Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What's So Funny About "Downton Abbey"?

My idea of a good punchline is a zinger delivered by a certain Dowager Countess.  But alas, "Downton Abbey" wraps up its season on Sunday, and the rest of the family doesn't think "What is a weekend?" qualifies as side-splitting humor.  I'm the only one who will miss the aristocratic barbs that come from Dame Maggie Smith's stiff upper lip. 

Humor is a matter of personal taste.  In my 8-year old's opinion, there's nothing funny about "Downtown Abbey" (as he calls it) except the British accents.  Show him a Youtube video of a middle-aged guy tripping down a flight of stairs, however, and the kid will be rolling on the floor laughing.

Most boys I know prefer slapstick.  Ask any boy what is the funniest part of the movie "Elf".  Forget Buddy's hilarious comments about life in the North Pole or the deadpan quips by Bob Newhart and Zooey Deschanel.  Even the visual farce of seeing Will Ferrell in tights is lost on them.  Boys will tell you the comic highlight of the movie is when Buddy slurps down spaghetti with syrup, polishes off a liter of soda and delivers a 12-second belch at the dinner table.  To them, the burp alone is worth the price of admission.

The other day, I overheard my 6-year old and his friend discussing which "Alvin and the Chipmunks" movie to watch.

"I don't remember which one it is," one of them remarked.

"Is it the one where they go on vacation?" the other asked.


"Is it the one with the girl chipmunks?"

"I don't know," he replied.  "I just want to watch the one where the guy gets a wedgie." 

"Oh, the wedgie!" the other exclaimed.  "The wedgie is my favorite part too!"

For those of you who haven't watched "The Squeakquel", the wedgie scene takes up maybe five seconds of screen time.  It is quickly followed by a scene in which one of the chipmunks receives a "swirly", i.e., gets his head dunked in a toilet.  And apparently, a movie that features both a wedgie and swirly scores big laughs with 6-year old boys.

Needless to say, there are no wedgies, swirlies or record-breaking belches in "Downton Abbey".  And according to male viewers under the age of 10 (at least those who reside in this household), the show is poorer for it.  To them, a series about a privileged family living in post-Edwardian England would be a lot funnier if the butler set booby traps around the castle and someone fell down the front staircase once in a while.  And if the Dowager Countess let out a loud burp during afternoon tea... surely that would be a show worth watching.

Now would be a perfect time to direct a snarky comment to the boys, delivered in my best Oxford English accent (not to be confused with a Yorkshire accent--how very middle class!), about vulgarity being no substitute for wit.  It would be so funny.  Hilarious, even. 

Unfortunately, no one except me would laugh.