Dateline: MONTREAL—Comedians gathered around an enormous round table at the World Comedy Festival to try to answer once and for all the perennial question of whether satire is supposed to be serious or funny.
According to the comedian Lawrence Flappapuss, satire is mainly about making people laugh. “Satirists make fun of things, so satire’s got to be funny,” he said. “Satire should be as funny as physical comedy. That’s why I combine the two in my act.”
Flappapuss proceeded to ridicule the foreign policies of various political administrations while jumping up and down on one foot and repeatedly throwing pies in his own face.
Michelle Richenbacher disagreed with Flappapuss. “Satire is deadly serious business,” she said.
“Take Jonathan Swift’s famous satire, ‘A Modest Proposal,’ for example. I defy you to laugh while reading it. It’s not funny, but it’s hugely satirical because it teaches us about an absurdity. It uses techniques of exaggeration to skewer a worthy target and to shame those who have allowed the absurdity to continue.”
Arriving at a compromise position was Jose Fandango, the comedian’s equivalent of a street magician. Instead of performing tricks to surprise and delight bystanders, he’s known for circling an outdoor crowd like a vulture and mocking every third individual he sees, without mercy, satirizing them to their face.
“I like to work in threes,” he said, “to lend my satires an air of mathematical inexorability. These days we’re all deserving of ridicule, but sort of like the angel of the Lord in the biblical Passover story, I pass over groups of two individuals out of charity and then unload on the third fellow.”
Satire is serious business, he agreed with Richenbacher. “But satire must also be funny and therein is the middle ground. You see, the world is screwed up and satire is a weapon wielded by some of those who want to improve things. You ridicule those who deserve it, you teach the unpleasant truth, but then the humorous part of the satire lifts us back up, inspiring us to go out there and change things for the better.”
After Fandango spoke, Flappapuss mocked the way Fandango sat on his chair, by attempting to swallow his own chair for no good reason. Richenbacher protested that laughter is for the little people who are incapable of fixing even a decent sandwich.
Meanwhile, sticking to his method, Fandango ignored them both and descended upon the young waitress who had been serving them drinks, accusing her of being altogether too thin.