Last week, The Huffington Post ran a 44 minute clip of Woody Allen stammering. The clip puts together stammers that span Allen’s career.
When I saw it, the first thing that came to my mind was the Jewish-French philosopher Henri Bergson’s essay on laughter and, in particular, his words on the Jack-in-the-Box:
As children we have played with the little man who springs out of his box. You squeeze him flat, he jumps up again. Push him lower, and he shoots up still higher. Crush him beneath the lid, and often he will send everything flying….Now let us think of a spring that is rather of a moral type, an idea that is first expressed, then repressed, and the expressed again; a stream of words that bursts forth, is check, and keeps starting afresh. Once more we have the vision of one stubborn force, counteracted by another, equally pertinacious (35).
For Bergson, a recurring force is comic because it is mechanical and repeats itself – unlike real life (élan vital). Real people don’t “naturally” stammer like Woody Allen:
The truth is that a really living life should never repeat itself. Whenver there is repetition or complete similarity, we always suspect a mechanism at work behind the living…The deflection of life towards the mechanical is here the real cause of laughter (17)
So, what we have here is not simply a stammer but a concentrated one. But is this mechanical repetition of a mechanical repetition laughable? Does the clip take the “surprise” out of humor? Is Woody Allen’s stammer like a “jack-in-the-box” or does this video destroy the toy-slash-stammer?
That, my dear Watson, is the question.