Should Comedy Have a Moral?

Why is Seinfeld immeasurably funnier than Scrubs? Because Seinfeld writers cared about funniness and funniness alone. They never sacrificed or even deemphasized funniness to make a point about life, as Scrubs writers did routinely. Scrubs writers attempted to be funny and to deliver sentimental messages about life, touching on themes such as love, death, and regret. Although nobody can yet explain precisely what “makes” something funny, inexplicit knowledge of humor is widespread—it is amply created and expressed in the form of comedy. We should appreciate that humor and therefore also comedy, like other forms of knowledge, have an intrinsic value, and that those who creatively generate such value are engaged in genuinely aesthetic pursuits—which can result, objectively, in success or failure. But if a humorist inserts a “moral” (i.e., a lesson or message about life) into a comedic work, then his creative choices have strayed away from humor-related criteria, and he has conditioned the work, in part, by criteria that serve no comedic or aesthetic function. This act—which is akin to a scientist knowingly proposing a partially untrue theory that compensates for its lack in truthfulness with a corresponding amount of usefulness—degrades the comedic work and diminishes its aesthetic qualities. To that extent, Scrubs is not a good comedy. Its writers honed their work in part by criteria that were unrelated to humor, thus creating a not-very-funny show.

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