The Department Of Low-Stakes Controversies: Are Monkeys Funny? : Monkey See We raise the burning question: Are monkeys funny? We are not sure.
NPR logo The Department Of Low-Stakes Controversies: Are Monkeys Funny?

The Department Of Low-Stakes Controversies: Are Monkeys Funny?

This monkey (photographed in Caracas, Venezuela in May of this year) would like you to know that he is very funny, thank you very much. AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Because the world can become contentious at times, I think it is worthwhile to periodically cleanse the palate with a controversy with stakes so low that robust discussion can be counted on not to careen into miserable mutual combat based on — as my Economics professor would say — "the disapprobation of your peers."

(He also once woke a snoozing friend of mine in the middle of class by bellowing, "MR. [SO-AND-SO], AM I TALKING IN YOUR SLEEP?" Now that was funny.)

At any rate, here is the question for your consideration: Are monkeys funny?

The controversy unfolds, after the jump.

As we often explain when people ask about the name "Monkey See," we are enamored of the dual roles monkeys hold as anthropological study subjects and the butts of jokes. (So to speak.) This appeals to our interest in both examining things closely and being amused.

But in fact, I once took the position in a heated debate with a friend that monkeys are not inherently funny, while he argued that monkeys are absolutely funny and cannot be denied. He suggested that no one could possibly fail to be entertained by a Monkeygram in which, for instance, "a comically attired chimpanzee shows up at your door and does a soft-shoe routine before folding its arms and blowing you a raspberry." I allowed the Monkeygram but argued that this did not mean the chimp is funny; it means the description is funny.

Now, as you will see, I am willfully misusing the term "monkey," as a chimpanzee and a monkey are different things, but I think that for the purpose of this discussion, it is acceptable to blur the line between monkeys, chimpanzees, orangutans, and other like primates. I do not laugh at the Every Which Way But Loose orangutan, and I believe this is connected to the fact that I am unconvinced that actual monkeys are funny, as opposed to whimsical, which I agree they are.

So, for today's brief break from your workaday challenges, I invite you to share your thoughts: Are monkeys funny? Am I doing them a disservice by lumping them together with other primates who are less funny? Is everybody just coasting while the chimps do all the work?

(Bonus discussion fodder: Jill Greenberg's Monkey Portraits.)