It’s all about context.
Donna and I were flipping through the channels to see if we could waste some time in front of the television without totally wasting our time.
But we did happen across a movie channel showing 50 First Dates just as it was coming up to one of our favourite all-time funny bits, so we stopped a while for a lark. It’s the scene where Adam Sandler gets a buddy to pretend to attack him, so he can attract Drew Barrymore’s attention in a brazen attempt to get a date with her.
Instead, Barrymore jumps into action, comes to Sandler’s rescue, and hilariously beats his buddy to within an inch of his life with a baseball bat.
Comedy pay dirt is achieved when Barrymore catches up with the guy after chasing him over a hill, and all you see is that baseball bat rising up over the hill and then arcing downward out of sight again… and again… and again… and again…
You can barely hear the guy’s screams of pain over the sound of your own laughter.
It is difficult to understand why it is so funny. You need some background and experience the timing to fully understand. You need the context.
We moved on after basking in that bit of slapstick, and finally settled on a very different movie, The Girl on the Train. It’s not a funny movie. It is completely devoid of laughter.
Indeed, there is not a single moment in the entire movie that will make you smile.
And yet one scene mimicked almost exactly that profoundly funny bit with Barrymore and the baseball bat.
In this movie, the baseball bat is replaced by a hand with a rock that repeatedly appears over then disappears behind a mossy old log. The victim hidden by the log, unlike the one behind the hill, offers no hilariously overplayed protestations of pain and agony. There is only a deeper and deeper silence every time that fist brings the rock down and out of sight. Instead of mirth, the scene creates gut-wrenching sadness.
Experienced filmmakers know that whether you laugh or cry over a ludicrous set of circumstances in one scene will depend on context developed through earlier scenes.
In real life, we call that context “history.”
And that’s the only reason Donald Trump, laughable as he is, is not funny.