l’ll tell you something that really helped me understand humor, the intoxicating power of audience laughter and the awful humility that can come when you lay yourself out on stage like a pork loin beneath a butcher’s cleaver.
About 10 years ago, I decided to do something dramatic to break out of my comfort zone and dive into a totally foreign endeavor. I wanted to strip my veneer of position, grind away my self-perception of dignity, and stand naked and transparent on a stage that could either humiliate me or transport me beyond the comedic cosmos directly to humor heaven.
I took six weeks of improvisation training and performed at a comedy club in Raleigh. For six weeks, my small group of courageous conquistadors worked with some improv actors who tried to tell us how to take a suggested scenario, mull it for a moment, then mine it mirthfully and mercilessly for verbal and physical jokes before a live audience. We each had one minute to nail it – or die. I died a thousand deaths, and that was just the first week.
Maybe you’re a Swiss psychiatrist engaged to treat a psychotic kangaroo. Take it from there.
The audience was live – at least before I started. Each second ticked like a Chinese gong as I racked my brain for inspiration. It’s a minute that lasts a month.
Several people in my group just couldn’t do it. They dropped out. The pressure, the transparency, the vulnerability was too much for them. I stuck it out, sweated through a shirt each show and earned a few laughs. I learned a lot about my limits and discovered they were nowhere near as close to me as I’d thought.
Knowing my position with Baptist Children’s Homes and as a minister, which to him translates “humorless,” the instructor was reluctant at first to let me take the stage after our initial session. I beseeched. He relented, and I performed each week.
At the end he came to me, hand out, smile on his face. I thought he was going to offer me a gig in Los Angeles. Instead, he said, “You know my advice to you? Keep your day job.”
The experience did wonders for me in subduing a lot of inhibitions. The setups were so absurd, but the absurd is a gold mine of giggles. They forced me to get out of my little box.
I realized I’m too confined. Stepping onto that stage not knowing where I’m going forced me to be instantly creative then and freed me to be more spontaneous when I speak now. I use fewer notes and am more confident thinking on my feet.
One of the dangers of looking for the humorous in things is that as a society we’ve become hypersensitive and politically correct. I’m not in favor of demeaning an ethnic group for a laugh; or making fun of a handicap, or shortcoming. We can be funny and stay above base humor. But we’ve become so politically correct that even the most innocuous comment can ignite a social media firestorm. That’s why I don’t do social media. I know I could extend my “brand” through Twitter and Facebook but it’s not worth the risk of being misinterpreted, misquoted and brutalized for an insult I never intended.
I really enjoy laughing with my adult children. We share a sense of humor and can trigger in each other riffs that bring us great joy – and healthy dilated arteries! Wasn’t it funny though, when your kids reached that awkward stage when they were just starting to understand adult humor?
Maybe you were watching a TV show together, or a buddy was sharing a joke and your son or daughter overhear and starts to snicker. The joke, maybe with a double entendre or an improper pun, is funny, and they get it, but they’re not sure if they want you to know they understand such jokes. Would you think they’re too young to understand? “Where did you learn what that means?”
What if you ask them why they’re laughing and they have to explain the joke? How mortified would they be then? Help your child learn humor.
A perceptive child who hears his parents laughing at a joke that the child doesn’t get, will ask the parents, “Why is that funny?” Take the time to explain the pun, or the punch line. Help your child develop a sense of humor because when he or she can see the humor in everyday things, they will smile and laugh a lot more – maybe even to the annoyance of a dour world around them.