humour as pulse of the times

A fancy is by definition something that moves one. So some of my fancies are totally predictable. Their whole rationale is to move people, to get at them, to push their buttons. Anything that uses the senses to do that falls in this category, like music and aesthetic visuals. And anything that plays with your mind, like poetry and humour. So naturally, these keep popping up in my blog.

I recently started wondering about humour. Is successful humour, successful in the sense of pushing buttons left right and centre, just good humour, or is there more to it? What triggered the thought was my discomfort when watching well-known Dutch stand-up comedians Theo Maassen and Hans Teeuwen. Their virtuosity with words is amazing. They are without doubt extra-ordinary stage personalities. But their performances rely on direct confrontation and their audiences, me included, seek relief in laughter from a creepy, often shocking unease with what they see and hear, and it unsettles me. Even if you’re not Dutch, the below might still show you what I mean:

What exactly makes it unsettling? Of the various answers at different levels that this question may have, the one that I want to focus on is that this kinda humour seems so quintessentially Dutch. And that – as far as I can see – it is a quite recent development, in other words, when I was a kid, it wasn’t around. Sounds contradictory but it isn’t because cultures change and that change can be much faster than most imagine. What is going on?

One may question if borders are really so distinctive that they would make for national senses of humour. I have no difficulty at all to enjoy, thoroughly enjoy, comedy from many other countries.  Nevertheless, Stephen Fry’s answer to the question about the difference between American and British comedians rings very true to me.

If Fry is right and one can analyze a culture by its humour, what does the reliance of these guys on shell shocking their audiences tell us about changing Dutch culture? All I can tell you is that I grew up with other stuff. With apologies to non-Dutch speakers, here is an example.

Admittedly, I might be very much on the wrong foot here. We’ve also had a longer period of absurdist humour, sort of in the Monty Python category, with van Kooten en de Bie, and others. We beat Ricky Gervais to the office with Debiteuren Crediteuren. And I am still leaving out plenty of others, not in the last place the women, I focus on the intellectuals among the stand-uppers, and there might be young talent out there making a name for themselves doing something totally different again. So lots to caveats. But the shock therapists as the beacons of an important social change makes too much intuitive sense to dismiss off-hand. Now, whatever the change exactly is, do The Netherlands go it alone or are we riding one wave in a larger ocean?  And whatever the answer to that, I’ll need something upbeat to balance it with.

About roger henke

Still figuring out the story line that would satisfy myself here. Listening to what my family and friends evoke, what the words I absorb, the images that move me, the movements that still me, point to.
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