Thursday, March 13, 2014

Explaining "Funny"

The other day, I was watching an episode of Studio C with Kevin (he loves it for some weird reason), and Havelock stopped behind me to watch it with us. Havelock has a different sense of humor from me, and he didn't understand the satire behind this particular episode. So, he asked me why it was supposed to be funny.

As I tried to explain the joke behind the episode, I was reminded how difficult it is to explain the "funny" behind something. It's like trying to explain salt without using the word salty. You can  talk about the satire behind a concept, the irony, the joke, but if it isn't funny to someone, it probably won't be after you try and explain it. If fact, usually that just makes it even less funny.

Here I will tell you a story. You may have heard it before, as I told this story during Top Ten Injuries in My Life: The Weird, Wacky, and Serious.

Once upon a time, I was walking with a group of friends down the sidewalk. I was very engaged in the conversation, and there were too many of us to fit on the sidewalk, so I started walking on the grass. One moment I was on solid ground, and the next my foot was plummeting through the ground. I may have been mid-sentence. My leg disappeared down a manhole up to my thigh and I fell on my face. One leg was down the hole, while the other was bent at a 90 degree angle. I laid still for a moment, trying to figure out what had just happened and if I was injured. I was fine, so I got up and we laughed about that for the next ten minutes.

Why is this story funny? It had an unexpected twist that resulted in slapstick comedy. However, if you don't find the thought of my leg falling down a manhole funny, I can't change that. It's like trying to explain the punchline of a joke that someone doesn't get. Sometimes they do understand, and laugh, but usually it just makes the joke less funny for everyone.

Babies seem to think slapstick is hilarious. I've never known a baby that didn't laugh when they were swinging in a swing and I pretended that they kicked me every time they came close. Kevin loves to sword fight right now. We babysat a couple of boys from our ward last night, and Kevin, Grig, and the younger boy engaged in an epic sword battle while I and the other boy painted. Kevin laughed and laughed as the other two pretended to be hurt or injured.

Where does humor come from and what makes something funny? At what age do children decide what they find funny and what they don't?

I thought for a while that humor was learned. However, Kevin will laugh at things that Grig and I would have never thought about laughing at, and once he starts we can't help but join. He has an infectious laugh. Sometimes we'll ask him, "Why is that funny?" However, just like me, he is incapable of expressing the humor behind the situation. At least he has the excuse of the language barrier. I'm just stuck with being incapable.

I love laughing and being happy. Grig makes me laugh quite often, and so does Kevin. Life is a lot more fun when you can find something to laugh about.

In my parent's family, we didn't like to be sad. Even in the midst of tragedy we'd find something to laugh about because we just didn't enjoy feeling bad. So, to others, we sometimes laugh at inappropriate times, but really it's just a defensive mechanism. Laughter can shield and help you recover from tragedy faster than any other tonic.

There are moments when it is completely inappropriate to laugh, and I've had to work hard over the years to learn when those moments were. I'm sure my father will remember back a few years when I and my older brother were in the car. We were almost back to our house when flashing lights appeared in the rear-view mirror. My father pulled over, but since I had never been in a car that had been pulled over before, I got really nervous. Unfortunately, when I get nervous, my first response is to laugh.

My father really didn't appreciate the two giggling kids in the background while the officer informed him that his taillight was out and he needed to replace it. We weren't doing it to be immature or rude, we were just plain anxious. It all turned out okay, but sometimes it's hard to shut off the giggle when it begins.

Man is that he might have joy. Laugh more often. Smile more frequently, and find the humor as often as is appropriate.

You'll live longer, and be much happier...even if you can't explain why it's funny.