There’s a reason comedy is hard. It’s pretty easy to make people laugh. Even a robot can do that. AI can indeed produce hilarious “comedy” that seems to do everything a human stand-up does. That’s an illusion however. Worse, it’s more an abuse of comedy than comedy itself. You kinda feel that while watching it. LOL Bot, for example, is devastatingly funny. Got great timing, too. Killer material! It can even read the room in real time to judge what’s working and what isn’t. Laughter means its working – regardless of what’s driving the laughter. That’s the key here. Why is anyone laughing? That “why” separates comedy from its evil twin – cruelty. AI can be downright hilarious but it can never really be “funny”.
Okay, so what’s “comedy”? The classical answer: tragedy plus time. That can be tragedy large and tragedy small. Tragedy small can be walking around among other humans. Alas, we humans can be unreliable, unfaithful and unfair to each other. We all suffer a variety of the same weaknesses. Comedy springs not just from knowing this about others, but especially from knowing this about ourselves. That thing we call “a sense of humor” sits on a foundation of laughing at ourselves.
Not everyone who thinks they’re funny is indeed funny. We all have a relative or friend who can’t resist beating a joke to death. Again and again. And again. They’re not funny but they have a sense of humor. They appreciate it but can’t reproduce it. They’re like people who can’t paint painting. Or sing singing.
AI can do an amazingly lifelike approximation of being funny. It goes right up to the line but asymptotes there. It absolutely seems to have a sense of humor. And yet – AI absolutely doesn’t.
You must be able to laugh at yourself in order to have a “sense of humor”. Otherwise, you’re just laughing at others. You’re just being a bully. And while bullies can be devastatingly funny, their humor can never do what humor REALLY must do: reveal something to ourselves about ourselves. Comedy serves a vital purpose to social creatures like us. The more a society can laugh at itself, the healthier it is. For some reason, even when he’s laughing, Kim Jong-Un doesn’t seem like a funny guy.
And North Korea is no one’s idea of comedy heaven. But Kim’s got plenty of people laughing at his jokes, telling him he’s hilarious. Not a one of those laughs feels good at its core. They all feel dirty and corrupt – except to those who never had a sense of humor to begin with.
Donald Trump‘s the poster boy for “No Sense Of Humor”. Trump can make people laugh but look at the people laughing. And look at what’s making them laugh. It’s racism. Misogyny. Bigotry. White supremacism. Hatred.
That sound spewing from them may seem like laughter, but it’s something else.
Improv comedians must continually add information to a scene for the improv to work. They must “yes, and…” the scene. The word “no” kills everything. “Do you like my hat?” “Yes, and I especially love the two tropical birds. What are their names?” See how that works? One human mind must see the abstraction inside another human’s mind and then build upon it.
Comedy – humor – really is more than just being funny in the moment. It’s a connection we share as sentient beings. the awareness of our own frailty. Until a computer can experience psychic pain on a biochemical level, it won’t really be able to produce the mix of content, emotion, timing and wit that we call “comedy”.
Oh, AI like ChatGPT can produce a great reproduction of comedy, but it can never get at the thing that’s really funny about us. Because it’s laughing at us and not with us.