I’m a great fan of humour.
But I’m afraid I don’t like jokes.
Contradictory? I say, no.
When someone says, “Would you like to hear a joke?” or “Have you heard the one about the Irishman, the Scotsman and the Welshman?” I’m afraid I cringe and try to engage someone else in conversation. I might turn to the nearest person and ask them what they perceive as the main component of the dip currently being passed around with the platter of raw vegetables.
Anything but face a pre-prepared, parrot-learned, robotically delivered, almost inevitably lame joke somebody is about to pass on. Even worse if, when they’ve finished telling it, they laugh raucously and look for approval. I’m afraid I look for somewhere else to look.
Yes, we’re all different but, to me, humour needs to be spontaneous; it’s the ability to capitalise on the moment.
American Paul McGhee, a pioneer in humour research, believes in the health benefits of spontaneous humour. He says, “The available research does not yet allow for a clear conclusion here, but my own educated guess is that the more you actively use your sense of humour, instead of just telling and re-telling memorized jokes, the greater the health and happiness-inducing benefits you’ll receive.”
I’m not about to argue with him because he’s famous. Besides which, he has published countless papers and books on humour.
One of his suggestions I read was to consider that little nagging voice inside your head, the one that tells you that the humorous idea that has just popped into your mind may not really be that funny. Sometimes the voice is right.
But, at the same time, any decision must be quick; if you wait too long and engage in too much mental deliberation, the moment passes and your gag won’t be funny anymore.
Last week I was in the kitchen and saw an ant travelling at quite a high speed across the bench. Suddenly, without any apparent reason, it stopped, turned around and headed back the way it had come from.
Youngest son entered the room and I asked him if he had any explanation for this about-turn behaviour. The response was instant: “Oh, it’ll be because it’s forgotten something.”
That’s humour. It’s instant and it capitalises on the moment. He could have entered the room and said, “Have you heard the one about the ant, the Irishman and the Welshman?” But then again, because he’s a chip off the old block, I know he would not have done that.
A few weeks earlier we met in a doorway not wide enough for the two of us. I was about to enter the house; he was about to exit. I stopped and said, “I think we should work out a system here. I could …” and I started – tongue-in-cheek, of course – to outline a possible way to proceed.
Again, his response was instant. Turning around, he said, “Oh, no, I think it’ll be easier if I just go back and stay inside.”
The ant and the door examples both relied on their speed. There was certainly no time to deliberate.
Anyway, as I said earlier, everybody is different and this is abundantly clear in the matter of humour. I have tended to focus on spontaneous, witty humour so, before I close, I should perhaps devote some time to the pre-prepared joke fans. What better place to find an example than in a Christmas cracker?
Q: What do you call Father Christmas on the beach?
A: Sandy Claus.
And, with that, I believe I can safely say, case closed.
Unless, of course, you want to hear a really funny joke about an Irishman, a Scotsman and a Welshman?
- Wyn Drabble is a teacher of English, a writer, musician and public speaker.