The cleverness of comedy

Published 5:02 am Saturday, May 21, 2016

I’m a huge fan of the game show Jeopardy!, and this week is its special “Power Players Week.” All of the episodes have featured politicians, pundits and other celebrities who are playing for charity.

I couldn’t help but notice that two of the comedians in the competition — Louis C.K. and Al Franken — not only won their games but also did so in “runaway” fashion. In Jeopardy! terms, that means a contestant has more than double the second-place score heading into Final Jeopardy, and barring a stupid wager, there is no way the first-place contestant can lose. Of course, Franken is also a U.S. Senator, but as we’re well aware, that’s hardly a guarantee of intelligence.

It comes as no surprise to me that comedians would be good at Jeopardy! There are obviously exceptions to any rule, but it seems to be a profession that lends itself well to those who are typically considered “smart.”

After all, comedians have to be very attentive to the world around them. They have to see things that other people gloss over, and find the unusual in the mundane. At the same time, they’ve got to be able to show the connections between different topics, and often link them back to something that is completely unrelated. You’ve got to have a wide base of cultural knowledge in order to find things that are funny to as many people as possible. Even “blue collar redneck comedians” like Jeff Foxworthy and Larry The Cable Guy seem to me to be above-average intelligent individuals.

I am reminded of another of my favorite shows, Mystery Science Theater 3000. The comedians and puppeteers in that show watch terrible movies and make sarcastic “riffs” about especially ludicrous scenes, acting or writing in the films. There seems to be no shortage of topics they joke about — they’ve done riffs on everything from the Green Bay Packers to Jean-Michel Basquiat. There have been multiple occasions where I have learned something new, because I had to look up a joke that I didn’t understand.

So, consider that, the next time that you derisively refer to a student as the “class clown.” He may end up being smarter than the valedictorian.

Justin Schuver is the publisher and editor of the Daily News. You can contact him at 985-732-2565 or email him at