Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Humor - What's So Funny About It?

Have you ever found yourself being dead serious but other people think you're funny as hell? Or, what's even worse: you're trying to be funny and no one laughs? Ouch! As a writer, I find myself trying to find balance between these two extremes because ... well, they epitomize my life.

One of the finest personality characteristics a person can possess (in my humble opinion) is a terrific sense of humor. It's the major reason why, when asked what historical figure I'd most want to meet, I choose Mark Twain. Have you ever read his short story, The Diary of Adam and Eve? It is the funniest thing I ever read--and may be one of the most poignant, as well.

Why, I wonder, do I find him so darned funny? He's dead! I never listened to him speak or watched his facial expressions. On the other hand, although I listened to, and watched, the Three Stooges, David Letterman, and Chevy Chase. None of these men ever made me laugh. Go figure.
I didn't have much of a sense of humor when I was a kid. In fact, my parents would probably be so [un]kind as to say I didn't have one at all. I was sensitive, you see. Cried if you looked at me cross-eyed. Which my brothers did all the time ... just to make me cry. I suspect they're part of the reason I didn't have an SOH.

It's BBQ sauce ... what did YOU think it was?
I acquired a sense of humor in my late teens. (Probably because that's when I started getting over myself. Puberty was a thing of the past and, along with it, my affinity for crying and, to some degree, drama.) Unfortunately, I've never acquired the ability to tell a joke--on purpose, that is. I always forget the punch line. On the other hand, I'll be standing in front of 30 people conducting an insurance seminar and people will howl with laughter because of something I said.  Something I meant. Something I meant--seriously. THEY think I'm hilarious. I think I'm tyring to make a point. If I did make a point, and they got it, and laughed along with it, I guess that's a good thing. Right?

One of the funniest people I know personally is my oldest daughter. That girl was born funny. Just hearing her laugh makes me laugh. I remember her telling a joke at a family gathering when she was in 4th grade. Her big blue eyes sparkled with suppressed laughter when she told the joke--you could tell she really got a kick out of knowing the punch line and knowing everyone was going to laugh when she shared it. I don't remember the whole joke. But it's about a string who walks into a bar. (That alone cracks me up: a 10 year-old telling a joke about anything that happens in a bar.) The string asks for a drink and a bar patron comments about the messy condition this string happens to be in. Questions and answers are exchanged, I don't even remember if the string gets his drink, but the punch line is delivered after someone asks the string a final question.  I do remember this punch line--because of the way Beth giggled like hell after she delivered it: "No, I'm afraid not." (Messy string = frayed knot.) 
I have a friend who is a humor expert, Lois McElravy of Lessons from Lois, and she's explained all kinds of technical stuff about what makes us laugh and why we should laugh. Despite my intellectual understanding of laughter and humor, I still don't understand--emotionally--why one thing cracks me up and something else leaves me feeling untouched.

Do you think our appreciation for humor is tied to our personalities? Our preferences? Our parents? Do I enjoy sarcastic humor because my mother was sarcastic? Do I only sometimes "get" and laugh at British humor because I'm not British?

What do you think is so funny about humor?


  1. You should turn your inability to tell jokes into an advantage as a friend of mine has done. She's hopeless at telling them - really bad, bad, bad - but the way she mis-tells them is hilarious. For example, if she tried telling the one you quote, her opening line would be something like 'This piece of string with a frayed knot in it comes into a bar ...'

    I think she's maybe afraid of forgetting the punchline, so she gets it in early then staggers on with a story that becomes more and more pointless. It's hugely entertaining.

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