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Wednesday, January 12, 2022


Some old TV comedian, I cannot now recall who it was, had a little riff about an organization of comedians which had, for convenience, created a numbered list of all the possible bad jokes they could tell. When members of the group got together for a drink, to save time instead of telling each other jokes they were just mention the number in the list, and everybody would burst out laughing.

That is pretty much the way I feel in writing this blog sometimes.  Even though I range over a pretty wide assortment of topics in my work, there is only so much one person can say, after all, and so, 16 years into blogging, I repeat myself.  Since that seems to rub some people the wrong way, it occurred to me that rather than go to the trouble of writing once again the sequence of ideas that I have sorted out in my mind, I might simply cite the date on which I last said what is now in my mind and leave it to everybody reading this blog to look it up

So, by way of expanding on what I had to say about the Prisoner's Dilemma, February 5, 2014.


Anonymous said...

Ha, ha. Feb 6, 2014.

s. wallerstein said...

I've said this before, but in praise of repeating, I'll repeat it.

You're a philosopher, not Rimbaud.

I've heard several philosophers point out that philosophy texts should be read several times.
They're not newspaper articles or family vacation pictures in Facebook.

So it seems fine for you to repeat posts about those philosophical themes which turn you on.

Most of them bear reading more than once. No need to keep apologizing for yourself. Apologies, unlike philosophical texts, need be communicated or read only once.

DDA said...

The rest of the joke about the comedians' club is that they welcome a new member, who catches onto the system and, having heard, a few weeks previous, everyone crack up at 234, ventures "234". Nobody laughs. The newcomer asks why nobody laughed when he said it, but it broke everyone up the previous time. "It's the way you tell it."

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

There is a movie, called "The Aristocrats." It's about an old joke that comedians tell amongst themselves. How 'well' a comedian tells it depends on how gross they can make it. If a newcomer were to wish to join the club, I bet the initiation would be to tell their version of the Aristocrats.

Come to think of it, Sarah Siverman's version was perhaps the grossest.

Erik Hetzner said...

When I first started to read a lot of Chomsky, I would get a little annoyed when I'd read him tell the same fact, or repeat some conclusion, or reuse a phrase. I thought that once you'd shown something, you moved on to thinking about other things. Years later (sadly, it took me some time) I realized that if you are trying to communicate, if you are trying to convey information, if you are trying to educate, or change the world, you need to repeat yourself constantly! There are always new readers, new listeners, or perhaps people who just didn't absorb the information the first time. It's not like proving some theorem, you do it and it's done forever.

Which is all to say, please keep repeating yourself!

DDA said...

Actually that’s interestingly not in fact true about theorems. It’s a lively question in philosophy of mathematics why mathematicians find it worthwhile to produce additional proofs of well established theorems. (Yes, there are plausible and varied answers. )

Tony Couture said...

In reference to your old TV joke, it sounds to me like a Bob Hope or Jack Benny style joke, and I am trying to remember where I heard it but cannot. The course that I teach in Philosophy of Humour (in Canada, so we don't know how to spell American) using a Moodle system is by far my largest course in terms of content because I link to examples of jokes and their diversity is vast to say the least. One of the best web sites for finding jokes online is called "joke2go" and found here:

That web site can be searched using key words or themes, etc. In the early stages of teaching philosophy of comedy, I used to get my students to search the Internet for the worst possible joke. One student found this gem: "Why do you wrap a hamster with duct tape? So it doesn't explode when you fuck it!" When they found worse, I stopped asking them to be joke detectives due to the folly of my quest. During the pandemic, many stand up comedians have created their own podcasts as substitute platforms for them to continue performing and connecting to their fans. Some of these experiments, including podcasts by Bill Burr, Joe Rogan, Bob Saget, Tom Green and Gilbert Gottfried, can be found on YouTube and constitute a new wave of comedy free for the masses, virtually uncensored and no longer managed by media moguls, but direct to public.

My favourite book by a comedian is Harpo Speaks! (1962) by Harpo Marx (with help of ghost writer Rowland Barber). I read this whole book aloud to my son to help teach him English after watching all the Marx Brothers movies many times. Groucho and Me (1959) by Groucho Marx is less biography than Harpo's book and more jokes or entertainment. How to Talk Dirty and Influence People by Lenny Bruce is an articulate defense of free speech in blue comedy. Last Words by George Carlin is the best compilation of his signature jokes and funny as hell.

I find most professional oriented or mathematized abstract philosophy incredibly boring after being exposed to so much stand up comedy, but it has become clear that stand up comedians think more about freedom of thought and speech than many privileged philosophers in their academic towers. The theory of comedy itself, meta-humour or whatever, is not my main focus but rather the practice of comedy and its performance as an art which hides more reason than it appears. What professional philosopher has directly tried to become a useful citizen, or even a free thinking therapist to cure the general blues of the public, as Bob Saget tried to do in his podcast Bob Saget's Here For You? What philosopher is here for you? Peter Singer, where are you? the comedians are stealing the show and all the public's attention, especially the youth!