Little Bang Theory: The jokes are not The Joke

Recently, I finally sat down to watch the 3rd season of The Big Bang Theory (the only season of which I was given a DVD), a comedy that numerous friends have recommended to me.  Many of them had told me that the science and geek humor was great and I would really like it, but I didn’t actually enjoy those jokes very much.

They were the kind of jokes that seemed not to come from a genuine nerdy and quirky sense of humor, but rather a contrived sense of what a non-nerdy person would think of as nerdy humor.  Even when the jokes were technically correct, it somehow wasn’t the best kind of correct.  It took me slightly over a quarter of the season to figure out why.

What I realized is that the little nerdy puns, geeky references, and quirky comments aren’t actually the jokes of the show.  What gets the laughs is the social situations that seem so awkward to those of us watching and also to the characters in the show in many cases.  What we are laughing about is the lack of understanding that the men exhibit with women, the lack of understanding that the women exhibit with the men, and the general lack of social skills that the 4 nerdy male main characters exhibit over and over.

And that makes some sense.  After all, it’s perfectly understandable that we would do with socially inept nerds what we do with lots of other people who don’t have our talents.  Many people laugh at those who are academically inept, or physically inept, or inept when it comes to fashion, et cetera.  Laughing at others’ weaknesses is a perfectly normal human thing to do.  I’ve done it myself, though much less in the past few years, and that’s because I realize it’s not a morally good thing to do.

So although I can appreciate that the show features some good acting, some good character development, and some good writing, those bits and pieces of goodness are not enough to offset the fact that The Joke of this comedy is that the people we consider the smart people are often profoundly socially inept in ways that endanger their chances of having healthy relationships.

The Joke of The Big Bang Theory is true, but it’s not a truth that sets us free unless our acknowledgement of that truth leads us to help others who are struggling rather than laughing at them.

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One Response to Little Bang Theory: The jokes are not The Joke

  1. Jack D. says:

    I must admit I have never seen the show. However, from your description, it sounds like the humor could be healthy or unhealthy depending on how one approaches it. It becomes mere schadenfreude if one views the nerds as “outcasts” or as “those guys,” but it might be cathartic to those who identify with the main characters. Sometimes it’s funny just to look at a situation and say, “Yep, I’ve been in that kind of pathetic predicament myself, many times.” One reason that Charles Schulz’s comic strip Peanuts was so popular for so many years, even before Snoopy became anthropomorphic and kind of took over, was that readers identified with the misfortune of the Charlie Brown character. He was a likable kind of guy who experienced failures in sports, in friendship, and in love. And since most of us consider ourselves (more or less) likable, and since all of us have (at one time or other) experienced failure in at least one of those areas, we therefore identify with the character. Or, even if one hasn’t been in that situation before, one can use the humor as a catalyst to further one’s empathy with others (which seems to be what you tried to do while watching the show). I’m not sure if the average viewer of Big Bang Theory identifies with the characters very much or not; if not, then the show might not be helping such a viewer to develop empathy as a life skill.

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