My sense of humor is inexplicable. Can you explain it?
January 8, 2014 8:45 PM   Subscribe

My sense of humor when it comes to television - or rather, what I find funny - doesn't seem to follow a pattern that I can describe. It makes it difficult to tell people what I like, and difficult to trust suggestions/recommendations. Even my husband, despite knowing me better than anyone, really can't guess what I'd find funny any better than a person off the street. Examples of what I like and don't like under the cut. Looking for terms so I can describe my sense of humor to people and get better recommendations for more things I'd like.

I find these shows funny:
  • Archer
  • Futurama
  • 30 Rock
  • News Radio
  • The Larry Sanders Show
  • Better Off Ted
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000
  • Venture Bros.
These shows are sort of comme-ci-comme-├ža:
  • Kids in the Hall, about 80% funny/20% excruciating
  • Mr. Show, about 10% funny/90% excruciating
  • South Park, about 30% funny/70% excruciating
I don't like these shows, and I don't find them funny, but they don't make me acutely uncomfortable:
  • The Simpsons
  • Seinfeld
  • Flight of the Conchords (though their music is funny to me, the show isn't, really)
  • Aqua Teen Hunger Force
I find these shows excruciating and can't watch them:
  • Extras
  • The Office, both UK and American, but UK is worse
  • Always Sunny in Philadelphia
As data points, I don't find ANY Judd Apatow or Adam McKay movies funny. I just squirm in my seat. I find the comedian Louis C.K. funny, but prefer his stand-up to his television show.

Again, what I'm looking for are some words, phrases, and descriptions that describe what the commonalities are in what I find funny/appealing versus unbearable. What is it about the kind of humor I like, that makes it different than the kind of humor I don't like?
posted by juniperesque to Society & Culture (30 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
You may be looking at cringe comedy or "embarrassment humor" to describe what you don't like. I can't stand it myself - as you say, it's excruciating.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:48 PM on January 8, 2014 [23 favorites]

You like actual satire.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:48 PM on January 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

I would say that the commonality here is that the comedy you like has an element of smugness to it.
posted by dhammond at 8:50 PM on January 8, 2014

The shows you like are almost all parodies, aren't they?
posted by empath at 8:53 PM on January 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

The stuff you like takes place in a cartoonish world where anything can happen.

The further down your dislike scale you get, the more realistic the shows become.

"Always Sunny" is cartoonish but touches on a lot of unpleasant realistic topics like drug use, sociopathy, and having a funeral for a fake baby to dodge the IRS.
posted by meadowlark lime at 8:57 PM on January 8, 2014 [16 favorites]

One thing that occurred to me while reading your lists: the shows that you don't like have likable or at least relatable characters to whom embarassing/awkward/outright bad things happen. On the shows that you do like, embarassing/awkward/outright bad things happen, but to characters that are either unlikeable or not intended to be realistic/relatable.
posted by lunasol at 9:20 PM on January 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would say you generally like comedies with somewhat emotionally developed characters (not cartoon characters or, well, if they are, at least they have some more emotional back story than just a collection of gag traits). Then, you don't want to watch these characters suffer. Do you watch Bob's Burgers?
posted by theweasel at 9:21 PM on January 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Larry Sanders Show is what seems not to fit. It's all cringing and unlikable characters.

Do you like Parks & Recreation?
posted by mullacc at 9:23 PM on January 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I find secondhand embarrassment pretty rough going as well.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:27 PM on January 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

One thing that occurred to me while reading your lists: the shows that you don't like have likable or at least relatable characters to whom embarassing/awkward/outright bad things happen.

I don't find any of the characters on those shows particularly likable or relateable.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:32 PM on January 8, 2014

Seconding Bob's Burgers and Parks and Recreation for you. You'd also probably like Arrested Development.

I can't decide if you'd like Party Down- it may be too mean-spirited/cringe-y/"real".
posted by ElectricGoat at 9:57 PM on January 8, 2014

I don't find any of the characters on those shows particularly likable or relateable.

Well, that is subjective.
posted by lunasol at 10:00 PM on January 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

The shows you like are fundamentally light comedies (other than The Larry Sanders Show, although, it's got a 'light' sheen) that have 'relatable' characters, and the plots are largely driven by situation. More in the vein of sort of classic situation comedies. Even when dark things happen, they're used as triggers for something silly, and things resolve and are reassuring in the end. Even Archer's like that, for all the shock.

I'm betting you dislike the absurd bits of Kids in the Hall & Mr. Show & Flight of the Conchords (and Louie; Louie CK's stand-up is more conventional, necessarily).

The disliked shows (character-driven, dark, no redemption), covered above.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:09 PM on January 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Apologies, OP, I read your question too quickly and thought you were looking for suggestions for new things to watch.

I think other posters are correct in that you a. prefer a more cartoonish world and b. strongly dislike secondhand embarrassment or vulgarity/extremeness just for its own sake. Something I usually tell people when I want help finding new shows is that I am decidedly not into Tim & Eric/Adult Swim style random extremeness, and it looks like you aren't either. It's helped a few friends narrow it down.
posted by ElectricGoat at 10:11 PM on January 8, 2014

I asked my friend, who watches way more television than any other human I know (and I live in America...)

"Scenario A:
things she likes: intelligent humor, satire, fast pace
things she doesn't like: long timeframes for story development, cringe

What doesn't fit: The Larry Sanders Show

Scenario B:
things she likes:Animation actually targeted at adults or similarly comical/non-serial development
things she doesn't like: Not that

What doesn't fit: South Park, ATHF

Scenario C:
things she likes:Meta-humor, lovable characters
things she doesn't like:Characters that people "love to hate", dry humor, dark humor

What doesn't fit: The Office, Seinfeld (sorta)"

Any of those three theories sound right?
posted by estlin at 10:15 PM on January 8, 2014

Satirical parody

"Scenario A:
things she likes: intelligent humor, satire, fast pace
things she doesn't like: long timeframes for story development, cringe

What doesn't fit: The Larry Sanders Show

Venture Bros. also has long multi-season story arcs.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:28 PM on January 8, 2014

(This is based mostly on the "excruciating" shows.)

I can sometimes get turned off when I feel like a show is asking me to sympathize with and cheer for characters that are really horrible people. Ricky Gervaise does this a lot, and it really bothered me when I started watching "It's Always Sunny". If the characters aren't really horrible people, or if they are but the show doesn't ask for my sympathy I don't have this problem. Does that strike any chord with you?
posted by benito.strauss at 11:16 PM on January 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Likes: Humble protagonists.
Doesn't like: Dominance


Like: Everybody Loves Raymond
Mixed or don't care: That 70's Show, Friends, Family Guy
Dislike: Two and a Half Men, How I Met Your Mother

I noticed that all of the neutral shows lack a self-effacing protagonist, yet at the same time, there are no authority figures going off the rails. The "excruciating" ones feature a nutty boss (Michael in The Office) and plenty of misogyny. All of the liked shows have humble protagonists (Dave in News Radio, Fry in Futurama).

I don't see that mere cringe comedy is a big factor. I'd guess that the king of cringe comedy, Three's Company, would be mildly liked in spite of its frequent and gut-wrenching embarrassments.
posted by yath at 2:21 AM on January 9, 2014

1: twins! I share your preferences!

2: from my standpoint: cringe comedy makes me cringe whereas fluffy things about spies, supervillains, or robots are AWESOME. I want to be a robot, not a disliked office manager. I know Michael Scotts; I don't know any full on Rusty Ventures.
posted by RainyJay at 2:46 AM on January 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I like just about everything on your list of likes, but I have to measure out my Archer dose because some of the sexism irritates me -- though yes, it's parody.

In that vein, you might like American Dad. I resisted it for a long time, but I've laughed out loud a couple times during recent Netflix binges.
posted by mibo at 3:57 AM on January 9, 2014

Have you watched Curb Your Enthusiasm?
posted by OuttaHere at 5:32 AM on January 9, 2014

We have extremely similar tastes apparently so I will try to take a crack at this for me you.

The differences I can see between what you (I) like and what you don't like is the difference between being amused purely by the idea of randomness and cruelty and going off the rails vs. needing to get on board with a planned structure, being amused by an actual story with a plan and a satisfying conclusion. Even if they're silly characters whose lives and activities are very silly, the episodes don't just meander around being random and walking into walls and putting each others' heads into toilets. So I see it as the difference between being amused by lack of structure vs needing structure to be amused.

I know you didn't ask for recommendations but check out a really great Canadian sitcom called Corner Gas.
posted by bleep at 6:58 AM on January 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Our tastes are similar enough that I'm taking mental notes on the shows I haven't watched.

Totally agreed on the cringe factor. Other things I notice: lower real-world stakes works for you (related to cringiness; watching someone in a situation I might find myself in is something I find pretty painful to watch). Obscure references work. Petty or uncartoonish villains do not work (I think this links up to some of your iffy shows as well, depending on which bits in KITH or Mr. Show work for you).

To me, the shows you like mostly involve situations I'd find fun to be peripherally involved in. It's not as much a humor thing, but it might still be a factor. Spaceships and spies and mocking movies with friends is fun, being a starving musician in a crummy apartment or sitting at the same diner every day with the same annoying people is not. 30 Rock and News Radio are pretty real-world, but the spaces are lit and designed in a way that looks friendly and nice with lots of people moving around doing interesting things, and the Office is kind of the opposite (its aggressively ugly sets are probably part of the humor, but I have no need to look at that when I'm home and relaxing). I also bounced off Louis, and I think that's the difference between it and his standup as well--it's fun to hang out with a friend telling funny stories about being a dope, it's less fun to watch him being a dope.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:52 AM on January 9, 2014

How are you with:
Monty Python
Doc Martin
Red Dwarf

Based on what you say about yourself, I'm guessing you'd find Python funny some of the time, but the other two not at all.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 8:44 AM on January 9, 2014

Or older TV shows:
Barney Miller
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 8:46 AM on January 9, 2014

Yeah, you definitely hate cringe humor. Curb Your Enthusiasm drives you crazy, right?

I know you're not looking for recommendations, but you might like the short lived British tv show Spaced; very absurdist, bad things only happen because they're hilarious, over-the-top cartoonish situations.

Also, not finding anything except the musical sketch bits of Flight of the Conchords funny doesn't make you weird. It's actually just not that funny. The Mighty Boosh is pretty similar but, in my opinion, a bit more witty with the non-song writing.
posted by Juliet Banana at 9:50 AM on January 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have the same preferences as the OP (Venture Bros. and Larry Saunders are sublime), but godammit I hate Corner Gas. I do like Flight of the Conchords though.

MST3K is also a staple in our household, and one of the things it shares with VB and LSS and Archer is obscure pop culture references. The problem with Venture Bros. is that they regularly explain the goddamn reference during the show, which sort of ruins it for me.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:58 AM on January 9, 2014

Our tastes are very similar, except I have only a limited tolerance for MST3K and that's mostly out of nostalgia, and I include Seinfeld in the makes-me-acutely-uncomfortable category.

As far as descriptive keywords go, I feel like the shows we like are irreverent and smart (Netflix might label them "Witty Comedies") and sharply satirical, and the ones we don't like are over-the-top awkward and cringey and maybe rely a little less on intellectual and obscure pop culture references and a little more on more blunt, "universal," humor, like family stuff and work stuff and and awkward situations and mainstream pop culture.

I wonder how you feel about Arrested Development? Everyone is always so surprised I don't really like it, especially since there are bits of some episodes that make me laugh. But it's mostly really cringey, and about terrible things happening to terrible people (which is something I'm not fond of in my drama, either, which means TV is hard for me these days!), and all the family drama makes me uncomfortable, and it's soooo repetitive.
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:15 PM on January 9, 2014

I think you mostly like "non-cringe satire (possibly with a heart)"

[I too recommend Parks and Recreation]
posted by heyjude at 1:35 PM on January 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

It looks like terms that might describe what you enjoy are: showbiz comedies, satires/spoofs, workplace comedies, specifically ones with lots of referential humor and 4th-wall breaking.

Try these, though I can't assume you'll like all of them:

-Comedy Bang Bang
-Raising Hope
-Parks and Recreation
-Arrested Development
-Scrubs (seasons 1-3 anyways)
-Pushing Daisies

-The Flop House
-How Did This Get Made?

-The Cabin in the Woods
-Tucker and Dave vs Evil
-21 Jump Street
-L.A. Story
-Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
-Edgar Wright's Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World's End)

Maybe give Armando Ianucci's stuff (The Thick of It, In the Loop, Veep) if you like the political jokes on 30 Rock.
posted by JauntyFedora at 5:49 PM on January 23, 2014

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