Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Slapstick Gene

My son has it.

Way back when he was two, we'd put on a Baby Einstein video featuring farm animal puppets, and he used to laugh hysterically at this bit where a horse puppet ignored all the food on a table and instead munched the flower in a vase.

He giggled uncontrollably at the pig puppet who pushed another pig puppet down a slide into the mud.

He cracked up in another scene with an elephant puppet trumpeting and blowing the other puppets over.

At three, we began to selectively expose him to classic Warner Bros. cartoons. Not only would he laugh in all the right places, he'd force us to back up the video so he could view the same bit again and again -- and each time, he'd have the same explosive response.

Just this week, I sat down with him to watch an episode of Ian Falconer's OLIVIA, based on the popular picture book series.
 The moment when Olivia, daydreaming about piloting a jet, finds her little brother Ian so annoying she hits a button and ejects him from the copilot seat, he laughed so hard he nearly fell off the couch.

In contrast, his sister was earnestly concerned -- worried, even -- over little Ian's fate.

It has been ever thus with her: at every slapstick moment in a cartoon, movie or TV show, she takes things literally, and gets anxious.

Clearly, Thing 1 -- my son -- has been born with the Slapstick Gene. Thing 2, sadly, is missing it.

That's not to say Thing 2 won't learn that it's funny when a man walking down the street obliviously falls into an open manhole.

But it's going to be a learning curve for her.

Perhaps this is as it should be. Guys are notoriously more tuned in to, and appreciative of, slapstick. Girls, not so much. Want proof? How many grown men do you know who count themselves fans of the Three Stooges? How many women?

On the other hand, Thing 2 can -- and does -- enjoy a good poop joke. In fact, just tonight, as we were leaving the house of some friends, she launched into a monologue in which "poopy" and "toilet" seemed to replace every other word.

So much for traditional gender comedy preferences.

I hope she eventually gets over her "let's change every other word to poop" phase, and that one day, she learns to enjoy a good man-accidentally-gets-hit-with-a-two-by-four bit. But in the meantime, I am enjoying the laughter her poop jokes -- and his appreciation of physical comedy schtick -- brings.

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