I find some things funny by virtue of my singular personality and strange sense of humor. Other things I find funny because they are actually awesome. If you’ve been reading this week, you know that I could Lasagna Cat by Fatal Farm as one of the latter.
Today’s joke that we beat to death comes from Lasagna Cat 04/08/1998 (this is the date the original comic ran). And it’s a visual gag:
The above frame is hilarious. If you don’t get it, that’s a shame, but dont’ despair! You’ll get my full breakdown, and the full video, after the jump.
When somebody else doesn’t get a joke that you clearly know is awesome, you have three options:
- Do the polite thing — attribute it to taste and let it go
- Do the mean thing — judge them harshly for it
- Do the Fenzel thing — explain the single joke, enthusiastically, in exhaustive detail
And this is Fenzel, so let’s do this.
So, the screenshot — when Jon writes “GARFIELD” on his chest in lipstick during the Nine Inch Nails parody, that’s a really, really complicated moment. I’m not surprised if your reaction to it is more “WTF?” then laughter. At least at first. But with my explanation, you’ll be laughing in no time. Here’s what’s going on, as I see it:
- In the comic, Jon is way too distraught about brushing his hair with the cat brush by accident. In the video, they heighten that and heighten it, making him more and more absurdly distraught. Trent Reznor pushes “How distraught can I possibly get” to all-time ridiculous heights, and that image is pretty freaking up there, so it’s a funny example of what in improv we’d call a “game-heightening move.” It’s raising the stakes on a pattern, and the mind recognizes the pattern, which is funny.
- But there’s also a stylistic irony: the word “Garfield” always identifies with the cat comic and its familiar, comfortable, cute talking animals vibe, and that’s as far opposite the visceral style of the lipstick (or blood?) on bare skin as you can get. Jarring juxtaposition of opposites is funny.
- Also it’s entertaining and funny how far these guys are willing to go. They set it up as a Nine Inch Nails video – but those videos are usually full of all sorts of raw, disturbing images. Do they really have the guts to go there? Holy wow, they do! Awesome!
- And there’s a metacinematic irony, which is how freaking hard the people who made the video are working to deconstruct Garfield in the first place, and that the image of the man with Garfield’s name on his chest evokes the intense love/hate relationship they have with the comic strips (the fact that they don’t show the guy’s Jon head in the shot reinforces that, because it takes the filmmakers out of character and gives a self-conscious commentary directly to the audience).
- There’s an additional angle to that, too, which is that the guy with Garfield written on his chest presumably likes Garfield to an insane degree, which is funny, because, as we’ve just been shown, the comic is awful.
- You probably can’t see it on the screenshot, but the chest is a little hairy. And we’ve established that one thing Jon and Garfield have in common is that they need to be brushed. So by baring his naked, somewhat hairy chest, Jon identifies himself with the animal garfield — but since brushing has become a shame for him, he scrawls the red letters on his chest in shame.
- Plus, the actual joke of the comic is that it’s gross that Garfield has been using Jon’s toothbrush (which isn’t very funny – it’s more of an “eew” joke than a “ha ha” joke). That joke I think unintentionally implies this odd intimate relationship between Jon and Garfield — they’re swapping bodily fluids (both because of the actual toothbrush sharing and because I’d venture that the only adult you would ever, ever share a toothbrush with is somebody you’re sleeping with, and even then it’s grody), and the attraction/repulsion to that blending of identity that comes with sharing your body with someone is what Nine Inch Nails is all about and what that song is about in the first place.
So on top of all the ironies and mockeries, it’s actually a complex statement of the meaning of the comic, which is hilarious, because it sets up this idea that Jim Davis has this like weird subliminal thing going on between Jon and Garfield that not even he recognizes. And I think we all recognize that what’s really funny is the truth.
Now, watch the clip again!
What did I tell you? Hilarious!
This is why you should always explain all your jokes! It spreads joy around the world!
And kudos once again to the Fatal Farm guys. I’m giving you as much props as it’s pretty much in my power to give.
Did I miss any angles on the joke? Any new wrinkles or interpretations? Get anything totally wrong? Am just crazy? Sound off in the comments!