WHAT'S SO FUNNY ABOUT THAT? ONE MAN'S PRIMER

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They say there's no laughter in Hell, that it would be improper in Heaven ... so you better enjoy it now. Especially in advertising.

Hear the one about the masochist? He likes a cold shower in the morning, so he takes a hot one.

As a longtime surviving copywriter, I once did a funny ad for Chivas Regal and I'm still asked ponderous questions on the subject of humor in advertising.

Humor is defined in the encyclopedia as "any body fluid, such as the aqueous and vitreous ..." Hold it! Wrong humor. Next entry:

Humor is "a form of communication in which a complex mental stimulus illustrates or amuses, or elicits the reflex of laughter." Did you know that spontaneous laughter is a motor reflex produced by the coordinated contraction of 15 facial muscles in a stereotyped pattern and accompanied by altered breathing?

Now that might be considered funny, even hilarious, in certain obscure corners of the world. But not here.

Broad grins, belly laughs, giggles, howls ... in his popular medieval monograph, "Der Joken mit der Himmel," Herr Doktor Frederick von Glockenspoof argues that no one really knows why something strikes our funnybone, or der Musikantenknochen.

Words alone are not funny. Yet it's different when they have a double meaning.

A doctor, leaving the sick bed of a wife, said to her husband, "I don't like her looks." The husband replied, "I haven't liked her looks for a long time."

Kant, who was a most solemn type, said that what causes laughter is "the sudden transformation of a tense expectation into nothing." You understand that? Kant could.

Nietzsche made some most penetrating remarks on the philosophical aspects of humor. Unfortunately, he expressed them all in German and we have no umlauts here. Besides, he ended up kind of crazy.

Freud had much to say about humor, but it all deals with the unconscious, and venturing into that murky territory is laden with land mines.

All authorities-and everybody else, for that matter-claim that puns are the lowest form of humor. Yet we all secretly love them.

When Ben Jonson was asked to make a pun, he asked, "Pun what subject?" "Oh, the King." And Ben replied, "But the King in not a subject. He is the king."

Laughter seems to have no utilitarian value, no biological purpose. It's strictly a luxury reflex, since its only function appears to be to provide relief from tension. So enjoy!

Moving on to the Witty Repartee Dept.:

The French poet Rousseau wrote an "Ode to Posterity." Voltaire didn't think much of it and remarked, "This poem will not reach its destination."

The 18th century egalantiarium, or judge of taste and etiquette, Lord Chesterfield, claimed that there is nothing so ill-bred, so tacky, as audible laughter. Later noted experts, such as Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, Amos & Andy, George & Gracie, Stoopnagel & Budd and Fibber McGee & Molly, disagreed vehemently.

"Why are you always singing that tune?" "Because it haunts me." "No wonder .*.*. you're constantly murdering it."

And as the celebrated French wit Sebastien Roch Nicolas Chamfort pointed out in one of his most shrewd maxims, "The most wasted day is that in which we have not laughed."

So seek to spare yourself, and your audience, that awful prospect. However, a word of warning: When describing your hilarious work to clients, don't ever describe it as funny or humorous. They're spending huge sums of big serious money and, to them, funny may well mean zany or strange or bizarre or even eccentric. Just say you've tried to make it lighthearted and entertaining, and let them discover for themselves that it is truly sidesplitting and hilarious.M

Mr. Rikes, a New Yorker, describes himself as "a veteran copywriter who has been fired from Doyle Dane Bernbach, J. Walter Thompson, Benton & Bowles, Wells Rich Greene, William Douglas McAdams, Gardner and, most recently, from DDB Needham. Now that's kind of funny. Just to get rid of me they abolished the entire creative department."

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