What makes you laugh?
I find a lot of things funny. I laugh easily, but not necessarily often. Sometimes, you have to saturate in the grip of humor, though you may not be actually laughing. Or perhaps that’s just me. I can find something deeply funny but my face doesn’t reflect it. Considering how often I’ve been told I look bored or angry when I feel content or happy, and that I remind myself to “big smile” on Zoom with colleagues, it may be true that the connection between brain and face is a bit borked. But it’s not that elaborate things are necessary to make me laugh out loud. Indeed, it’s often the simplest.
Just the other day, I made a comedic movie recommendation, and the funniest movie I know is Clue the Movie (1985). I have been utterly charmed by this movie for a long time. Three different endings? Yes please. Witty and yet low-brow writing? “I prefer Kipling myself, ‘the female of the species is more deadly than the male.’ Do you like Kipling, Miss Scarlet?” “Sure, I’ll eat anything.” Byzantine logic? Of course, it’s a murder mystery movie, and you get brilliant scenarios like the 1+2+2+1 (or is it 1+2+1+1?) argument. Lovely, standalone, out of context lines you can use in any scenario, like “communism was just a red herring,” and “We’ll stack the bodies in the cellar, lock it, leave quietly one at a time, and forget that any of this ever happened.” This movie makes me laugh out loud.
I love puns. Considered by some people to be the dumbest form of humor (based on a premise I have no intention of accepting), puns are linguistic marvels. I think the thing I value about puns is that they’re a form of a game. Commingled with my adoration of puns is my love of crosswords (though crosswords aren’t particularly funny, the clues can be amusing), because they both rely on double meanings and deliberate misleading for the sake of surprise. We pun a lot at work, which is not so surprising given the very smart and down-to-earth people with which I work. Usually while we are ostensibly to be doing something else, a topic emerges that captures everyone’s fancy, and down the rabbit hole we all cheerfully go. A recent example is breakfast foods. Though we many, many years ago had a long running punder about the names of each of us in IRC. It makes not a bit of sense without the context, so I can’t recount it, but trust me, that one had me laughing.
My favorite type of joke is the Tom Swifty. They do not make me laugh out loud, but they do give me a very deep level of satisfaction. A truly well executed Tom Swifty is a work of art. I’ve talked about these before, so I won’t here. Here’s a quick one, for your troubles: “Let loose the dogs of war,” Tom said, dogmatically.”
But these are all things that are geared towards coaxing a laugh. They are meant to be funny, and so they often are. I am, of course, okay with this! Professional humor is wonderful, I’m glad that people do that. I don’t find all comedians funny, but we have space in our society for those who want to draw laughter. The best of these are those who make us think as well. But professional comedy aside, it’s the unexpected situations that arise in everyday life that give me the most opportunity for laughter.
My kids make me laugh. Eleanor tries to, as a natural clown, and often succeeds, with Henry happily playing the straight man to her goofiness. Grant accidentally makes me laugh, or incidentally makes me laugh, just by being himself. The other day, we were all trying to watch a movie, and Grant couldn’t stop climbing on everyone and everything. Frustrated, I said, “Grant! Please sit on your booty and sit still!” and he cried out immediately, “but I can’t! I can’t sit still!” and though this isn’t intentionally funny, we laughed and laughed.
I have a condition that my friends have called The Laugh Button. It’s when I am overwhelmed with mirth, and I cannot stop laughing. I cry from laughing. I start wheezing from laughing. I laugh long enough that others have stopped laughing, and then resume laughing at me laughing. And I can’t help it, it is involuntary and deep. It’s like someone presses a button and I’m helpless to the waves of laughter that slaughter my ability to do anything else for long, long minutes. I think the last time I fell prey to the laugh button was when my husband told this joke during a family road trip:
I’m laughing at it even now. It’s a pun, it’s a knock knock joke, it’s a combination pun and knock knock joke. It’s a sucker punch of unexpected funniness. It’s contrived, dumb, and a throw-away joke. It absolutely slays me, I love it so much.