A few days ago, I heard the host of a radio talk show making a valiant effort to describe what he called one of the funniest news items he had ever heard.
Over and over, he tried to explain exactly what made this event so hilarious to him. That he persisted not only spoke to how funny he found it, but underscored his difficult in getting his experience across to his listeners. I imagine that even as he heard the words streaming out of his mouth, he realized that, on the face of it, what he found almost painfully funny probably didn’t strike others in the same way. That perhaps it was one of those things where, as if often heard, you had to be there – in a particular mood at the right time. And this was someone who, given the number of years he’d been on the air, had to be a pretty successful communicator.
His experience is hardly unusual. I remember Steve Allen once lost it so completely while giving the baseball scores without naming the teams that it was as difficult for him to get back into his monologue as into his chair. Funny, yes; but that funny?
Very few things feel as good as a good laugh. Hermann Hesse said that laughter is the only place where all the contradictions of life make sense. Byron declared that if he didn’t laugh, he would have to cry. Great comedians make their living by giving absurd twists to familiar situations, because this is the only way we have of truly understanding them. To attempt to analyze what makes them so funny, as our broadcaster futilely endeavored to do, gets you nowhere. On top of which, it destroys the experience.
It’s been said that being funny is detrimental to the would-be Romeo’s or Juliet’s. I wouldn’t want to meet the person who said it. Almost everything about love is absurd. What we do, how we feel. Being able to laugh without restraint speaks volumes about how we see life, the thing that happens while we are out making plans. It is a secret, mysterious handshake among those who know the experience.
With a Perspective, I’m Richard Friedlander.
Richard Friedlander is a mediator and actor. He lives in the East Bay.