Gelotophobia on network television?

by Brian McKim & Traci Skene on July 21st, 2011

There it is, at 0:50 of the clip: “Geechy Guy is, with the possible exception of Howie Mandel, the most annoying person we’ve ever had on America’s Got Talent.”

Piers Morgan delivers the line with a TOE-tah-lee straight face. And it’s quite ridiculous. How could Geechy Guy be the most annoying person on a show that is in its sixth season and which presented in the past a male, belly-dancing Shakira impersonator or someone who broke objects by squeezing them between his butt cheeks?

How could someone telling clever, original one- and two-liners be “annoying?” How could that same someone be “the most annoying… ever… on AGT?”

We understand that the producers have attempted to add texture to the show by making a big deal of a Mandel/Morgan enmity, even providing occasional behind-the-scenes video evidence of a feud between judges Mandel and Morgan. So, we get it that Morgan might be peeved when Mandel (a standup comic) champions (or at least fails to “X-out”) a comedian. But to proclaim that Geechy Guy is “the most annoying” goes a bit far.

Might there be something more to this?

Morgan also said the most uncomplimentary things about J. Chris Newberg, who was eliminated last week. And not just uncomplimentary– he called Newberg a “complete idiot.” We find both comedians to be hysterical and we thought Newberg’s shot on AGT was funny. But to call him a “complete idiot” seems somewhat over the top.

The writers for the show (and there are writers for the show, notwithstanding the fact that it’s a “reality” show) might be seeking to exploit the bad blood between the two judges. They might also be seeking to portray Morgan as a stick in the mud, a British tightass who just doesn’t get our American sense of humor.

But Morgan’s consistency when it comes to his dour assessment of comedians (and his choice of words) seems to point to something deeper. The man just might be a gelotophobe. Or perhaps he suffers from Frontotemporal Dimentia, or FTD. Those are two disorders we talked about in our book. Gelotophobes “do not understand the positive side of humor, and cannot experience it in a warm way but rather as a means to put others down.” FTDers, says a 2008 scientific paper, “have trouble reading emotions and are often unable to sense when someone is being sarcastic.” Sound familiar?

We’re reminded of a quote (again, which we found fit nicely into Chapter Two of our book) from English critic and writer George Saintsbury, “Nothing is more curious than the almost savage hostility that humor excites in those who lack it.”

We probably would not have reached this conclusion had we merely watched AGT and not suffered through an episode or three of CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight. The man seems befuddled by the simplest concepts. (It was particularly startling to watch his jaw drop when Charlize Theron insisted that she spoke two languages fluently. He was dumbfounded– and more than a bit skeptical– when Theron maintained that her first language was Afrikaans and that she speaks English without any hint of an accent, and that she spoke both fluently and that she could switch effortlessly between both. Dumbfounded!)

Isn’t it kind of silly to have a judge on a talent show– a show that regularly features comedians– that can’t grasp humor? It’s as bad as having a judge on Idol who is tone deaf. Or a judge on Top Chef who has lost the ability to discern between sweet and sour.

Most people are irked by the fact that none of the judges on AMERICA’s Got Talent are Americans by birth. But we’re more bugged that one of them lacks the ability to detect an obvious joke. He doesn’t just lack the ability to pick up on humor… he gets hostile! Saintsbury died in 1933. He may not have entertained the notion that there were people walking the earth with an actual, measurable physiological/psychological disorder that went beyond merely “lacking a sense of humor.” But we here in the 21st century just might be able to identify them.

It’s not a family-friendly show. Of all the shows on primetime American television, why shouldn’t a talent show strive to be family-friendly? Conversely, if it fails to be so– and it presents S & M “artists” and pole-dancers both male and female– why shouldn’t the comedians be permitted to do R-rated material? How about we even the playing field a bit?