HUMOR

People with no sense of humor take everything too seriously!

That's no joke. Most of us take things that matter seriously and take jokes with a sense of humor. But people who take everything seriously are not willing or able to detach themselves from anything. So they attach themselves to the punch line of a joke in a personal way, as if it punched them in the face. Some comedians are known for punching people in the face with jokes. Most of us avoid them, of course, because we don't agree that humor should be weaponized to make someone the victim of a joke.

Humor and wisdom are siblings, or at least first cousins. Wisdumb, for example, is thinking of something stupid but resisting the urge to say it. If you thought that was funny, you have acquired the wisdom to travel that road between taking things that matter too seriously and not seriously enough. You can take life with a grain of salt, face it with skepticism. In other words, neither humor nor wisdom are frivolous. Both cut through pretentious and deceptive nonsense to reveal life as it really is.

Politicians focus on the serious side of life. But they have a bad habit of shaking our hands before an election then shaking our confidence after they're elected. When we learn that they have not told us the truth, we groan.

Comedians show us the silly side of life. And they have the good sense to call attention to the difference between how we think things are and how they actually are. When we realize they have told us the truth, we grin. The word under-standing is their territory. They invite us to stand up and move under the place where they are standing so we can see the humor in things. Standing over there enables us to look back at where we were standing and laugh at ourselves. And if you can do that, you will never be short of material.

You and I laugh for the same reason we scream: our expectations have been surprised. In a joke, there is a surprising incongruity between the setup and the punch line. The disparity gives us an excuse to think the joke doesn't matter. It's either completely false or exaggerates a situation so completely that we can't take it seriously. But comedians show us that what appears to be false or absurd is actually a humorous look at real life. More importantly, their use of sarcasm, irony and other linguistic tools enables us to see ourselves in those humorous situations. And most of us laugh because the comedian delivers the joke or humorous story in a way that leaves us relatively unattached to the punch line.

Comedians shine humor on everyday experiences. Just the other day I was looking for my cell phone when my wife said, "It's always the last place you look." I turned to the Queen of Sarcasm and said, "Well of course it is. Why would I keep looking after I found it?" The look she gave me made it clear that I should have said, "Yes Dear. It always is." Another example is health, a type of insurance that covers you for everything except the illness that sent you to your doctor just yesterday.

So comedians are skilled at showing us how humorously ironic and sarcastic life really is. They make fun of things that matter for the very reason that they do matter. They uncover what's going on behind our euphemistic attempts to hide the truth about how we really think and feel about life. They have a talent for getting at the root of what matters. They have a special kind of genius that helps us see serious, complex things in simple, humorous ways.

Red Alert

An angry woman can be dangerous, but even when her anger is aimed at you, if she is the woman you love, she remains irresistibly beautiful. After a dozen or so disagreements with the woman I loved, I discovered she had three levels of anger, and each could be placed on a scale of 1 to 10 by watching her hands and her fingers but especially her eyes.

When mildly perturbed, her left hand would tip her glasses down so I could see both of her eyes looking ominously into mine. That was a yellow alert—a 3 on my scale. During a yellow alert, it was safe to sit or stand, enjoy the sparkle in her eyes, and say something innocent like, "Are you disappointed in me, dear?"

When steamed up, she would tilt her head, raise her eyebrows and gesture downward with the thumb of her right hand. Picture Caesar on his throne just before a gladiator is thrown to the lions. That was an orange alert—a 6 on my scale. The sparkle in her eyes was noticeably absent. Her hair, normally the yellow of summer, began turning to the gold of fall. Picture her hair glowing with the soft, flickering light of a just-lit match. Think of it tossed by the ferocity of an autumn wind threatening to rip leaves from the family tree. During an orange alert, it was safe to return her gaze while saying something humble and cooperative like, "Can we talk about this?"

When she moved from steamed up to really angry, she would stand up and punctuate every syllable of her discontent by poking holes in the space between her and me with her index finger while saying things like "I'm closing my eyes. When I open them, they better not see you!" That was a red alert—a 9 on my scale. Her eyes were now fire-truck red with the flames of a fully fueled conflagration.

Picture a boiling hot cauldron with foam frothing up and over the brim like a volcano belching smoke and fire. Conjure up horribly hot lava rolling ominously towards the terrified villagers below. Imagine quivering, begging and groveling—then praying for divine intervention.

During a red alert, it was not safe to look into her eyes without mine being burned to a crisp. Nor was it safe to remain, seated or silent. Doing so would bring something painfully beyond my pathetically inadequate little scale. Red alerts were warnings to stand up, shut up, and get out of Dodge. But even when she was that dangerously angry, she remained irresistibly beautiful, and always gave me the last two words... "Yes, dear."