayne & Shuster. You couldn’t pay me to watch a film that insults the United States. Yet many comedies I’d find acceptable do poke fun at some of our North American foibles.
Shared humor is a sign of affection. Humor that hurts or insults is just mean and may damage relationships. A comedian can get boo’d off the stage for crossing the line between funny and nasty. Fortunately most of those acts die long before the comedian ‘hits the big time,’ which spares the rest of us.
It takes a specialized personality to be able to say things other would be held in contempt for and have people laugh instead. It’s more than mere delivery. People are fairly good at quickly assessing the personalities they encounter. Human instinct allows us to quickly assume whether we’re going to like someone or not. Regardless of accuracy and past experience, most of us rely on this instinct more often than we might admit. The comedian who wants to be rich and famous would do well to assess his own personality if only to determine what kind of material he can ‘get away with.’
Comedians tend to be thought of as ‘live performers’ while humorists are often thought to be writers. Hence, ‘stand-up comedy,’ not ‘stand-up humorist.’ People tend to say they’ve ‘read’ a humorist, but watched a comedian. We’re funny that way.
Thanks for reading. 🙂
Phyllis K Twombly