Sunday, February 4, 2018

What's so funny?

As I spent time with my grandsons this past week, I was reminded of what a gift humor is. And what a mystery. To my knowledge, there is no other creature with the ability to appreciate humor. Even among humans, it’s hard to understand how humor can manifest itself in such weird ways.

Baby Justin, who turned 8 weeks old, has just started to smile. I mean legitimately smile, not those gas-passing smirks that are really nothing more than expressions of relief. While I was with him, I got him to laugh a few times by making goofy faces. It was glorious. A baby belly laugh is the ultimate high.

Nick is three-and-a half now, and his humor has evolved to butt jokes. He told me about ten knock-knock jokes in a row and the punch line to every one of them was, butt. I suspect that with his friends in day care, all someone has to say is the word butt and everyone cracks up. It gets them every time. I recall seeing comedians like Lenny Bruce back when profanity was taboo, and every time he said fuck (which was quite often), he got a laugh. It always felt like a cheap laugh to me, and it wasn’t really all that funny after the 50th time. The audience was laughing out of nervousness, knowing the comedian had just stepped outside the confines of what’s socially acceptable by using a naughty word. Hearing Nick laugh at words like butt and fart, I can see now that laughing at words considered naughty really is at the humor level of a three year old.

As an older, wiser woman than I was when I was interested in coupling with men, I would advise any person seeking a life partner not to overlook the importance of a sense of humor. While I suspect everyone does have some sense of humor, it’s important to notice exactly what they find humorous. I should have paid more attention to this with my ex-husband. We rarely laughed at the same things. I would be watching a comedy, laughing my head off and see him sitting on the couch looking like the Great Sphinx of Egypt. It’s not that he didn’t laugh. He did. But, as I recall, usually when he was laughing, it was at his own jokes.

For a while I dated a really good man I’ll call Poindexter. Once he took me to see Larry the Cable Guy, who ended up telling a lot of jokes about Mexicans that I found offensive. I couldn’t bring myself to laugh. In fact, if I had driven myself, I would have gotten up and walked out. Everyone in the arena, including Poindexter, was laughing hysterically. For a moment, I wondered, what's the matter with me that I can't laugh at these jokes along with everyone else? But then I came to my senses and wondered, what's the matter with all these people that they think this is funny? On another occasion, I took Poindexter with me to hear David Sedaris. This time the tables were turned. Everyone in the concert hall was enjoying David Sedaris. As I laughed, Poindexter had a blank look on his face. “I don’t get it,” he said. What!? How is that possible?! On the basis of those two events, I should have ended our relationship immediately. But of course, I had to hang in there for a couple more years trying to make something work that was obviously never going to work. Humor doesn’t lie, folks. 

It seems to me that you can tell a lot about a person by the kinds of things they laugh at. Is it a pie in the face? A punny phrase? An ironic twist that you didn’t see coming? I admit that I enjoy it all. But it’s the absurdities of life that really get me going, especially the absurdity of my own life. There have been times when something from my day struck me as so funny that I’d wake up in the middle of the night laughing about it.

The people I enjoy most in my life are gigglers. We get so tickled together that we’re holding our stomachs as tears stream down our cheeks. Whenever I meet someone I can giggle with like that, I feel like there is a bond between us that transcends time and space. It’s as sweet as any holy communion I know.

A former co-worker once told me that he never laughed as much working with anybody as he did with me. I considered that high praise. He was someone I could giggle with. Although it’s been twenty years since we worked together, I still remember moments with him and chuckle. I don’t laugh as much these days and I’m not sure why. Grief often overwhelms me.

After spending time with my grandsons, I realize how much I miss laughing, really laughing in the moment, without the shadows of sorrow tempering my joy. If you’re reading this and care to offer a prayer for me, please pray that I will find myself free to laugh more in the days to come.

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