By Peter Reeves
In case you didn’t know, life’s SatNav has broken. Just a few months ago, it was in full working order. We all knew where we were going, and what we were doing. Then the technology got a bug, which left us lost and floundering. Now, we’re looking anxiously for someone with a repair kit to get us back to that illusive place called, normality.
Brains in white coats are feverishly working overtime on a silver bullet to help us get there, but how long will that take, and what do we do in the meantime?
Well, there’s an instant antidote which has worked in the past, and helped us through wars and international crises. A sticking plaster it may be, but a pretty good one.
The problem is that although there may be, one day soonish, a suit-all injection for the bug, experience tells me there’s no similar injection that makes us laugh?
I know what makes me laugh. I also know what doesn’t. Remember Bob Monkhouse? Comedy writer, comedian and actor and an expert on the history of silent cinema. He also had his books, “Every idea I’ve had,” he said,” I write down in the books: dialogue, thoughts for plays, books and shows, all in longhand, and I always kept them in my possession.”
There’s no doubt, he was a dedicated professional. Very astute, very slick, but, and this, is a very personal but…..he didn’t make me, laugh.
He did, however, say something once, that I thought very witty. “They laughed when they said I wanted to be a comedian, well, they’re not laughing now.”
The way he put a new twist on a hackneyed expression, cleverly turning it on himself. It was the epitome of what a great gag should be. Got a smile from me, but that’s as far it went.
If you thought Bob Monkhouse was an absolute hoot, then, of course, you’ll disagree. “What on earth’s wrong with you?” you mutter. Actually nothing. At least, nothing I’m admitting to. Nothing wrong with you either, as far as I know.
We both laugh, we’re agreed on that, but what makes us laugh is a different thing altogether. Something that may split my sides, will probably leave you cold. As much as we all have different eye colour, we have different senses of humour.
Some good-hearted soul has spent hours sweating and cogitating to let us know that there isn’t just one type of humour, but nine.
This list includes physical humour, self-deprecating humour, sarcastic humour and improvisational humour. That’s comedy without a plan. Kamikaze comedians try this all the time, or at least once, anyway.
Whichever one you choose, you can be sure that your wife, lover, best friend, whoever, will choose an alternative category. Why? Because we’re all made differently, and respond differently to things like humour.
That’s not to say, we don’t all share similar feelings. Laughter, like other emotions, amusement, anger, fear and sadness, is something that crosses borders.
Both cultures agreed that laughter signified amusement, exemplified as, ‘the feeling of being tickled.’
A study, involving people living in Britain, and an isolated part of Namibia, in south west Africa, has shown that these basic emotions are shared by all humans. One positive sound, was particularly well recognised by both groups of participants: laughter.
Both cultures agreed that laughter signified amusement, exemplified as, ‘the feeling of being tickled.’ Hadn’t looked at it that way before myself, but, I think that sums it up quite well. So, whether you enjoy being tickled in Windhoek or Warrington, be assured you won’t feel out of place.
Okay, we all laugh but, do we all laugh at the same things? Personally, I have a wry smile every time I pass my book shelf and see, ’Play In A Day’, Bert Weedon’s guide to becoming a guitar virtuoso. I never did get past chapter one: ‘Buying a guitar!’
Is humour therefore a wholly individualistic thing or can it be pigeon-holed by country and culture?
Good question! Jonathan Swift once wrote, “I have ever hated all nations, professions, and communities, and all my love is toward individuals: principally I hate and detest that animal called man, although I heartily love John, Peter, Thomas, and so forth.”
So maybe that ‘Swift-ism,’ could be applied to comedy too? That it’s the individual who has his own idiosyncratic appreciation of humour.
The other side of the coin is that humans are herd animals. We are designed to pick up social cues, coordinate and align our behaviour with those around us. There’s even research that shows social disapproval provokes the brain’s danger circuits and that conformity soothes. I think, what that reveals is that we laugh, in a group situation. To put it another way, we want to fit in.
What we laugh at in private may be entirely different.
Okay what about, where we laugh? My guess is, anywhere. In the bath? Watching TV? After receiving a builder’s estimate?
The pub, is probably one of the best arenas for laughter. The guy, who can stand next to you at the bar and tell a story that will have you laughing yourself silly, is not uncommon.
A word of warning though, beware of the ‘joke bore’. He, or she, but mostly he, gets a laugh and thrives on it. He loves being the centre of attention. If he tells a gag and you laugh, you’ve rewarded him, which means that he’ll go on and on and on until the audience suddenly discovers the exit.
Perhaps, the biggest question of all is, why we laugh? Why laughter? Why not steam gushing from our ears?
Apparently, laughter is part of the universal human vocabulary. Everyone from your half frozen eskimo to your half baked politician, understands laughter. It’s something you just can’t help doing. We don’t produce laughter by design. It simply bubbles up from within us.
It’s rather like anything creative. You don’t understand where inspiration comes from, you just accept it. Why we laugh? Where we laugh? These things are really not worth analysing.
You’ll like this one, “a nun walked into a sauna and …..” no, perhaps not. Let’s not spoil it, after all this may not be your sort of humour at all.
But, don’t let me stop you from laughing. You know it’s good for you, and it’ll certainly keep us all going till the SatNav’s repaired.