I like to watch the late news before going to bed each night. I mainly want to hear the weather forecast and know what has happened during the day while I was too busy to pay attention. Trying to fall asleep after hearing a depressing story is difficult. All too often my mind becomes fixated on a particular event that is covered in the thirty minute review of local and national happenings which is why I always follow up by watching The Tonight Show. Jimmy Fallon invariably makes me laugh. There is a contrived innocence in his brilliance that evokes a physical and emotional response in me that reveals itself in an audible chuckle and a release of all the stress that I have harbored in my soul during the day. For me laughter is indeed the very best medicine and I can’t imagine living in a world without it.
Luckily I’ve never been much of a clown fan because they are apparently on the outs these days. Red Skelton is the only comedian who ever made his rendition of a clown seem likable and the character he brought to life was so sensitive and humane that he was sad more often than not. There has always been something profoundly alarming about a court jester hiding behind a mask to ply his trade. Instead of being funny most clowns try a bit too hard and touch a part of our psyches where we’d rather not go. Clowns tend to annoy rather than amuse. They are akin to the kid in the class who believes that his antics are entertaining when they actually only demonstrate his emotional problems. We want to look away from clowns. There is something about them that is just not quite right.
A truly funny person, joke or situation tickles our funny bone and makes us smile. After watching or listening to a talented comedian we feel weightless, having lost some of the baggage that was bearing down on our souls. Society needs its jokesters. The best way to tackle our human problems is with a bit of mirth in our hearts. As Whoopi Goldberg mentioned to Jimmy Fallon last night there is more than enough anger in our world. We might all do with a bit more laughter. She understands that all work and no play makes us humans quite dull. With a slight change of expression and a twist of words she has a knack for transforming a normal situation into an hilarious romp. Put her with someone like Jimmy and the tears of joy flow along with the chortles.
One of the things that I love the most about my husband is that he is an aficionado of humor. He openly seeks and shares the funny aspects of life. Hardly a day goes by that the two of us don’t break out into uncontrollable giggles and guffaws. His analysis of the world is profoundly satirical. He gets the jokes of Pulp Fiction and roars with glee over the antics of Mel Brooks. Christmas wouldn’t be complete for him without once again watching the hapless adventures of the Griswold family in Christmas Vacation. He was a Monty Python fan from the get go. He and his father regularly trade jokes which he invariably passes on to me with glee. We have traveled through life in a mirthful state of mind and it has made all the difference in how we approach the problems that are part of the human experience.
We Americans tend to love politicians who have a twinkle in their eyes and a bit of mischief in their words. They are the ones who best understand that while our issues are serious we need to step back and have a bit of perspective. They demonstrate that we should be able to laugh not at those with whom we disagree but at ourselves. True humor isn’t ugly. It looks at our foibles and finds ways to poke at them a bit. It helps us understand rather than oppose each other. John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan were masterful at making us smile in spite of ourselves. We liked them because they were able to see joyfulness even as we were struggling. In many ways it seems that far too many of those who seek to lead us are all work and no play. These are serious times that require weighty discussions but we might all use a good laugh now and again. It would do our leaders well to understand that sometimes they just need to look honestly at the hilarity of a situation. It’s hard to keep calm and carry on if we are always morose.
I’m not particularly funny. I invariably forget the punchlines of jokes and my timing and delivery are way off. Somehow I didn’t inherit my father’s humor gene but my brother Pat did. He has been entertaining the family for decades and his knack for hilarity has fortunately been passed on to a few of our children and grandchildren insuring lots of fun for generations to come. Every family needs those fun siblings and relatives who lighten the mood of gatherings. The family that laughs together stays together.
Comedy has been part and parcel of history. I can almost imagine a group of our ancestors sitting beside a fire eons ago quipping about their day, finding the humor in their labors. I have read that many of the Holocaust survivors still managed to laugh even surrounded by horror. Soldiers ease the tension of their dangerous jobs by telling jokes. One of my uncles was part of a M.A.S.H. unit in the Korean War and he assures us that there were many Hawkeyes in the ranks keeping everyone sane with their antics. The average teachers’ lounge ripples with laughter at lunchtime. As humans we may endure tragedy but we always seem to have to balance it with comedy. Wearing a hair shirt and flogging ourselves twenty four seven rarely brings out the best in our personalities.
Babies spontaneously giggle with delight at the sight of a loved one. Children laugh continuously as they play. It is in our natures to balance our work with fun. Whoopi Goldberg is correct in her diagnosis of what we need, less bickering and much more chuckling. We would all do well to find and cultivate our national sense of humor. We work hard to strengthen our minds and to make our bodies healthy and strong. We too often neglect to cultivate the laughter that lies inside our souls. We need to enjoy it and release it for all the world to hear. It is the music of angels, the voice of happiness. Here’s hoping that each of us finds moments to chuckle a bit everyday.