Someone once told me laughter is always at somebody else’s expense. I disagreed and lamely rejoined, “What about babies? They laugh and not at someone’s expense.”
On later reflection, I had to admit he was mostly right. And not just about jokes at the expense of lawyers.
Generally speaking, it’s rare to find humor without a ‘victim.’ I think it’s because most people don’t find victimless humor very funny. Take, for example, this victimless jest, “My two sons are a doctor and a major league pitcher — a healer and a hurler.” A real knee-slapper that one.
As for self-deprecating humor, “I am so clever,” said Oscar Wilde, “that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.” I like Oscar, especially when his self-directed put downs remind me of people I’ve worked with. For example, his “I love to talk about nothing. It’s the only thing I know anything about” so reminds me of an ex-boss.
As for making light of yourself, actress Ethel Barrymore once said “You grow up the day you have your first real laugh — at yourself.” Or at least, that’s what Ethel thought about growing up.
But as theory goes, when humor isn’t self-effacing, then someone else is the butt of the joke. As I said, I’m not so sure about the theory.
Everyday examples of humor and laughter abound where a butt of a joke isn’t involved. For instance, every time I walk our dogs, there’s humor and laughter. And people at play find fun and laughter.
And as awful as most puns are, puns don’t hurt anybody and sometimes, even elicit laughter. And pay no mind to wags who demur that “Puns offend the language.”
It would be a terrible shame if laughter required victims, particularly when as the unconventional, lower case poet e.e. cummings said, “the most wasted of all days is one without laughter.” And what of Plato who claimed “even the gods love jokes”?
Prompting all this about humor and laughter was yesterday’s telephone conversation with my sister. For all of 10 minutes, our exchange was punctuated with chortles of mutual laughter. There wasn’t even a joke, although we did also discuss my problem with an earworm. Nor was there any meanness. It was just shared remembrances of growing up that reduced us both to gales of laughter.
The fact is that there’s little better than shared memories between friends and loved ones. And it’s not necessarily that those recollections were funny back when they happened. Years later, they can be howlers — even if they weren’t at the time. But best of all, there’s nothing as much fun as ending a conversation — while you’re both still laughing.