Humor defies definition; what is funny to one person may not be funny to another.
I do know this: it feels good to laugh. The saying “laughter is the best medicine” may not be scientifically true, although I bet there is some physiological change in the body when one has a good belly laugh – not just a grin or a giggle or a smirk, but a full-fledged laugh.
Shakespeare often put puns in the opening scene of his plays. He knew that he had to get the attention of the common folks, and they enjoyed a good play on words.
So do we. Remember the joke “What’s black and white and red all over?” and the answer was “A newspaper!” The joke is the play on words: at first you think it’s “red” like the color red, and then you realize it’s “read,” the past tense of “read.” Or “What has four wheels and flies?” and the answer was “a garbage truck!” Again, the joke is the play on words: at first you think it’s “flies” as in flies through the air, but actually it’s the insect flies.
Puns lose their humor when you have to explain them, which is why I don’t explain every Shakespeare pun, since language has changed since the 1600s. Still, my students can understand the pun at the beginning of Julius Caesar when the policeman asks the commoner for his occupation and he says he is “a mender of bad souls” so the cop thinks he is a preacher, but actually he is a shoemaker and he mends bad soles (the bottom of a shoe).
Sometimes I have appreciated humor when a random employee jokes with me, lightening my mood. Example: I was ordering a sandwich while waiting for a delayed flight at the airport, and I asked whether the person behind the counter could cut the sandwich in half.
“Yes, but I get to keep the bigger half,” he joked. At first I thought he was serious, but when I realized he was joking I laughed, and it put me in a better mood while waiting for my delayed flight.
Another time, when I was at the airport in Dallas, trying to figure out if I was at the correct gate, the employee I approached with my serious question asked me right back: “Are you an Ohio State fan?” It took me a few seconds to realize that he figured I was from Ohio because I was asking about the flight to Columbus, and when I told him I was a fan, he smiled and gave me the answer I needed.
A little comic relief goes a long way.
On the other hand, some jokes are not funny — the person who says what he or she thinks is funny, may not be pleasing the person who is listening — in fact, it can be downright insulting.
For example, when I bought my ticket to the fair this past August, and I went through the gate to enter the fair, the ticket taker said to me — with a straight face — “Are you planning to ride the rides?” I realized that he was teasing me because I looked too old to ride the rides. I didn’t think it was funny.
Similarly, I was at a local department store buying two beach chairs — the ones low to the ground because I find them very comfortable, more comfortable than lying on a blanket. But I got some unsolicited advice — a gentleman came up to me and, smiling, asked if I was sure I could sit in one of those, because they are low to the ground. Again, making fun of my age? I didn’t think it was funny, but he did.
Still, I shouldn’t be too fussy, because humor is a good thing and a sense of humor is a blessing.
So I’ll close with two pun jokes:
When is a doctor most frustrated? When he runs out of patients/patience.
What do you get if you cross a sports reporter with a vegetable? A common tater.
Debbie Leffler is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. She can be reached at [email protected]