Contemplative Essay: On Humour

By Dave Hood

“Actually, it only takes one drink to get me loaded. Trouble is, I can’t remember if it’s the thirteenth or fourteenth.”—George Burns

“Ballet: Men wearing pants so tight that you can tell what religion they are.”—Robin Williams

“Women need a reason to have sex. Men just need a place.” —Billy Crystal

What is humour? It all depends. What I find funny, you might not. According to the Free Dictionary (www.freedictionary.com ), humour is:

1.     The quality that makes something laughable or amusing; funniness: could not see the humour of the situation.

2. That which is intended to induce laughter or amusement: a writer skilled at crafting humour.

3.The ability to perceive, enjoy, or express what is amusing, comical, incongruous, or absurd. See Synonyms at wit1.

Humour is anything that provokes a smile, amusement, or laughter. We can find humour everywhere. Juxtaposition of a fat man and skinny woman walking arm in arm. Someone eating dinner like a pig at the trough. Watching out-of-shape people have sex on You Porn. Listening to someone tell a raunchy joke at the comedy club. Laughing at our own follies. Humour is everywhere.

Humour can also be the best medicine, and the easiest way to enjoy life. It is one of life’s simple pleasures. It is also a desired personality trait.  Most people will tell you that they prefer people who can laugh, and not always take life seriously all the time. Yet not everyone has a sense of humour. Many people don’t know how to laugh at life or themselves.

Where to Find Humour
What makes us laugh? It depends. Humour is subjective.  In other words, what makes a person laugh depends on personal taste, which is influenced by morals, norms, values, culture, education, religion, and so forth. What I find funny, you might not. And whay you find humorous, I might not. Many people believe that Bill Cosby is funny. For me, his humour is dull, like watching grass grow. I prefer the ribald humour of the likes of Robin Williams. One of his funnies stand-up comedy routines is “On Golf.”

(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcnFbCCgTo4 )

I don’t mind shock humour either. You can experience it at “comedy clubs.” It is the type of humour in which the stand-up comic uses profanity, “gross out” jokes, x-rated anecdotes, taboo sketches about those things that many consider off limits. For many years, Dad was the stand-up comic in our family.

Black comedy is also not off limits for me. It involves laughing at things that most people view as serious matters, such as the taboo subjects of religion and death and political leaders. Other popular themes are sex, illness, depression, sexual deviance, war, addiction, disease. Some people call this “sick humour.”

I grew up with amazing comedy—from comedians, to comedy clubs, to Saturday Night Live. I still laugh at the jokes and admire the work of many comedians, including Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Richard Pryor. These comics stretched the boundaries of comedy. Not much was off limits. It’s unfortunate that they’re all dead.

For years, as a teenager, I watched the comedy sketches every Saturday night on Saturday Night live. I occasionally visited the comedy clubs of Yuk Yuks and Second City with a date, just for a drink and a few laughs. As well, I wanted to find out if the woman I was dating had a sense of humour. I become bored of anyone who cannot laugh. And if a woman can make me laugh, we have a connection, common ground.

Where to Find Humour
Humour is everywhere in our personal lives and popular culture. The easiest place to find humour is in your daily life. Conan Obrien once said, “The first thing men notice about a woman is her eyes. Then, when her eyes aren’t looking, they notice her breasts.” This is so true. The other week, I was at a bar, drinking a few beers, and notice these enormous breasts staring at me. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the woman’s breasts that looked like water melons. The sight was hilarious. I wasn’t the only person who noticed. We ended up making a few jokes and wise cracks.

None of us is perfect, which means that engage in folly on occasion. A person who has a sense of humour is able to laugh at themselves. It is often the best therapy for remaining calm when the situation is stressful. The other day, I was in a rush to meet someone, and couldn’t remember where I place my glasses. After I put them on, I discovered that my regular glasses were right in front of me. This small incident evoked a laugh.

When I rode public transit, I’d often see people dressing in “odd ways”, not very colour coordinated or stylish. Their dress code generated amusement. I often find humour while driving. The other day, someone tailgated me, roared past me, in a rush, had to stop at a red light beside me. I chuckled to myself while waiting for the light to change to green, so that we could resume our journey, side by side.

I’ve watched good comedy on television.  The sitcom is an easy way to find a laugh, especially in the 70s, when amazing sitcoms, such as MASH, Maude, The Jefferson’s were sharing their humour each week. My all-time favourite  sitcom is “All in the Family.” This sitcom first aired in 1971, during the Viet Nam war. Archie Bunker, who played the part of an ignorant bigot, always evoked a laugh with his social commentary or remarks about other friends or other family members. I’ll never forget  Archie, who always called in son in law “meathead” or “pinko.” In recent years, I’ve enjoyed the antics of the characters on “Friends” and Two and A Half Men.

William Zinsser, the author of “On Writing Wel”l, a classic instruction manual of sorts, on how to write creative nonfiction writes: “humour is the secret weapon of the nonfiction writer…Few writer realize that humour is often the best toolfor making an important point. A comic or humour writer has many comic devices available:

  • Satire
  • Irony
  • Parody
  • Lampoon
  • Nonsensical
  • Joke
  • Surprise
  • Exaggeration
  • Juxtaposition

Many great writers have applied these techniques in their writing to make an important point. Dr. Strange Love: How I Learned to Love the Bomb.  The film was directed by Stanley Kubrick, who also helped write the screenplay adaptation’. This film is a brilliant, satirical, provocative black comedy/fantasy about the nuclear doomsday and Cold War politics, based on an accidental, inadvertent, pre-emptive nuclear attack by American forces. The film is a farce of the absurd, but also reveals several truths about the human condition. (The trailer for Dr. Strangelove: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gXY3kuDvSU )

David Sedaris does. He has written a myriad of personal essays and books about funny things and people in his life. His humour tends to be self-deprecating and autobiographical, dealing with personal experiences and family life. His writing is exceedingly popular, selling more than 7 million books, including” Naked” and “You are Engulfed in Flames.”

So did Philip Roth, who wrote,” Portnoy’s Complaint”, the funniest book I’ve ever read. Roth’s novel was written as a continuous monologue about a neurotic young man, Alexander Portnoy, who shares his sexual adventures, sexual desires, and sexual opinions with his psychoanalyst. It is ribald humour at its best, like watching a stand-up comic share raunchy jokes about masturbation and sex with women.

American poet Billy Collins is famous for his witty poetry:

Introduction to Poetry

By Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to water ski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

You can read something amusing or humorous in the newspaper almost every day, especially a human interest story or humour column or funny pages. For many years, growing up as a boy, I religiously read the Peanuts comic strip of cartoonist Charles Schulz. In many ways, I saw myself as “Charlie Brown”, and so I could relate to the amusement revealed by Schulz in this comic strip. It ran in hundreds of newspapers around the world for nearly 50 years, and the images of Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, and Snoopy are now iconic images of our popular culture. I still unearth humour in the funny pages, often getting a laugh from the comic strips of “Cornered”, “Speed Bump”, and “Bizarro.”

Attending a comedy club is a good way to hear ribald humour. You can listen to jokes like Woody Allen’s:“The only time my wife and I had a simultaneous orgasm was when the judge signed the divorce papers.”

Benefits of Humour
There are many benefits of a sense of humour. Laughter improves your health. It can lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, diminishes pain and suffering, relaxes us, reduces stress that can cause mental and physical illness. Humour is often the best medicine. For people who suffer from depression, learning to laugh again is an antidote for the noon day demons.

Stress can kill—and so developing and maintaining a sense of humour can help deal with and adapt to adversities of life, such as illness, unemployment, catastrophe, and death. Bill Cosby said, “Through humour, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it.”

A sense of humour makes us playful and enables us to enjoy life. It helps us to be more spontaneous, let go of our defensiveness, and release our inhibitions, become our true selves. Humour is an ingredient for  happiness. Laughter releases endorphins that make us feel good. It is like a drug that makes us high on life.

Humour in the workplace can build morale of coworkers and improve productivity of work. Humour can reduce conflict in a relationship, build ties that bind through difficult, even unbearable times, if it not for a sense of humour. Humour can build friendships, enabling strangers to find a common emotional connection and a bond from humour.

A sense of humour can enable us to see our own faults or follies. It can motivate us to change our perspective and see things from a different view point, a funny perspective.

Sense of Humour
Having a sense of humour is an attractive personality trait. Check out a profile on a social networking website, such as Plenty of Fish, and you will find that many men and women seek a person who has a sense of humour. Not only can it disarm a person who is wary of you, it can also communicate friendliness, and defuse a stressful situation, make people think you are “easy going.”

Each of us is capable of a sense of humour. Yet many people have abandoned their humour, perhaps from old age, sickness, terminal illness. There is not much worse than a person who is empty of humour, or who is unable to laugh. Life is serious enough without having to deal with people who are unable or unwilling to laugh.

How do does a person devoid of a sense of humour begin to bring humour into their life? It’s easy. You just need to find a way to laugh at your own follies. Another easy way is to make the decision to not take life so seriously. Other ways include: Seeking humour in the absurd aspects of life. Attending a comedy club and watch a stand-up comic crack a few jokes about socially unacceptable or taboo subjects. Watching a few comedy films on television, such as “The Wedding Crashers” or the slap stick Hollywood classic movie. View a sitcom, such as “Nine and a Half Men”, on television. Learning to tell jokes, and then share them with others. Traveling to a bookstore, check out the books in the humour section, and buy a funny book. The humour of David Sedaris will evoke amusement and a laugh.

You can find something funny reading the morning newspaper, sipping a cup of coffee, watching ordinary people while waiting to catch the bus to work, having a drink of beer, viewing a stand-up comic share a litany of ribald jokes, enjoying  a romantic comedy onscreen at the movie theatre, viewing a sitcom on television, reading a humorous book or poem in bed before you drift off to sleep. Humour is everywhere. It is a desirable personality trait, and one of life’s simple pleasures. It enriches our lives, melts away the drudgery of daily routine, extinguishes stress that often makes life difficult, even depressing. Simon Wiesenthal, who was a survivor of the Nazi death camps,  said it best: “Humour is the weapon of unarmed people: it helps people who are oppressed to smile at the situation that pains them. “

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About Dave Hood

Lover of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction. Professional photographer and writer. Without the arts, life would be rather mundane, like a walk down the same old path on a dull day.
This entry was posted in Humour, Personal Essay and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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