What is humor anyway? Is it frivolous to write it?
I know people can twist everything, even humor, but I’m talking about the good stuff.
I don’t often write humor per se, but my characters sometimes surprise me. Surprise is in integral part of humor and, for me, a significant part of the joy of writing.
Humor is a sense of perspective. I would have drowned in a sea of guilt without Erma.
Bombeck: “My theory on housework is, if the item doesn’t multiply, smell, catch on fire or block the refrigerator door, let it be. . . .”
Even the most serious subjects are subject (pun intended) to the human injection of humor.
Twain: “God created war so that Americans would learn geography.”
Humor is the gasp of wonder and delight we feel when a child makes an astute observation from his/her perspective:
A two year old at being told maybe his ears are tired, because he is not listening : “Umm no, they’re not tired. I think their batteries died.”
Or my little nephew, looking up into the night sky: “Mommy, the moon is broke. Can you fix it?”
“To laugh is to awaken.” –H.G. Wells
In our response to humor, we leave the universe we have created with it’s rules and definitions of reality and—just for one delirious moment—perceive a different reality. We are enlightened—understanding and accepting that reality is not the construct we have given it, but something so much more, so infinite, so marvelous, so indefinable! First on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s list of what constitutes success: “To laugh often and much. . . ” Laughter catches us up in a moment of pure being, a moment where we are alive and in the present. We just get a glimpse, but it is no wonder that the Dalia Lama laughs with such ease. Laughter is holy.
Many native traditions held clowns and tricksters as essential to any contact with the sacred. People could not pray until they had laughed, because laughter opens and frees from rigid preconception. Humans had to have tricksters within the most sacred ceremonies for fear that they forget the sacred comes through upset, reversal, surprise.*
Laughter Therapy: Several studies point to the healing power of laughter, even to it having an effect on serious conditions. Maybe, as Reader’s Digest has told us for years, Laughing is the best medicine!
Laughing with others creates bonds. If you laugh at my humor, I love you.
Laughter helps keep us from taking ourselves and our world too seriously.
Bob Hope eased many hearts during hard times in our country. Could you watch Red Skelton or Carol Burnett and not feel better about whatever was wrong or hurtful in your life? Ok, I am really dating myself, but I will never forget the Coneheads from the planet Remulak on Saturday Night Live.
Beldare Conehead: “May I have 55 words with you?”
Or Carroll O’Connor (Archie Bunker), Jeff Foxworthy, Lucille Ball, Bill Cosby, Robin Williams, Desiree Burch, Jon Stewart, and so many more all keep making us look with new eyes at our cultural values and assumptions (while we hold our sides laughing), and even when they die—as long as we have the written word, the video tapes/files, and the joke-tellers—their humor will live on.
My friend Becky and I, in a rare contemplation of the meaning of our lives, once had a discussion about what we should put on our gravestones. For hers, I suggested—“She loved to laugh.”
“What about yours?” she asked.
I thought a moment. “She loved to make Becky laugh.”
Now if you’re going to pun, that’s a different story and there’s a place in hell for you.
T.K. Thorne is a retired police captain (Birmingham, Alabama), director of City Action Partnership, and an award-winning author of fiction and non-fiction.