I don’t want to beat around the bush here (you never know what might be in there) so I’ll just say it; shit is funny. It’s an awkward subject, and rife with tension. Nothing makes for a good punchline like a bit of tension.
But it’s not just that there’s tension, there’s also a lot of weirdness in our toilet habits. Yes, generally, but also historically. The Romans, for all their lauded sanitation, mainly preferred communal toilets, and wiped with a sponge on a stick. Some scholars reckon you could pay extra to get the first use.
Henry VIII had his ‘Groom of the Stool’, a desirable rank, where a member of the gentry could enjoy unparalleled access to the monarch… but also had to clean up afterwards. It is also hinted at that this may be where all those ‘privy councils’ spring from.
Author and Horrible Histories researcher Greg Jenner had this to say: ‘Freud said faeces was funny because it is a childhood obsession, we go through a phase of being hung up on shitting as toddlers. But shit is also a useful metaphor for the distinction between modernity and history – our age is shitless, theirs was shit everywhere. So it’s not just funny in of itself (which it is), but also it serves to heighten the historicity of the setting.’
Finally, and most importantly, crap is a common denominator. Everybody poops. And it’s hard to take someone too seriously when you know they are slaves to the toilet, just like everyone else.