Explaining the joke

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Does this sound familiar? You are looking at your social media feed and spot the latest hot-take from your favourite satirical comedy site. They have eloquently broken down the absurdity of recent events with biting insight and withering sarcasm. And then you read the comments.

Okay, so that is always a mistake. But bear with me here. You could also bare with me if you like, I can’t force you to wear pants while you read blog posts.

Inevitably in the comments, there will be someone explaining to everyone that the post is satire. This is like someone standing up in front of an audience with an applause sign, just in case you missed the right moment to show your appreciation. This is the canned laughter at appropriate moments in sitcoms to point out what was meant to be funny. This is the comedian who repeats the punchline of the joke…

Worse still are the people who jump in to explain how the joke works and why it is funny. These people are the equivalent of that annoying person in the middle of the cinema telling the movie character not to open the closet door in the creepy house.

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Now I’d argue that this sort of comment is completely unnecessary. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a statistical correlation between someone explaining the joke and that person suffering a sudden and unexplained death from choking on their phone.

At the heart of this problem are two groups of people. The first is a group of people who think they need to guide us mere mortals through life. Without their input, we would be lost, society would crumble, and within months they would be explaining how Thunderdome actually originated as a means to resolve conflict and provide entertainment in Bartertown. They don’t see it as condescension, they see it as imparting wisdom to the little people.

Then there is the second group. The second group are why the first group exist.

You see, invariably on every single satirical comedy comments section, you will find someone not realising the article they are commenting upon is a joke. They may be unsure, perhaps posting something like “The Onion?” or “I don’t understand, is this meant to be funny, am I missing the joke, did my mother’s alcoholism affect me somehow?” Or they may think the article is completely serious, and comment with outrage, indignation, or a rambling string of ideas that may belong in the comments of a different article. Clearly, the first category of menaces to society are preempting these posters.

But you aren’t meant to explain it to people. These poor fools are meant to be mercilessly mocked. They are, after all, on the internet, where civil discourse is disallowed, and a Google search to fact-check or see whether the site is satirical takes seconds. A semi-literate turtle should be able to find the About page or Other Articles links and from there it should be obvious. Even for the turtle. And its illiterate brethren.

Some of the semi-literate turtles have lost hope in humanity and decided to document the downfall of civilisation. They have started entire webpages devoted to documenting people not getting the joke.

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Let us hope that satire continues to entertain and that the confused commenters adopt a pet turtle. Then maybe we will see the end of people explaining the joke. And the end of homeless turtles.

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Book review: Back Story by David Mitchell

Back StoryBack Story by David Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s no book quite like the autobiography, since they are usually biographies with some poor ghost writer having to make an illiterate celebrity (sportsperson) sound interesting. Odd that I’d decide to read an actual autobiography.

Just so we’re clear, this is a book by David Mitchell the comedian, not David Mitchell the award winning author. David Mitchell is a particularly funny comedian from the UK, one part of the Mitchell and Webb team, and Back Story is his tale of growing up and “getting on the tele”. Listening to the audiobook had the added benefit of David telling his story and giving his various rants and jokes the life they deserved.

That’s right, this book is funny from start to finish. Many comedic efforts fail to do this, either trying to squeeze too much out of a one joke premise, failing to be consistent, or having the jokes become tired – more of the same – somewhere in the middle of the book. Ostensibly told as David walks to work one morning, and recounting his life thus far, he manages to pack in a lot of commentary about schooling, university drama societies (Footlights), and the oddities of making shows for TV. And in true David Mitchell style there are plenty of witty insights, comedic rants, and down the barrel jokes to tell the tales.

I generally think that celebrity biographies are symptomatic of what is wrong with publishing and book stores. Someone has gone to a lot of effort to convince the reading public that these celebrities actually wrote the book (because they have heaps of spare time, and are well known for their writing prowess) and that they have something interesting to tell you that the tabloids haven’t already used as filler around those telephoto swimsuit shots. They’ve even managed to convince people that this is what you buy people as gifts, especially Xmas gifts for your dad. I don’t know if this was a big campaign or just one of those things that happened, but it would be great if people could stop pretending that sports people are interesting, are literate, and are actually writing a tell-all-book.

It is probably because David Mitchell is clearly the writer of this book, that the humour and the story told are entertaining yet honest, that I’ve enjoyed this autobiography. Too often in the past I’ve been disappointed with biographies and comedy books, so this was not just a good read, it was refreshingly good.

View all my reviews

Will individuals respond differently to homeopathic remedies prepared with unboiled vs. boiled water?

I recently watched a debate between Ben Goldacre and Peter Fischer on homeopathy. During the course of the debate, an audience member asked, “If water has a memory, how come you’re not sick every time you drink water out of the tap?.

A homeopathic practitioner answered (paraphrased) that boiling the water resets the memory and that homeopathic remedies are only effective when using boiled water. He makes another comment implying that if a remedy were prepared with tap water, it wouldn’t be effective.

I realize the above related question (“Does water have a memory…?”) is nearly identical. I’m trying to ask it another way as it’s possible to persist with the water memory concept despite the other question’s answer. One could simply say (my hypothetical response),

“Well, we don’t know how it works and perhaps it isn’t by the known mechanism of how water behaves… but trials indicate that it works, nonetheless and that’s all I need.”

Since the audience member in the video indicated tangible predictions, I’m interested if they’ve ever been put to the test. Thus, my question is:

Has a trial ever been conducted in which homeopathic remedies prepared from both unboiled and boiled water were compared against one another in terms of patient response?

If there is another way to answer this question please go for it.

Answer:

It really doesn’t make any difference if the water is boiled or not, homeopathy doesn’t work.

The Minimum Dose and Avagadro’s Number The second and most controversial tenet in homeopathy is that remedies retain biological activity if they are diluted in a series (usually in a 1:10 or 1:100 diluent–volume ratio) and agitated or shaken between each dilution. Hahnemann began this process to reduce toxicity, but later he claimed that this “potenization” process extracted the “vital” or “spirit-like” nature of these substances (2). The limit of molecular dilution (Avagadro’s number) was not discovered until the later part of Hahnemann’s life; by then homeopaths all over the world were reporting that even very high potencies (dilutions lower than Avagadro’s number) produced clinical effects. The implausibility of such claims has led many to dismiss any evidence of homeopathy’s effectiveness as artifact or delusion (3). http://www.annals.org/content/138/5/393.full

But lets pretend for a moment that water does have memory. The aspect of boiling has not been researched. A search of Google Scholar nets no results for boiling and homeopathy. When referring to “how-to” guides of preparations it becomes obvious that homeopaths are merely after clean or unpolluted water to make their preparations in.

Ingredients … 1/2 or 1 litre of boiled water (distilled water may be bought at pharmacies in some countries, if you want that, and bottled, rinsed water is commonly sold in groceries too)

Another example:

Preparing your own bottle: Boil the glass bottle and dropper in filtered water for 15 min. and let it cool completely. Fill it just to the neck with filtered or distilled water.

So clearly the idea that boiling is the only way to reset the water is not backed up by the practices employed by homeopaths themselves. This combined with the fraudulent claim that water retains memory shows that this is another misdirection to allow justification.

Unfunny Comedians

Earlier this week comedian Stephen Colbert was able to make a tragic event funny, touching and uplifting, all in the same monologue. For that moment the world was a little brighter. Then I accidentally clicked on a Steven Crowder Youtube video and I immediately despaired for humanity that this man could call himself a comedian. He is to comedians what Norman Bates is to hotel/motel owners. In the interests of the interwebz, I’m compiling a list of “comedians” whose performances may cause lasting damage to your sense of humour.

Steven Crowder
His only funny moment was when he tried to pretend he didn’t pick a fight with a union rep at a rally.

Dane Cook
I’ll be fair to Dane, he has turned in some halfway decent acting performances (E.g. Mr Brooks). Pity he can’t act like a comedian. Even his Twitter feed ‘jokes’ make you question why he isn’t limited to less than 140 characters.

Adam Sandler
I’ll admit it, I have a copy of one of his comedy CDs. Of course, jokes about peeing your pants and lunch ladies have an expiry date of seconds after the joke is told.

Jay Leno
The unanimous decision of the interwebz is that Coco is the comedian, not Jay. A real comedian, Bill Hicks, had some interesting things to say about the Jay Leno Show.

Carrot Top
Ranggers already have a tough time in this world, Carrot Top made it worse.

Dave Hughes
The funniest thing about Dave Hughes is that he has managed to forge a career as a comedian in Australia.