I don’t find the idea of a man slipping on banana peel as funny as I used to. My response is sympathy – literally, I feel the pain with the falling man. But I can appreciate why others might find it funny.
There’s no doubt that humour can bring relief from pain. When I collapsed in April 2002, I landed on my ribs. For the regulation six weeks for healing ribs, I tried to avoid comedy that made me laugh too vigorously. Even then I appreciated in theory at least, that laughter, as the cliché says, is the best medicine.
Laughter produces happy juices in our brains; the same endorphins quickened by exercise. A good laugh generally puts our pain into a larger perspective. I have decreed (with absolutely no authority) that the root meaning of ‘humour’ is ‘human’ because humour reminds us that we are only human: quite wonderfully and majestically human at times, but at others quaintly comical.
One person’s humour is another person’s seriousness. Years ago, my brother Barry took me to the drive-in theatre to watch James Bond. It was the film where Oddjob decapitates his opponents by throwing his bowler hat like a lethal frisbee. The action may sound quite nasty, but the moment is not shown. Instead, after a big lead-up to the precise moment of violence, the camera cuts to Mr Bond for a quick quip. At least that was the how my brother and I interpreted the cinematic sequences.
You remember the old drive-in movie theatres, where you sat in your car with a speaker pulled in through the window. Quite sealed from a noise point of view, you would think, from other cars. However, my brother has a loud laugh, and he tells me I do too. The people in neighbouring cars asked us to leave the drive-in if we couldn’t be quieter. They were getting angry. It wasn’t funny to them.
For the rest of that evening, Barry and I suppressed our interpretation of James Bond, but to this day, we think we are right. But imagine the people in the cars nearby: they still think their interpretation is better.
Well, all you can do is laugh about differences like that.
I count my sense of humour as a blessing. I enjoy word-play. On dark days, I try to remember to get down from the shelf my copy of the Penguin Book of Nonsense Verse. You might like to work out your emergency remedy before your next dark day.
I enjoy satire, especially political satire. For me, the politicians’ pomposity deserves to be pricked by the weapon of sharp words. But satire may not hit your mark. You might prefer a comedy of manners like the movie Notting Hill, or the gentle humorous prose of novelist Alexander McCall Smith.
I watch one or two weekly comedy shows on TV. I prefer to choose only one or two. They are funnier for being looked forward to.
Some people rerun favourite films. I have seen The Gods Must be Crazy at least twice. That’s a 100% increase on my repeat viewings of any other movie.
Foster a humorous way of looking at the world. Humour can be a strong ally for you as it goes into battle against its twin enemies, depression and pain. For instance, just for the fun of it, turn some of your dramas into melodramas. Today, I was finding getting out of the car seat a little tricky. As I slowly lifted my feet out of the car onto the ground, then slowly twisted my body to follow, I really felt ancient and decrepit. So I put on a silly, quavery, “old man” voice. “Not many people of 105 can drive a car as well as I do,” I muttered. I hasten to add that I’m not 105! Yet.
Sometimes I make “over the top” comparisons. When I see the posture I’m pushed into some days by my painful spine, I compare my beauty to that of the leaning tower of Pisa. My sense of humour doesn’t have to make other people laugh. I just need a chuckle myself.
The old rhyme says,
“In spite of her sniffle,
I try to emulate Isobel, and keep gurgling cheerfully.