May 13, 2016

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Heard any good jokes? Humor helps balance your life—seriously

Cynthia DewesSome people don’t trust anyone over the age of 40. Personally, I don’t trust anyone who lacks a sense of humor. This is hard to justify, though, because senses of humor vary widely, and that’s OK most of the time.

We all tend to laugh when we see someone slip on a banana peel or trip over their own shoestrings. That’s not very nice, but what’s worse is when others’ misfortunes make up the bulk of what we find humorous. There’s a tinge of pure meanness in some folks’ idea of humor. They’re the ones who tell sick jokes or make fun of handicapped people.

Often, they’re the same people who can’t laugh at themselves. They take seriously everything that happens to them and dismiss others’ problems as hilarious. The incongruity of this never seems to occur to them.

Some people go for what’s called dark humor. This is usually subtle and somewhat cynical, verging on the gothic. Cheerful folks don’t understand what’s so amusing about it, which further amuses the dark humor addicts.

Excessively cheerful humorists seem to go for lighter fare which others might consider downright silly. This category includes children. They laugh at fanciful animated beings with no connection to reality. But who am I to criticize? I’m crazy about Sponge Bob Squarepants.

Styles of humor change with the times. If we see an old vaudeville routine from the early 20th century, it may strike us as too corny to be funny. And although some of us remain loyal fans, the same is true of comedians like Red Skelton or Joe E. Brown. Loudmouths like Ralph Cramden (Jackie Gleason) or Redd Fox may just make a modern viewer uncomfortable.

Humor is based largely on surprise. Someone tells a long story, which seems to be leading to a certain conclusion, when suddenly the punch line deflates our expectation. It’s funny because it’s unexpected or incongruous, mildly irreverent, absurd, or all of the above. Or, none of the above, because lots of surprises are possible.

Having a sense of humor doesn’t necessarily mean that we are witty or clever with words. My mother and her family were all funny and quick-witted. They could come up with a zinger every time, and always right on target.

On the other hand, my dad and his family all shared a great sense of humor, but they just weren’t funny people. They were what I call “literal-minded,” meaning they always looked for logic in what people said to them. Thus, we had to tell them, “That’s a joke” and then they’d laugh heartily. Of course, this reaction seemed hilarious to the witty ones.

Think about it. We tend to approve of people who appreciate humor. If a presidential candidate seems good-humored, we can almost forgive him or her for opinions we can’t support. We’re delighted when Pope Francis makes a little joke, or when TV idols make fun of themselves.

Of course, we can’t laugh off everything that happens in life. Sometimes we experiences terrible, tense and traumatic events, and a flippant response would be inappropriate, if not downright destructive. But we can be serious while maintaining a sense of humor that makes things endurable.

The ability to see humor in many things allows me to balance my life. It puts things in perspective, and presents a more positive attitude for the benefit of others. So, let’s put on a smile and mean it.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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