“Humor is the good natured side of a truth.” Mark Twain
When we’re in a good mood, most of us love a good joke, even if it’s on us. When we’re in a bad mood, but open minded, it will change our outlook for the better. When we are full of ourselves, we react badly because the truth hurts. Humor is difficult to explain, especially to those that take themselves too seriously. For this reason comics and satirist are either loved or reviled, we either laugh or rage.
These are difficult times for comedians because everything is subject to a new code of acceptable speech, which changes daily like fashion, with no reason other than what someone, seemingly anyone, finds offensive. I can’t imagine George Carlin being successful in our current cultural environment. This hypersensitivity has become so pervasive that we need to understand where it comes from. It is said that humor is the window to the soul. If true, then the lack of humor closes that window and the soul becomes isolated. I am talking about the human spirit, that intangible element that defines personality. We know a positive personality when we meet them, and we surely have experienced the negative personality that brings us down.
There are some telling indicators where this negativity is generated, principally in education; if children are constantly taught that the world is on the verge of extinction, that nothing should lie in the way of their demanded gratification, that there is no value in free expression, that their race determines them to be either a victim or oppressor, that they need not take responsibility for themselves, that motivation is selfishness, then why would we be surprised that they have a negative view of the world and their future in it? Such an environment breeds narcissism, and you will seldom find a narcissist with a sense of humor. You have to have empathy to understand and appreciate humor because without it you can’t understand anything about the human condition of anyone else but yourself. One of the objectives of true humor is to do what Mark Twain said in the quote above, to expose the truth. Narcissists lack responsibility and will always deflect blame on to others due to their sense of entitlement; truth is harsh and to be avoided.
Couple this with the social isolation imposed during the pandemic, which caused so much damage to the psychological wellbeing of our youth. According to the CDC, social isolation is linked to poor outcomes with about a 50% increased risk of dementia, a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke. There was a 22.3% spike in ER trips for potential suicides by children aged 12 to 17 in summer 2020 compared to 2019. In 2021, emergency rooms in 38 children’s hospitals saw a 47% increase in the number of suicide and self-injury cases in the first nine months of the year among children 5 to 8, and a 182% jump among kids ages 9 to 12, compared to 2016.
We first see real comedic theatre in ancient Greece; in fact Greek tragedies and comedies were similar as they both emphasized observation and logic for understanding. In other words, in order to get the message you have to have perspective, experience and above all else empathy or the joke will likely go way over your head. You will not have the ability to understand humor if you lack any of these things. The context alone will be beyond your grasp unless you’re alive in the moment, the here and now, or you’re left with someone trying to explain the humor to you, and we all know how that goes. A good comedian gets an immediate feedback from his audience, or it becomes embarrassingly obvious that his joke flopped, failing to communicate the immediate essence of the issue he brought to the audience, and that after all is what good humor is all about.
Take for example a humorous definition of inflation I heard recently that it’s being broke with a lot of money in your pocket. This kind of humor is irony or a paradox in that the statement is seemingly contradictory but in the context of its time and place immediately understood and a clear insight as to the true nature of inflation. We’ve all been there lately, so what can you do but laugh. While I’m not much of a fan of rap music, there is this guy who goes by the name Zuby who says some very insightful stuff, and relevant to this post, “This is a brutal time to be a human without a good sense of humor.” So be of good cheer, throw off the myopic views of our time, seek understanding of what’s really going on, but be courageous and learn to laugh at it all because nothing changes until we open our minds to the truth, and humor is the window through which it can come.
“My way of joking is to tell the truth. It’s the funniest joke in the world.” George Bernard Shaw