I’ve always been thankful for my sense of humor, a gift; I’m sure, from my dad. He had a charismatic personality that made him beloved in life and dignified in his dying. Once in the hospital room, I tried to help him change positions, and he said, “Hold it; my balls are in a jam!”
Crude, but so refreshing, so memorable. He would die in a week.
I’ll hope my sense of humor will shine, as well, in my last days. But to this point it has served me well in times of grief or anger or frustration, in abject loneliness, in elaborate self-pity. It absolutely can jog me out of those complex and unpleasant states.
In writing, as in life, humor is no laughing matter; it’s critical and has to be taken seriously—terrible puns, I know. But editors, publishers, librarians, teachers are all looking for it in our books and articles.
Humor works against readers’ expectations. It surprises and refreshes.
It can take away the schmaltz and sentimentality that popular TV and film slide into when dealing with death or anger. It attacks clichés.
It can articulate sorrow and tragedy in a moving fashion. Read John Green’s Fault in Our Stars, if you need proof. His subject, teenagers with cancer, is no laughing matter, but the characters’ senses of humor express courage and sorrow and the injustice of the young under siege far more effectively than a sober, solemn approach.
From Jane Austen to Woody Allen to Seinfeld, humor reveals our foibles our common human behavior of self-centeredness and minor offenses.
Most of us have a sense of humor; it’s a feeding tube, a lifeline. And if we aren’t funny, we can learn to use humor in our work. I do not believe that we either have it or we don’t. We can study comedians and see how they set-up, develop, then deliver the punch line. This will not be a quick study. But in time, with self-knowledge, we can express our individual funnybones.
Most situations have humorous possibilities. Author Richard Russo would say “all things are fair game,” even “stuttering,” for instance. But there probably are sensitive areas, and you may want to try out your material on a respected critic who can give you quality control. Meanwhile, nearly a week after turkey Day, I’m still giving thanks.