Betty White makes us laugh.

In Sandra Bullock's The Proposal, in that Super Bowl Snickers commercial, on Saturday Night Live. You name it, and in the past year, she's killed in it.

But we got to wondering: Does White make us laugh because she's funny—or because people happen to think the elderly are funny?

Now, just to so you know, the old-lady pass does indeed exist. In fact, old men get to use it, too.

"Absolutely," agreed professor Paul Levinson, who lectures on television and media at Fordham University. "George Burns is probably the archetypal example of that."

The old-people pass, let's call it now, holds that something is funnier merely because an old person says it. Think Burns' boasts of smoking, boozing and carousing. Or Clara Peller's "Where's the beef?" cry.

Or, perhaps, White's SNL appearance?      

"I think if she were 30 years younger, she would not be funny saying the exact same things," Levinson told us. "The 'Wizard of Ass' [sketch]—it's mildly funny, but coming out of her mouth..."


And not exactly.

As the newish YouTube video "Betty White Lines" reminds, White has not merely been funny since she hit 88. Long before her hair was snowy, she was a 1950s sitcom star. In middle age, on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, she was an out-and-out cougar. Only after all that did she become, by turns, lovably daffy and inappropriately potty-mouthed in The Golden Girls and movies such as Lake Placid and The Proposal, respectively.

So, conceded, White is no one-trick pony. Or Peller.

"Her sense of timing is very good," Levinson said. "And that's just talent. That's not her age."

But to be honest, we'd give her a pass even if it were. After all, she does make us laugh.

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Never can get enough Betty White? Then check out the sketches you didn't see on last weekend's Saturday Night Live.

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