My favorite types of humor involve witty banter and the humor of experience (situational humor). Yet, I have begun to notice a decline in these sorts of heightened humor. I often see people tell jokes about specific demographics, or at the expense of someone’s superficial appearance. The lightest versions of these jokes are humorous, and the strongest can be quite offensive.
Upon reading Madea’s Uninhibited Commentaries on Love and Life, I noticed that Tyler Perry often seems to search for these “cheap laughs.” These are laughs generated by extracting from stereotypes or standards in society. I often felt that, as a result, the advice that Madea gives did not feel genuine. That is to say, I could not tell whether or not Perry attempted to sell her advice as yet another joke or something more genuine, and I felt that these jokes then fell flat.
“Madea” gives a lot of advice throughout the book, but one piece in particular is: “Something else I hope this book will do is to help people understand that you have to feel good about yourselves” (17) Madea probably means this when she says it, for she is characterized as a well-meaning, Mother-knows-best sort of mother figure. However, I wonder what Perry means through his use of Madea.
Perhaps Perry chooses to use Madea as a bit of a joke. That is to say, he takes her comedic wisdom too far in the comedic sense, thus making her unrealistic. For example, in the section on page seventeen during which Madea explains her purpose for telling these stories, she ends by describing herself. She presents herself as a simple woman, who wants to talk to readers, namely women from the various section topics, about her own experience to help them with theirs. Yet she ends this almost comforting piece of advice with, “Everything about me is simple except for these stretch marks” (17). This lightens the moment by cheapening it, possibly not the most effective method. Perry uses this technique throughout the book, and while some may laugh the first time they read such a comment, eventually readers can see her as an unrealistic character. Some women would indeed make comments such as these, but when considering the methodical format to Perry’s “humor” in this manner, the joke becomes less effective.
Why is it funny when a women makes such a joke in real life? I feel that sometimes these jokes are humorous, because the woman pokes fun at herself to show that she can laugh at herself and that she understands the idea that there are more important qualities. Yet sometimes I don’t laugh at these jokes, because the woman is only trying to prove that she can laugh at herself and that such self-effacing thoughts do not perturb her, when, in actuality, they do. Perhaps Perry is at fault here. Perhaps I would find this repeated caricaturizing of Madea funny if it was coming from one of the “Madea-types” herself? Might the jokes fall flat or cheap sometimes because a man in his forties—who neither intimately knows the experiences nor, as a man, can understand them—is poking fun.
Is truth, then, necessary for comedy? Perhaps not. When we watch any movie or attend any play, we understand that the actors are separate from their characters and their characters’ experiences. Yet the illusion of truth is essential, and must persist for audiences to become invested. Tyler Perry would never be cast as “Madea” in a movie or play unless he were to dress up in drag, wear a fat suit, and thereby perform a mockery. Thus it is very difficult to take this book and read it as anything but that. I do think that it is possible to successfully—that is to say, both truthfully and comically—“play” a character different from oneself without turning the performance into an outright mockery, but this requires compassion and honesty instead of a search for cheap laughs sans substance.