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What Is Funny? 

What is "funny"? I think we can all agree that "funny" is subjective, in that what may be "unfunny" to one person can be shit-pantsing hilarious to another. My good friend Dave claims the funniest thing in the world is a dog running down the street with a ham in its mouth. I concur this would be hilarious... if it wasn't MY goddamn honey-glazed ham procured from the mall less than an hour ago! (Second funniest thing in the world to Dave: Me chasing a dog with a ham in its mouth down the street. BTW, neither is funny.)

Some think that trying to explain "funny" automatically makes any "funny" thing "unfunny." Categorically, this is horseshit. Like anything else in the universe, "funny" can be explained mathematically. In this case, with the following equation: person or animal + personality flaw + accidental happenstance - life-threatening injury = HILARITY.

By way of example, let's take the funniest video currently on the internet, "The Channing Show" (http://bit.ly/ZfsDr). In this video, an adorable little girl named "Channing" (the person or animal in the equation) is putting on a webcam "stuffed-animal dog show" (herein lies her "personality flaw"). While demonstrating how her show will work, she bumps into a sliding closet door (accidental happenstance), sending the gigantic slab of wood crashing down on her head. (Hilarity? Not yet! She could be dead for all we know.) After a pause, Channing struggles out from under the door (proof there was no life-threatening injury), and with arms flailing, rushes to shut off the webcam in a show of abject humiliation. (Ergo: HILARITY!)

Now, does Channing think her video is the most hilarious single thing on the internet? Probably not. And that's why we add one more item to the equation: The person or animal who falls victim to the accidental happenstance is never, ever YOU. (See paragraph one: that goddamn dog running off with a very expensive goddamn ham. IT'S NOT FUNNY, DAVE!)

That being said, I've been crunching some numbers, and here are two TV shows debuting this week that have been mathematically proven to be... you know... "funny."

* The Ricky Gervais Show (HBO, Fri Feb 19, 9 pm). Fans of The Ricky Gervais Podcast (or the British version of The Office) will love hearing Ricky, pal Stephen Merchant, and comic foil Karl Pilkington muse on a number of hilarious subjects - plus it's animated! (Which will make it even funnier when Ricky calls Karl a "fucking twat." I should put that in the equation.)

* Funny or Die Presents (HBO, Fri Feb 19, midnight). While it may not be as funny as "The Channing Show" (but then, what is?), Funny or Die produces some of the most gut-bustingly amusing videos on the internet. Therefore, what could be funnier than a series of weekly sketches starring Will Ferrell, Tim & Eric, Zach Galifianakis, Paul Scheer, John C. Reilly, and some kid dressed up as a drunk slurring, "This party is a fucking joke"? The only thing I can think of is a dog running down the street with a doughnut in its... GODDAMNIT! THAT'S MY DOUGHNUT!!

Will someone please stop that dog?!? steve@portlandmercury.com

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