This idea — the notion of real jokes and the existence of pure comedy — came up again and again when I asked other writers about Handey. It seemed as if to them Handey is not just writing jokes but trying to achieve some kind of Platonic ideal of the joke form. “There is purity to his comedy,” Semple said. “His references are all grandmas and Martians and cowboys. It’s so completely free from topical references and pop culture that I feel like everyone who’s gonna make a Honey Boo Boo joke should do some penance and read Jack Handey.”
“For a lot of us, he was our favorite writer, and the one we were most in awe of,” said James Downey, who wrote for “S.N.L.” “When I was head writer there, my policy was just to let him do his thing and to make sure that nothing got in the way of him creating.”
“He was the purest writer,” Franken said. “It was pure humor, it wasn’t topical at all. It was Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer.”
The humorist Ian Frazier, a friend of Handey’s, told me, “I see Jack as in the tradition of Mark Twain or Will Rogers. He writes jokes that just keep on going. They’re not gonna crash and burn because they’re about Don Johnson, and people forget who Don Johnson was. Jokes are by their nature perishable. If you can write a timeless joke, that’s an incredible thing.”
Take that, Don Johnson. Judging from these quotes, there seems to be a spectrum for jokes that goes from pure to topical. Create something timeless and you've made the "purest" kind of joke there is.
Reminds me of when Louis CK was on Howard Stern and called Howard a "zen master of comedy." I'd put Larry David, Woody Allen, and Norm MacDonald in that category too. People who don't have to TRY to be funny, they just exude funny. They can tell jokes but have moved past it. For them, it's less about jokes than existing in the world in a way that's comedic. And that makes everything around them seem funny too.