You don’t have to laugh, but it helps.
I don’t know when I first found I had a liking for comedy, humour. It’s been a part of my life for a long time.
Cartoon collections. Occasionally, comic novels. Comedy shows on TV sometimes, but for me they rarely work that well. Even less frequently, comedy films. But stand-up comedy galore. Well known names, up-and-coming names. Big venues and small.
One day I’ll work-up a list of all the acts I’ve seen. I’ve what my partner calls my ‘squirrel box’ as my guide – I keep all the tickets for shows we go to. (I guess to some extent that suggests I’ve always been aware of the failings of memory.)
Yes, I keep the tickets of the shows we go to. We’re lucky to share a similar sense of humour. Not identical, but similar enough. I think I’d hesitate to go to a comedy show alone. I think it would feel odd, wrong. That might just be because I’ve not done it. But it might be because we’re all inherently pack animals.
I don’t think I’d ever claim such-and-such is ‘good’ comedy in any universal way, nor that such-and-such isn’t. Tastes vary. And the causes and, indeed, the nature of those variations can’t be neatly described. I don’t think anyone’s studied comedy and come up with answers and definitions that are at all precise. There are too many influencing factors going in to, firstly, what makes a person find something humorous or funny or whatever and, secondly, in to what way they find it so. Your guffaw might be my mild snigger. A rib-tickler for you might only leave me confused about why you’re laughing.
And, of course, what constitutes comedy is itself a hugely variable beast. There are lots of different types of things that, collectively, are commonly considered humorous.
I don’t know if there are some people for whom nothing at all is humorous. All I can say is that I’ve know lots of people and that their senses of humour vary wildly.
So anyway, no, comedy can’t be prescribed in any meaningful way. Anyone saying ‘you must see/read/listen-to this, that or the other, it’s really funny’ stands little chance of being widely agreed with.
However, it can certainly be proscribed. Religions and governments are the most frequently guilty. Comedy, humour, satire … threatens. The weaker what’s being threatened, the more extensive and draconian the proscription. And that can be extended to humans too, on an individual basis. At its most simple: ‘bullies can’t take a joke’.
Of course, humour can’t always extend to all reaches of life, to all aspects of life as lived, at all times. And when times or contexts are tough, I don’t know if even gallows humour can always help.
But most of the time, most times, humour is important. It helps – both the perpetrator and the audience.
For me … Well, I know the saying that pride goes before the fall. It’s meant as a warning against arrogance rather than a warning against all pride. I mention it because when I was in rehab after my crash, in one meeting the consultant said I’d never lost my sense of humour. And so, without arrogance, I’ll say I’m proud of that.
I know I lost control at times, I know I was overwhelmed at times, but at least at other times I’d found humour. That matters then and it still matters now. That’s valuable. That must be deep-seated.
All that, I guess, prompts questions about how that’s all arisen. Questions for another day.
The why of it
I was booking some tickets for a comedian a few months hence. Deciding whether to go or not, I’d ended up talking with my partner about gigs we’d missed over the years – two by human error (and getting dates wrong), and one because of my crash. That train of thought led, inevitably, to the role of comedy in life.
Taking comedy in the broadest sense of the term, to include caricature and satire, then perhaps the most interesting aspect is not so much the personal but the broadly cultural context. (This is to look beyond individual responses to the comic.)
If proscribing some or other aspects of comedy because they’re a threat serves to indicate comedy’s potential power, understanding the precise nature of that threat is key. It is likely to be culture-specific.