It’s comedy night at the Fridge, and you are ready to laugh. On the stage are two performers: Chester Cheeseman and Cornelius Cobbs — and they are in a comedy battle.
Cheeseman opens with some crowd work. “A lot of beautiful people here tonight! Especially this lady here. Lady, if you were cheese you’d be GOUUUDA!”
The crowd chuckles lightly. Your girlfriend, who kindly joined you for this evening of comedy, leans over and whispers, “Well, that was cheesy…”
Then comes Cornelious Cobb to the mic. He pulls out a cue card and reads, “What does a corn say when it gets a compliment?” “What?” “Aw shucks!”
Your girlfriend rolls her eyes and stares at you wondering if the two of you could sneak out of this disastrous show. “Let’s get out of here and away from the corny jokes.”
While you stare into your girlfriend’s face one part of your brain contemplates sneaking out of the show, but another part is computing something quite complex: the two words she used to describe the comedians (Cheesy and Corny).
You’ve heard these adjectives used before, but what are the differences between the two words? It’s true, the two comedians were not telling brilliantly clever jokes, but what about their jokes made them bad? And did being cheesy and corny have something to do with it?
Let’s start with Chester and his cheesy pick-up-line-styled joke. The word cheesy is often used to describe something that is overly dramatic, exaggerated, or forced. In addition to pick up lines, songs can also be cheesy such as a love song that makes outrageous promises like “Never Gonna Give You Up, Never Gonna Let You Down!”
The way Chester presents himself — a bombastic caricature, saying a line that was so clearly rehearsed in a tone that begged for attention — is undoubtedly cheesy.
Then there is Cornelius Cobbs and his corny joke. Simply put, something is corny when it lacks creativity and originality, and feels as though it was taken from an overused source. Anyone who had ever thought of the phrase “Aw Shucks” had most likely associated it with the shucking of a corn. The mental leap taken for that joke is quite short. The cleverness of the joke is perhaps at a Grade 3 level, where one may be old enough to understand the concepts of corn, shucking, and the phrase evoking flattery. Any adult — you and your girlfriend included — would feel a little cheated when hearing that punchline. It was predictable. You could have told that joke yourself. It’s like going to a restaurant and knowing you can cook the food better than the chef. It’s disappointing.
When using these two adjectives, at the core, what you are describing is something that is cliché, overly emotional, or sentimental. These are the traits that these two words share. They are both predictable and excessive to a point where it becomes boring, if not painful to endure.
What a good story, song, or joke does is establish a pattern for your brain to follow, but if the pattern as it progresses is so predictable that you end up knowing who the killer is, or how the next rhythm goes, or how the punchline lands, you end up feeling robbed of a promise of entertainment, pleasure, and laughter. That’s the feeling you get after hearing or watching something cheesy or corny. You feel like a good feeling you should get from art was taken or blocked. You worry that you might never feel the feeling of being properly entertained again. It is this sudden pulse of panic that makes so many of us detest anything cheesy and corny.
So to clarify, let’s draw a quick venn diagram:
On the left we have Cheesy and on the right we have Corny, and in the middle we have similarities.
Something that is Cheesy is exaggerated or forced and something that is Corny is boring. In the middle, we have cliche, unoriginal, and cloying. Cheesy is often seen as being more contrived and Corny is often seen as being more lazy.
But what feedback can we give these two comedians? You wonder as your girlfriend is getting up from her seat. Perhaps their failing is that you didn’t get to know the true characters behind Chester Cheeseman and Cornelius Cobbs. They are just vessels for bad jokes and you don’t know what they love and fear, you don’t know how they actually see the world. You didn’t hear any raw stories or feel any strong emotions. They didn’t challenge your beliefs or make any stances. They are replaceable, interchangeable, and expendable. If you could give them one piece of feedback, you would tell them to say something real, say something true, and perhaps in the truth there would be originality and in the originality, there would be humour.
“Can we go?” Your girlfriend asks, grabbing her bag off the back of the chair. You look at her and then once again to the two performers on stage.
Chester says, “I’m on a new diet, you know what it’s called?”
“Curds and weigh.”
“Wow! It works, you look a-Maize-ing!” says Cornelius.
You grab your girlfriend by the hand and rush out of the Fridge together. Once outside you exhale. All the way home, the two of you make jokes and laugh at Chester and Cornelius, and how horrible they were. A thought strikes you, perhaps there is some entertainment value in their performance after all.
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