Opinions about entertainment are purely subjective. Everybody has one . . . and no one is hesitant about expressing it. Put nine people in a room, show them something - anything - then ask how they feel about it, and you are bound to get nine different views, in varying degrees.
Music, movies, television, books . . . whatever it is, you can find someone who loves it and someone who hates it. But of all the things that prompt disagreement, none are as widely disputed as those intended to provoke laughter.Comedy is perhaps the most fragile form of entertainment. What strikes me as hilarious may not seem even remotely amusing to you. What tickles your funny bone may just seem dumb to me.
When I was growing up, I remember my Dad loved to watch the Three Stooges. My mother hated the Three Stooges.
And some comedy doesn't age particularly well. During my youth I was a big Jerry Lewis fan. I can remember going to see "Cinderfella" and "The Patsy" five or six times. But I recently watched part of those films again and found I couldn't finish them. I was cringing instead of laugh-ing.
On the other hand, some comedy ages extremely well. Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd - the silent-era Big Three - are as funny today as they were 70 years ago.
The modern state of comedy, however, distresses me. Slapstick seems haphazard instead of choreographed. Cross-talk and clever dialogue have given way to sarcastic one-liners. Plotting is secondary to skits, and the skits all have crass, vulgar, gross-out punch lines. Shock has replaced wit. And everything seems to be about sex.
During a marathon of late-night television gorging this week, I watched Jay Leno on Ch. 5 do a lengthy monologue that was 90 percent Clinton-Lewinsky sex jokes, each more raunchy than the one before. Over on Ch. 2, David Letterman did jokes on the same subject and offered a related Top 10 list. Ch. 4 had Bill Maher, of "Politically Incorrect," doing raunchy jokes and then leading his guests into a sex-charged discussion of the White House scandal.
By the time I returned to Ch. 5 for Conan O'Brien, even he was noticing the trend. He opened his monologue by saying that talk-show hosts are "required" to do Clinton-Lewinsky jokes . . . and then he made more jokes on the subject.
My concern, however, isn't that talk-show hosts are all joking about this topic. My distress is that most of the punch lines are of the kind junior high school boys make in the locker room when they're trying to out-gross each other.
And this is also true of modern movies.
Three of the big summer pictures in theaters right now exemplify just how crude and disgusting - and surprisingly amateurish - things have become. "There's Something About Mary," "Mafia!" and "BASEketball" are all off-the-wall, deliberately dumb comedies that aim for big laughs by trying to out-raunch each other.
They are also rather poorly made, with sloppy setups and stupid payoffs.
None of these films are clever, though "Mary" does have the potential to be a genuinely sweet romantic farce until it botches the job with mean-spirited gags that override goodwill.
And while they all revel in a kind of forced tastelessness, there's something here that goes far beyond mere bad manners.
Each film also has an unbridled nastiness toward people with physical handicaps.
In "Mary," a man on crutches tries to bend over and pick up his keys from the floor, but awkwardly shakes in the effort. It's a long scene, and later we discover that he's faking! He actually does have the use of his legs.
In "BASEketball," a dying child gets a ride on an adult's shoulders and hits his head on the door jam.
But the worst offender may be "Mafia!" as people attending a funeral get sick to their stomachs, which leads to a marathon of projectile vomiting.
What I found repugnant here, however, was not the vomiting, but the reason for the vomiting.
They get sick after looking at the face of a burn victim in a wheelchair.
This is comedy?
Young moviegoers often send e-mail that says I just don't get it, that I'm out of touch, that I'm too old.
If this is what constitutes hilarity in the '90s, I'm happy to remain a step behind.