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HUMOUR ITALICUS: italian humorists
by Ferruccio Alessandri
Years ago, a communist functionary used to tell me that a colleague of his, from another country, kept saying: "You Italians are a cureless bunch of individualists! Here in your country, every guy represents his own party !".
This may be considered either a compliment or a fierce insult, depending on who said that. Let's not examine into the particulars of this, the bottom line is that he was absolutely right. It's also been said that every Italian is actually not a person but two political parties; however they say the same thing about the Irish too… The point is that Italians are really an extremely individualist people.
But over time it's going to change, TV is putting an end to this; by watching TV, Italians are starting to look more and more like the Americans. This may be considered either a compliment or a fierce insult, depending on whom we're talking about. Let's not examine into the particulars of this…
A lucky and set apart group, to that end, is the humorists fellowship; every one of them has his unique personality and cureless form of individualism, probably since humorists don't watch TV… Therefore it's impossible to give a definition for Italian Humorists.
Each one of them lives in his/her own fantasy world even though he/she has the capacity to make his work universally understandable: no matter who's looking at their work, they laugh; all but a remote relative of mine, who never really understood what kind of job I have, and but the author, who created his work with the best possible seriousness. For instance, what do Cattoni's poetic cheerfulness and Giuliano's verbal ferociousness have in common? What do Bruna's psychological caricatures and Ardito's geometric, almost abstract, ones have in common?
It is much easier, instead, to describe how humour is considered by Italians. It's not considered at all.
This a people of laughers who, as soon as they bump onto something really funny, get suddenly serious, looking at one another inquiringly. The unexpressed question is: "Who is this guy upset with? Did you guess it? I didn't!".
This happens because the traditional and general concept of humour is teasing, pulling someone's leg, possibly making him suffer to the bone. Someone who, from that moment on, will have to walk through a continuous and subtle mockery. Italy is one of the few countries where the figure of a betrayed husband is considered a humorous thing and never a sorrowful one.
There are, of course, historical reasons that brought all this about. The fact is that Italians have lived under the domination of lots of foreign countries or anyway of princes (including the Pope) who wouldn't think twice about hanging you from a tree. Therefore we got into the habit of using a particular form of Humour which is subtle, "underground" teasing. As a defence means. And, to the end, we consider it the only possible humour, ignoring the existence of other forms of it. Even today, when you have to deal with some military or civilian authorities' representative, you have to pay attention: if you tell an innocent joke to him, he gets cloudy (if not really upset) and looks suspiciously at you, since he thinks that joke was personally involving him.
This is why the only generally accepted form of Humour is political Satire; that is, as long as… as long as it takes it out on your political opponents. You never know. You have to forgive Italians. They are a one century old nation only. Other older nations have developed more abstract and yet just as carachteristic humour forms. The British, for example, have developed their very own "sense of humour" by which they're able to consider amusing even their worst personal misfortunes and laugh about themselves (even though, if you look at their soccer team fans…). The French have their "esprit", a cerebral humour, mainly made out of elegant jokes, which saw the light in the receiving rooms and courts of the various Louis. A literary conversation kind of humour.
Italians, as we said, have their subtle teasing. This is why, in our country, humorists have a meager life. During daylight they work in a bank office or sweep the sewers (or vice-versa) and at nigh they draw on their kitchens' marble tables, with their wives every once on while looking at them, shaking their heads. On the other hand, like all minorities, they share a great deal of solidarity among them. When they meet at a public event, they greet one another and hug with true delight.
And then, when they see another author's drawing, they laugh loudly. Then, when he's not looking, they get suddenly serious, looking at one another inquiringly.
Author, critic, publishing director, art director of the main italian comic magazines. He lives and works in Milano.
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