The television show “America’s Funniest Home Videos” began as soon as the camcorder became affordable for the average family. It is quite possibly one of the longest running reality shows on television, and shows no sign of getting canceled anytime soon. It has relied on the pain can be funny formula for years, a majority of the show based on the crotch shot. A little kid hits his father with a baseball bat; a friend throws a Frisbee; or the receiver runs for the long pass over the fence; a kid on a trampoline lands on his brother’s headÉ the possibilities are endless, an no matter how many times they see it, the audience howls in laughter as a man gets hit in the crotch.
The show “Jackass” also pushed the limits of these principles, and many pieces bordered on disgusting and unfunny, but it was always this examination of extreme pain and embarrassment as entertainment that was riveting. Even in the ‘long form’ of a theatrical release (barely worth calling a ‘film’), “Jackass” milked every drop of humor out of pain.
The question, for Harvey, was ‘Why?’ How is it that a person can watch another in pain, and their only response is to laugh? At what point does suffering stop being humorous? Why do we not laugh at car wrecks, at sunken ships or The Holocaust?
The simple answer, for the most part, is the best: if the pain is brief, and inflicted in a ‘common’ or ‘normal’ way, then it is funny. If the pain is self-inflicted by drunken morons, it is funny. If the pain is the direct result of human incompetence (see www.darwinawards.com for more examples) then it is funny.
Pain and suffering that result in death or tragedy are not funny. Human misery is not funny. In these cases, the internal response that ‘the jerk got what they deserved’ or ‘that could happen to me’ does not produce laughter; it creates fear.
A MULTI-PLANAR STUDY OF INVOLUNTARY RESPONSE TO THE LATERAL IMPACT OF DOMESTIC OBJECTS: IS IT FUNNY? (also referred to as IMPACT STUDY) uses traditional scientific and documentary methods to study the humor of the ‘crotch-shot’. It was derived from conversations within Harvey as to the nature of humor, and the desire to find out if analytic study and raw repetition could negate or alter the humor. The ‘crotch-shot’ was chosen as the most pronounced and common form of home-video humor, based on its frequency in “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and “Jackass”, as well as in commercials, movies and other television comedies.
For IMPACT STUDY, Harvey Loves Harvey created a ‘testing room’ designed to resemble the gridded backdrops of Edweard Muybridge and Tomas Eakins a century earlier. Cameras were placed facing the ‘testing area’ directly, as well as from the side. Two other cameras framed the face of the Harvey test subjects.
Donning white lab jumpsuits, each Harvey received 26 blows to the crotch with domestic objects, started with the smallest and increasing in size. Some of these were: Ramen noodles in a cup, a $10 roll of US quarters, Big Mouth Billy Bass, a computer keyboard, a can of beets, a toy guitar, an Ethernet hub, a Zip drive, the film “Kingpin” on VHS, and a Verizon phone book.
The final piece, as presented in the ONE2 show in Boston, presented the final videos on two monitors (one for Nash, one for Dean). Each screen was split in half, showing a front and side view, with overlays detailing the subject’s response at the moment of impact.
Most important, though, was the addition of a laugh-track synched to the video. Unlike a ‘live’ laugh-track, however, the laughter began at the moment of impact, rather than after the small delay required by an audience to process the humor of the action before responding. This small shift in the sound-track made IMPACT STUDY slightly disconcerting, forcing laughter before the audience had fully processed the action and concluded that laughter was the appropriate response.