Laughter And Lightness
I don’t think of myself as a funny person. But, I always seem to have had the ability to make people laugh. It’s an odd thing, since many of the words I would use to describe myself, like introverted, melancholic and reclusive don’t fit the image of a joker. What Is Comedy? Since I don’t […]
I don’t think of myself as a funny person. But, I always seem to have had the ability to make people laugh. It’s an odd thing, since many of the words I would use to describe myself, like introverted, melancholic and reclusive don’t fit the image of a joker.
What Is Comedy?
Since I don’t understand the source of my humour I’ve always been hesitant to examine it – in case it disappears in a cloud of self-awareness. Of course, such a response is silly, since comedy, like any other performing art, must have codified wisdom and insights which comedians mine and study as they hone their craft.
My feeling is that comedy (or perhaps the comedy I like) arises because of the structures of language, culture and life. These structures make it possible for us to live and make sense of our world. But, every now and then cracks appear – inconsistencies and absurdities – which cause us to chuckle and laugh in amusement.
For example, wordplay is one way to create absurdities and observational humour is a way of pointing life’s inconsistencies. At the risk of becoming very philosophical, there’s a fascinating connection between comedy and reality. Maybe comedy is reality made bendy?
Comedy And Morality
When I think of the comedians I most enjoy, like Louis CK and Russell Peters, they temper their observational humour with a fair bit of moral thinking. The cracks in reality they point out are often cultural and ethical. So often the best comedy is also social commentary. That’s just as true for Monty Python as it is for The Simpsons.
And, there’s something about humour, especially when it arises in life’s darker and more fraught moments, that seems to restore a balance in our lives. Laughter is such a deep, primal response that it seems to change our basic chemistry.
Lighten The World Through Smiles
One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given came from a crusty, old-school British expat who had spent many years in India. He said to me, when you are unsure how to respond, in a social situation, start with a smile.
Out of his lesson I’ve slowly learnt to try and lighten social situations, especially with people I don’t know. It’s amazing how much friendlier and more helpful people in stores will be when you smile and maybe ask them a little about their store, their work, or just their day.
A Thousand Little Choices
Sometimes I wonder if we are hardwired for joy and laughter and we learn cynicism and negativity, almost as a form of defence. Whatever it is, some folks do seem to learn the lesson well. And, it’s a hard lesson to unlearn.
Increasingly I see life as a thousand little choices we make everyday. It’s easy to get caught up in the big choices and sometimes we amplify their effects out of all proportion (Robert Frost’s The Road Less Travelled is a great tonic for such misguided thinking). I’ve come to believe the quality of our life is far more shaped by the small choices, like the choice to lighten our human interactions with laughter and smiles, rather than negativity and frowns.
It’s a small thing, but it seems to change everything.