The history of the comedic form, and its unique ability to help us process what is most taboo and controversial in our society, serves as the basis for That's Not Funny, a smart and breezy feature-length documentary which calls for a reexamination of comedy's true purpose in the modern age.
Since the days of vaudeville, comedy has aimed at inciting conversation and deeper thought on a host of socially unacceptable topics. So why is our modern society so easily offended by the humor they see on their televisions, cinema screens and theatrical stages? Filmmaker and comedy enthusiast Mike Celestino wanted to know, so he set out to craft a film which explores our evolving relationship to comedy and its relationship to us.
Comedy is everywhere, observes Celestino.
We use it to break tension, to point out hypocrisy, and even to convey the news. Indeed, comedy permeates our everyday lives and it remains one of our most universally popular art forms. But as its prominence continues to thrive, so does its propensity to inspire shock and offense among many of its consumers.
As explained in the film, this is far from a new phenomenon. In 1940, filmmaker Charlie Chaplin released The Great Dictator, a controversial skewering of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Scandalized audiences of the day criticized Chaplin for making light of real-life atrocities. The same dynamic occurred with the rise of the modern comedian in the late 1960’s – emblemized by figures like George Carlin, Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor - as they riffed on a range of sensitive topics as varied as religion, relationships, politics and the social ills of the day.
In each of these cases, the artist was unfairly maligned by a public which failed to recognize the true intention of the art. As argued by Celestino, the power of comedy lies in its capacity to expose the absurdity of everything around us, especially in those subjects we find most uncomfortable, and to point the way towards solutions and improvements through sharp, witty and enlightening observation. After all, what better way is there to combat the truly horrible and victimizing elements of society than to laugh at them?