As the late, great stand-up comic Joan Rivers put it: 'If you can laugh at it, you can live with it!' This book is for anyone who enjoys a good laugh, but also wants to know why.
When E. B. White said "analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog; few people are interested and the frog dies," he hadn't seen Al Gini's hilarious, incisive, and informative take on jokes, joke-telling, and the jokers who tell jokes. For Gini, humor is more than just foolish fun: it serves as a safety valve for dealing with reality that gives us the courage to endure that which we cannot understand or avoid. Not everyone tells jokes. Not everyone gets a joke, even a good one. But, Gini argues, joke-telling can act as both a sword and a shield to defend us from reality. As the late, great stand-up comic Joan Rivers put it: `If you can laugh at it, you can live with it!' This book is for anyone who enjoys a good laugh, but also wants to know why.
Al Gini is a well-known Chicago radio personality, professor, and the author of a number of books that examine contemporary topics in American culture and other themes including: My Job My Self: Work and the Creation of the Modern Individual (Routledge, 2000); The Importance of Being Lazy: In Praise of Play, Leisure, and Vacations (Routledge, 2003) Why It's Hard to Be Good (Routledge, 2006); and Seeking The Truth of Things (ACTA, 2010).
Gini has been interviewed on several national and international media outlets including: "The Bob Edwards Show", NPR's "Morning Edition", NBC's "Nightly News", CBS News, ABC News, CBC Canada, WTTW Chicago, WGN Chicago, Stanford University's "Philosophy Talk", South African National Radio, Wisconsin Public Radio, Massachusetts Public Radio, CBS Radio, and San Francisco Public Radio. For over twenty-eight years he has been the "Resident Philosopher" on National Public Radio's Chicago affiliate, WBEZ-FM, and he regularly lectures to community and professional organizations on issues in popular culture, business and ethics.
Chapter 1: A Brief, Highly Selective, And Somewhat Fallacious History of Humor and Joke Telling Chapter 2: How Do You Make Funny? So, What's a Joke? Chapter 3: Comedy and Coping with Reality Chapter 4: Dirty Jokes, Tasteless Jokes, Ethnic Jokes Chapter 5: Conversations with a Colleague about Humor and Ethics Chapter 6: Philogagging: Humor in the Classroom and Beyond
Epilogue Notes Suggested Readings/Humor and Comedy Index About the Author
I have been for decades searching for an answer, and recently I discovered a new one. It comes in the new book The Importance of Being Funny by local writer, professor and radio personality Al Gini.... Gini's book is slender at 141 pages, but stunningly insightful (and, don't get me wrong, a great deal of fun too). Chicago Tribune Comedy is a means of dealing with the problems of life; it's a weapon against anxiety and discomfort, a coping mechanism, and a release valve that removes stress and provides a distraction from our fears. Humor disarms, it confronts, it anesthetizes. It
gives us the courage to endure that which we cannot understand or avoid' and gives voice to the unspeakable. Radio personality Gini breezily examines the role humor has played in society, tracing jokes back to ancient Egypt and the Bible. He discusses the fool in the time of Henry VII who had license to speaktruth to power,' acting as a confidante and critic, whose role eventually evolved into stand-up comedians like Bob Hope and satirists like Jon Stewart. Gini looks at what makes a joke funny and asks if tasteless jokes can be funny; and he looks at the ethics behind joke telling. As a professor, Gini uses humor in the teaching of philosophy to reach his students, comparing the role of comedy with that of philosophy and he uses humor here, too, sharing plenty of hilarious jokes to illustrate his points in this entertaining and informative survey. Booklist The Importance of Being Funny: Why We Need More Jokes in Our Lives ... did a good job of suggesting why humor is important and describing the place it has in a free society. Great Writers Steal The Importance of Being Funny [treats] its ideas with intellectual respect.... Gini's writing has a geniality that works nicely with a tricky subject to examine. He's found a narrow window in which to operate, one in which he's able to treat his explorations seriously without taking them TOO seriously. His passionate connection with the ideas being expressed goes a long way toward imbuing the book with an energy that it would fall flat without. If you love comedy and have ever wondered WHY you love it, The Importance of Being Funny is for you. It's a thoughtful and thought-provoking read ... and it's even got a few laughs. The Maine Edge This book is a comprehensive, coherent distillation of the best thinking on humor and jokes, both the philosophical and ethical issues, as well as the place of humor in our lives. . . . it is stunning in its breadth, accessibility, and brevity. It truly is a distillation of the best the field has to offer and written in an accessible and fun style. -- Jacob M. Held "I've known Al Gini since I was five years old. I always thought of him as the hilarious kook who lived down the street. Until I read this excellent book I had no idea that he was in fact, a gainfully employed, productive member of our society. This book is so insightful, I highly recommend it. We need more Al Gini's in our life." -- Thomas Lennon, of Comedy Central's Reno 911, CBS' The Odd Couple, co-author of the Night at the Museum series "I have been the victim of some of Al Gini's early research for this book, being one of his unsuspecting students many years ago. I had intended on attending and listening to boring lectures about dry philosophy subjects. But he'd interject humor and, therefore, make it nearly impossible to forget the lessons. (Shaking fist at sky...) Damn you, Gini!" -- David Pasquesi, Chicago's Second City, HBO's Veep, Improviser of the Year by Chicago Improv Festival "Gini gives us a careful examination of comedy and its central importance in our lives from the classroom to the boardroom to the bedroom, managing to extricate precisely where, why, and how something can be funny without ever spoiling the good time with pedantic antics. I learned and LOLed simultaneously." -- Zach Freeman, Chicago Tribune Comedy Critic "The Importance of Being Funny is both important and funny. The French existentialist Albert Camus said that life is absurd. Gini agrees and argues that to live it well we need to embrace the absurdity. Laughter isn't just the best medicine, but the very stuff of life." -- Steven Gimbel, Gettysburg College "Life isn't funny--except when it is. Yet humor, such as it is nowadays, tends to degenerate into one of two unbearably joyless perversions: the condescending, cynical snark of didactic political pundits, or the cringe-inducing, unsubtle raunch of a typical Hollywood offering. But In The Importance of Being Funny, Professor Al Gini attempts to recover the joyfulness of humor by deriving it from the best--and the most demanding--material of all: the baffling contours of everyday experiences and our uproariously futile attempts to make complete sense of life. Humor, in Gini's hands, is sometimes homey, mostly honest, and ultimately humane. A timely and entertaining offering!" -- Gregory Wolcott, Saint Mary's College of California "Socrates argued that the unexamined life is not worth living. Diogenes, Socrates' ever-present heckler and frenemy, would probably have countered that the un-laughed-at life is equally a waste. Fast-forward two-and-a-half millennia, and Al Gini makes a convincing case for why being funny is important not just for teachers and philosophers, but for everyone-especially when it comes to learning how to live in a less-than-perfect world. Indeed, contra Leibniz, it's hard to imagine that this imperfect world in which we live is even the best logically possible one. Then again, logic is something that Gini shows us has always been based on some funny stuff. Laughter, according to Gini, is a natural reaction to the breakdown of rationality and reason. It is also a balm for our personal ills, an anesthetic for our collective pain, the most sincere response we can have when faced with the unknowable-and yet simultaneously a sign of hope that we will be all right even when faced with ills, pain, and imperfect knowledge. Walking a fine line between arguing that so-called political correctness can unacceptably hinder comedy, yet admitting that jokes do carry moral import-and certain jokes cause harm and thus border on hate speech-Gini does not shy away from addressing the question of ethics as well as aesthetics in matters of comedy. In a concise and accessible manner, he thus takes up the history, nature, morality, and pragmatics of joke telling-an art form he admits is not as popular as it once was. Yet out of something "old school," Gini creates a new reason to pay careful attention, and a reason to follow a new Kantian-inspired Comedic Imperative. Plus, along the way you'll not only learn about the importance of being funny, you'll also learn the answer to some of philosophy's greatest mysteries: why the first chicken crossed the first road, why men go bear hunting, and why the elephant was walked." -- H. Peter Steeves, DePaul University
When E. B. White said "analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog; few people are interested and the frog dies," he hadn't seen Al Gini's hilarious, incisive, and informative take on jokes, joke-telling, and the jokers who tell jokes. For Gini, humor is more than just foolish fun: it serves as a safety valve for dealing with reality that gives us the courage to endure that which we cannot understand or avoid. Not everyone tells jokes. Not everyone gets a joke, even a good one. But, Gini argues, joke-telling can act as both a sword and a shield to defend us from reality. As the late, great stand-up comic Joan Rivers put it: 'If you can laugh at it, you can live with it!' This book is for anyone who enjoys a good laugh, but also wants to know why.
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