My next-door neighbor around the turn of the century was a staff writer for the meat-and-potatoes sitcom Married With Children.
If you wanted to get her raving, you’d swing the conversation around to her bête noire: the “Harvard Mafia” of highly educated comedy writers who had moved to town with The Simpsons.
But she had a point. In a lot of ways it’s easier to be funny if you don’t know all that much stuff.
For example, “What’s the deal with airline food?”
If your first inclination is to explain that when you stop and think about the physical and logistical challenges of serving a modest variety of broadly appealing meals to tired, crowded passengers, many of them suffering mild hypoxia, the surprising “deal,” as it were, with airline food is that it is, all things considered, a fairly good deal …
… well, then you aren’t by nature very funny. Some people can overcome knowing a lot of information and still be funny, but it’s not that easy.
My son told me an example of how ignorance and being naturally funny go together. Two white comedians on the radio were talking to a third, a Puerto Rican stand-up, about how he needs to be more woke. “Read Ta-Nehisi Coates!” they implored him.
“Ta-Nehisi Coates,” they enunciated.
“Okay, okay, I’ll look him up on my iPad,” said the PR comedian.
Now that’s funny. Knowing how to spell “Ta-Nehisi Coates” is depressing, but hearing “Tallahassee Totes” instead is great.
That sounds like the name of a racehorse, or of a minor mobster in Guys and Dolls who has a hot tip on a racehorse.