When I was a young teenager at school, the other boys made a joke book. It contained all the jokes I made. There was only one problem with that.
It wasn’t a compliment.
I learnt how to joke off my parents. My parents were old, clean, christian types, who made the sort of obvious humour people now call “dad jokes”.
I followed in their footsteps. Closely.
Any time an opportunity arose, I would pop in my one liners. Unsurprising, unwitty, obvious humour that no one laughed at.
It was a cry for attention and for love. I wanted friendship. I desperately wanted someone, anyone, to like me. I thought that if I could make people laugh, people would want to be my friend.
I watched the other boys. The bullies, the smart kids, even the dumb kids, they all seemed to have a wit that I did not. I saw them make lightning fast observations that were so far out of left field that i had no idea how to even start making those sort of connections.
So I continued with my dad jokes. And that’s when the other boys started their joke book. Writing down each and every stupid line I said.
Fast forward twenty years.
I am now a reasonably witty fellow. After my painful joke-destroying childhood, I made a point of studying humour and finding what makes something funny. I now know what is funny and what is not, and I know the value of timing and other keys to humour.
But I’ve now started to ask myself the question: why do I try so hard to be funny so often? It’s actually a deeply ingrained habit of which I’m only now starting to understand the full extent. It’s quite a dopamine hit to get people laughing. But at what cost?
What am I trying to get when I go for laughs? What kind of person am I trying to be?
Am I trying to make friends? (Most of the time I AM with friends… so what gives?)
Trying to impress people with my smarts?
Am I trying to prevent awkwardness and keep conversation going?
Do I find it difficult to just sit in silence for a minute or two?
Is humour my way of ascending the hierarchy?
Do I use jokes to cover up pain when it comes up in conversation?
Humour is Armour.
Humour guards. Humour prevents real connection. Humour puts up a false front that betrays our pain, our warmth and our generosity.
And men today can barely get by without it.
In the circles I run, I make it a point to deny men the use of humour. Now, there’s nothing better than having a good laugh. But too often men make jokes to disguise what is meaningful to them. They will say the deepest thing they’ve ever said, then pass it off as a joke. They will demean their deepest feelings with a one liner about being emotional.
Jokes show others that the real and the painful don’t faze us.
Even when they do.
It’s already a difficult task to talk about what is real and painful. But to actively make fun of oneself? Self-deprecation can be light-hearted and funny, but in these cases it becomes a razor sharp dagger to one’s own guts. It’s a useless addition to conversation when reality is ignored because of it.
The Razor’s Edge
Standing with my emotions, or standing with someone else as they feel something deeply, is a task filled with tension. It is standing on a razors edge. On one side is the fall into emotion and deep feeling and being swept away by that. On the other is a light-hearted step into a bright meadow of sunshine and unicorns where we can pretend that real shit doesn’t happen and real feeling doesn’t occur. This is the side that humour takes us. It only takes one line to destroy a moment of deep feeling. But that deep feeling… that is where life is.
We want to be able to walk that razor’s edge, and see our feelings and emotions as they are: strong and powerful forces within us that enable us to live our lives fully and with passion.
We may find that we start feeling more and more deeply without the handrail of humour to bolster us. We may be able to stand more tension, and be able to support others during their times of struggle.
Those of us who feel like life is boring and meaningless find that our emotional lives revolve only around anger, fear and mild happiness. Rejecting humour as a defence is one way to actively embrace the deeper parts of your existence, and the feelings that come with it, like contempt, joy, satisfaction and sorrow. These are scary things to face, but they are man’s lot.