We Like to Laugh

We like to laugh. We all know this.

It is why children take amusement in clowns, cartoons, and big, goofy animals. Though the antics may be silly by adult standards, children see genuine surprise and actions unexpected. Even infants not yet able to verbally communicate can express their delight over such pleasantries, it is wired into our brains at birth. Children innately know this.

It is why the television shows that are consistently rated the best of all time – I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Seinfeld – are comedies. Even when we are in the mood for drama, action, or dry, rote courtroom procedurals, we like them accented with a touch of amusement. Screenwriters know this.

When drama moves into real life, we still look towards humor to give us a feeling of calm, a modicum of clarity. It is a vehicle to help us make sense of the senseless. When we witness the terrible and horrible, humor helps us cope, helps us move on, helps us know everything will be all right. Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart know this. John Oliver knows this. Charlie Hebdo knows this.

But humor is a fickle thing. It is driven by surprise, its heart lies in the unexpected. As Charlie Chaplin recounted: slipping on a banana peel isn’t funny, stepping over a banana peel and disappearing into a manhole is. The joke you laughed at yesterday may be tomorrow’s banana peel. It is why Ray J. Johnson’s shtick was amusing for two minutes; by the third time he recited “You can call me Ray, you can call me Jay...” the joke had moved into annoying territory and his audience wished he would simply shut up and go away. And the next time they saw him they'd turn off the TV or switch the channel. Charlie Chaplin knew what made humor work. Ray J. Johnson didn’t know this.

I write humor because I like to make people laugh. But that is only part of the reason. I also want people to think. Many of my pieces are not slap-your-knee, guffaw-out-loud funny, and they are not intended to be. They are intended to provoke thoughts, about life, about society, about our human condition. The humor is there to punctuate the point. Good humorists and comedians know this. Their readers, listeners, and fans know this.

Perhaps there is a certain amount of humor in the future leader of our nation. To the minds of some he may seem like a silly clown, a funny buffoon, a humorous jester. Like the punchline to a good joke, he may be surprising and unexpected to some others. And like pointed topical humor, he may even give a feeling of calm or hope to some who feel fear or see senselessness in society. Perhaps part of the reason this man was elected was simply because some people like to laugh.

But to those who find his antics refreshing, I say: Much like Ray J. Johnson's shtick, he is going to get old and annoying very quickly, you'll stop laughing, and you'll wish he would shut up and go away. And you won't be able to shut him off or change the channel.