Sometimes comedy illuminates hard truths with a pointed urgency that other means can’t quite achieve. Sometimes comedy is just funny. This series of posts is mostly about the former instances, but the latter is valuable, too.
I would be overjoyed to report that my formative experiences with comedy were edgy and cool. There were certainly some personally favored selections that skewed to the countercultural — Andy Kaufman, Richard Pryor, Saturday Night Live when it still fit into that category — but I was often responding to some embedded silliness rather than anything truly subversive. In short, I was always a dork.
Few things prove that premise more decisively than one of the recurring comedy bits I committed to most fervently in the early nineteen-eighties. Not Necessarily the News was a surprisingly long-lived sketch comedy show on HBO. Amidst the usual parodies, character-driven bits, and simple skewering of the events of the day, the show provided a platform for comedian Rich Hall to introduce “sniglets,” which he defined as words that don’t appear in the dictionary, but should. In practice, they were sort of like malaprops infused with logic and applied to the minutiae of life.
When I confess I was all in on sniglets, I’m not kidding. It was one thing to eagerly await the appearance of the inevitable sniglets segment on each episode of NNTN. I took what little money I had and directed it towards acquiring all of the slim paperbacks that assembled the various made-up words into mini-compendiums, tediously regaling my classmates with personal favorites.
I still have a lot of affection for the sniglets, if only because the bit speaks to the little word addict inside of me. Much as I admire the politically ferocious boundary-pushers, more gentle, punny humor has its place, too.
Previous entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Laughing Matters” tag.