Fri | Dec 6, 2019

Tony Deyal | No laughing matter

Published:Saturday | November 16, 2019 | 12:08 AM

Because it is frustrating when you think you know all the answers but nobody bothers to ask you the questions, you advertise a lecture and, in addition to signs everywhere, including posts on Facebook, you promise free admission, food and drinks.

Or, like me, you decide on a workshop.

Mine was called ‘Writing Humour Is No Joke’, and one of the first of the 10 most popular forms of humour I identified for the 14 people who showed up was “self-deprecating” an area in which Rodney Dangerfield excelled, “I could tell my parents hated me. My bath toys were a toaster and a radio”... “My uncle’s dying wish: he wanted me on his lap. He was in the electric chair” ... “My wife was afraid of the dark ... then she saw me naked and now she’s afraid of the light.”

Interestingly, researchers at the Mind, Brain and Behaviour Research Centre (CIMCYC) of the University of Granada (UGR) have established that individuals who frequently use self-deprecating humour aimed at gaining the approval of others through self-mockery exhibit greater levels of psychological well-being and are extremely high in happiness and self-assurance.

OBSERVATIONAL HUMOUR

Now, as secure in my well-being as Fort Knox, I spend time looking after yours truly and from the Everest of superiority, I can reveal that not many people, including humorists, are willing to laugh at themselves. The biggies in the business of writing humour or telling jokes go for observational and other forms of humour.

One of the best examples of observational humour is by comedian Chris Rock: “You know the world is going crazy when the best rapper is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy, the tallest guy in the NBA is Chinese, the Swiss hold the America’s Cup, France is accusing the US of arrogance, Germany doesn’t want to go to war, and the three most powerful men in America are named ‘Bush’, ‘Dick’ and ‘Colin’. Need I say more?”

ANECDOTAL HUMOUR

Anecdotal humour based on our supposedly real-life situations is also a popular choice.

Here are some examples: “I never wanted to believe that my dad was stealing from his job as a road worker. But when I got home, all the signs were there.” ... “It’s important to have a good vocabulary. If I had known the difference between the words ‘antidote’ and ‘anecdote,’ one of my good friends would still be alive.” ... “Some people ask the secret of our long marriage. We take time to go to a restaurant two times a week. A little candlelight, dinner, soft music and dancing. She goes Tuesdays, I go Fridays.”

SITUATIONAL HUMOUR

Situational humour is something I first encountered when one of my cousins let me read his Reader’s Digest. An example is when a guy in the FLOW cable installation van stopped and asked me what time it was. I told him it was between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Here’s another which shows that you can mix types in the way this one combines situational with self-deprecating humour: “The photographer was positioning my new husband and me for our wedding photos when he asked, ‘Have you ever modelled?’ My cheeks instantly turned red. ‘No, I haven’t,’ I said. ‘But I always thought …’ The photographer interrupted me: “I meant him.”

Irony, or a situation that is strange or funny because things happen in a way that seems the opposite of what you expected, is one of the best vehicles for humour.

Did you know the most shoplifted book in the US is the Bible and the founder of Acoholics Anonymous asked for whiskey on his deathbed? Even more ironic is that the nurse refused.

There is the case of a vertically challenged individual who walked into the library and asked, “Have you got a book on irony?”

The librarian replied, “Yes sir, it’s on the top shelf.”

What I consider the perfect irony is the story of the climate change expert who just published a book on preserving the rainforest and what we can do as a human race to help protect it. The book is over 2,000 pages long.

What is increasingly dominating the world of humour are one-liners, delivered staccato like machine-gun bursts by some writers and comedians.

My favourite examples include: “I ate a clock yesterday. It was very time-consuming.” ... “I don’t have a girlfriend, but I know a girl that would get really mad if she heard me say that.” ... and from my favourite deadpan comedian, Steven Wright, “I think it’s wrong that only one company makes the game Monopoly.”

Another is: “When life gives you melons, you might be dyslexic.” There is: “Sit on my lap and we’ll talk about the first thing that pops up”, and another by my favourite British comedian, Jimmy Carr: “I did a gig in the US once for the homeless. I said, ‘It’s nice to see so many bums on seats.’”

EXAGGERATION HUMOUR

Exaggeration is another increasingly popular way of getting laughs or carrying a reader along with you. One example is: “She’s so dumb, she thinks Taco Bell is a Mexican phone company.”

There are: “My car is so expensive you have to put Perrier in the radiator”. And: “It was so cold, I saw politicians blowing hot air.”

TWISTED PROVERBS

What I tend to have a lot of fun with are twisted proverbs. My favourite examples are: “Where there’s a will, there’s a (family fighting over it)” ... “A fool and his money (were lucky to get together in the first place)”... and “If at first you don’t succeed (then skydiving isn’t for you)”.

I also use the unexpected: “Talk is cheap – unless you own a cell phone”, or quote Mark Twain, “Familiarity breeds contempt – and children.”

What I also stress to the few people who ask my advice about writing humour is to use the English language like one of the great masters, P.G. Wodehouse: “The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun”, and “I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.”

Fortunately for me, the people who attended my humour-writing session were not gruntled. In fact, they wanted another session which pleased me “no end”, as Wodehouse would say, and add, “As we grow older and realise more clearly the limitations of human happiness, we come to see that the only real and abiding pleasure in life is to give pleasure to other people.”

Tony Deyal was last seen saying that his mother always wanted him to be a doctor and since laughter is the best medicine, that’s as good as it gets. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com