“They have a great sense of humor.” Over the span of a life this one sentence carries with it a red flag decorated with a bright cringe ribbon. Most often it’s heard during the teenage years when a friend is describing someone you should date. At that age, its suggests a narrow view of what is attractive, most often focused on physical traits.
The word “humor” has a long history. In the Middle Ages it was one of the four bodily fluids that was in charge of health and a person’s temperament. During the 17th century, it evolved toward the ability to enjoy a good joke. There’s a dry sense of humor that is understated, a dirty one, profane or containing sexual content, and dark, seeing comedy in tragedy. In our time, having a fine sense of humor has become a desirable personality trait, one sought out in a romantic partner. Who would like to spend time with someone who has a sour disposition, unless you worked for them or had a relative with that temperament?
What’s funny to each one of us is usually a matter of personal taste. It grows out of where we live, the culture we are part of, our maturity level, education and context. We all know the moment when a joke fails. There’s usually a grin, or a boisterous insincere laugh, embarrassed fumbling, or, “Excuse me. I’m going to grab another beer.” What’s humorous in the southeastern part of the U.S. is at times incomprehensible to those of us who live in the Midwest.
Being able to laugh is also good for your health. But it has to be the type of wit that connects us to others. Those who can use a joke to link with others instead of putting others or oneself down create a positive vibe. The angler who fishes for a buoyant moment, knows all too well that the hook set can hurt. It is a fine line cast.
Words have many meanings. The meaning may make sense in one way, but if we think about it, it could also be something else. Take these for example: What does farcical mean? Could it be a bike that makes you look stupid? Maybe. Sentences like, “Children make delicious snacks,” is not meant as an invitation to become a cannibal. And, “Miners refuse to work after death.” This would make a lousy headline in a newspaper or could make some sense, kind of, if they’d just dropped dead.
Those with different life experiences have unique takes on what’s funny. Native American humor is a true reflection of life that has been misunderstood, degraded and ignored by the dominant white culture. It is an understated cleverness, best seen in current movies by Native production companies and actors. I have always loved the short pieces by Rob Fairbanks of the Leech Lake Band, on his “Rez Report.” No one does it better.
Then there is satire, which is the use of humor, irony, or ridicule that sheds a light on stupidity or vices in contemporary politics or social issues. The use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule is to expose and criticize contemporary politics and other current issues. Johnathan Swift in the 18th century wrote a “A Modest Proposal,” an essay that suggested poor Irish peasants could have a more stable financial life by selling their children as food to the rich.
In Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 movie, “Dr. Strangelove,” a brawl breaks out in the “War Room,” in the Pentagon in the midst of a nuclear crisis. A general tries to regain control of the situation by shouting, “There will be no fighting in the war room, gentlemen.”
A good laugh can ease the burden of any day. A good hoot can snap us back to a more even keel. I hope that in this day, we have not lost the ability to enjoy a raucous doubling up.
Doug Lewandowski is a retired counselor, educator and psychologist. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.