Joke Museum, Or Museum Of Jokes?

jokemuseumThe English like to muddle through, and putting things down on paper always seems a little unnecessary.

It’s why, of course, both Meech Lake and the Charlottetown son-of-a-Meech both failed, neither side understanding the other. That’s a joke and perhaps that’s what Montreal’s fun house is supposed to celebrate.

Humor is rather like sex. Once you start to analyse it, all the mystery goes out of it. Montreal’s new Museum of Humor is somewhat like coming upon a six-storey collection of Dr. Kinsey’s findings, or the leftover computer printouts from Masters and Johnson. Suddenly it doesn’t appear all that interesting.

It’s a very serious thing, of course, to get enough money out of politicians, in these perilous times, to erect a monument to humor. Promoter Gilbert Rozon is the guy who can do it, since he has a Montreal reputation because of his well-established Just for Laughs festival.

He has had Luc Laporte, a celebrated Montreal architect, convert the old brewery into a rabbit maze of interconnected rooms that are designed to take 21/2 hours to traverse. Has anyone ever spent 21/2 hours in a museum? Let alone in a museum that wants to X-ray humor to death? One comes out most glum.

The idea is that this will be good for tourism, but why any American would come to Montreal to discover humor when he has Dan Quayle at home is difficult to fathom.

The first joke is that admission is $17.50, making it the most expensive museum in North America. The Louvre costs seven bucks. Colonial humor is apparently more expensive.

As a matter of fact, the best jokes in Montreal come free, off the street. Know what Toronto people dream about all weekend? TGIM. Thank God it’s Monday.

Where’s the red light district in Toronto? Behind the Maple Leaf net.

So many Canadian city names come from Indian derivations, as in “where the waters meet.” Toronto is Indian for “the narrowing of the minds.”

If Toronto were in Russia, its name would be Retrograd.

And so on. Don’t have to analyse those. Just plain old vicious regional contempt. Promoter Rozon and his staff of 80 (that’s joke number two) attempt to trace humor back to caveman days and drag it, protesting and struggling, through the centuries. They attempt to explain political satire’s birth in Greece, though we’re not sure even Jay Leno needs that.

Visitors must wear computerized headphones the weight of a football helmet that keep you marching through the eras from early Italian farce to Moli*re up to Bob Hope. Everything is very high-tech (which humor is not)–one of the most clever devices is stepping from square to square on a giant checkerboard, the weight of the foot giving the headphones witticisms from among others Woody Allen, who doesn’t seem so funny any more.

You can’t organize humor and the proprietors, with the computerized headsets, try to organize and frog-march the patrons from cell to cell to the timing of their profit margins. Sorry, but we were not amused.

There’s Will Rogers: “There’s no trick in being a humorist. When you have the whole government working for you.” There is one surprising wit, Nikita Khrushchev: “Politicians are the same everywhere. They promise to build a bridge where there’s no water.” Pierre Trudeau is identified as “a former prime minister, and procreator.”

It’s interesting, as the analysis dies, that those who can afford $17.50 linger longest around Charlie Chaplin shorts and those Buster Keaton car chases, the silent films that require no explanation and are the funniest of all.

Robin Williams is here with his mind sharper than Maggie Thatcher’s nose, but you have to know last year’s political correctness to keep up with his RPMs; Chaplin will live 100 years from now. Silence was golden.

We wish Montreal well, with its museum mania–there’s one for cartoons, there’s one for architecture–but we’re not sure about humor. No one is sure about it, as it is the most slippery, undefinable art. People who take it seriously are the most unfunny of all.

It is, admittedly, a lucrative cottage industry for some, the wire services telling us every summer of a clutch of learned English professors gathered at some seminar beside some sunny lake reading papers and essays on their findings as to what makes us laugh.

The people who try to analyse and explain Will Rogers and Mark Twain and Stephen Leacock now make more money than those guys did. Now, that’s funny.

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