I have always longed to be funny. I should be clear; I do not want to be a clown. I do not want people to laugh at me, but laugh with me. I am insanely and unforgivably jealous of funny people. We all know them — witty and clever—they always know what to say to lighten a mood. We all seem smarter when we are around them and we leave their presence energized and aglow. I decided about nine years ago that if I studied enough funny people I would be able to emulate their actions and become funny myself. It hasn’t worked; and I have wasted the last decade being terminally unfunny. But I have developed a hypothesis of humor and will keep trying.
There are three tenants of humor and two corollaries. THE FIRST RULE OF FUNNY: the human body is funny. Body parts are funny. Bodily functions are funny. Unexpected bodily noises are really funny. We learn potty humor as ankle biters and our fascination with it rarely wanes through life (I would say it escalates dramatically when we learn the rudimentary elements of sex). To this day the word ‘poo’ (always lowercase) never fails to make me smile if not provoking outright laughter. THE SECOND RULE OF FUNNY: people who are different than you and your audience are funny. This is the most controversial of the rules of funny. It is most commonly used when lampooning a group that is not likely to be offended — this is the its-funny-cause-its-true category and results in some hard and fast results. The image of a white man attempting to dance will ALWAYS make people laugh (sorry guys). The native American Eskimo is funny to 99% of Americans under the ‘I’m so politically correct that I will make sure to include every group in my attempt at humor’ rule. This used to trickle down to the Amish — but for the immediate future they are off limits. Please remember to use RULE TWO for good and not for evil. Bigotry is NEVER funny. Jokes meant to harm or hurt are never funny — unless it is a fat white man dancing. THE THIRD RULE OF FUNNY: gender bending is funny. This is not necessarily a gay thing or a sexual thing. It has much more to do with challenging the common perception of gender roles. Monty Python made careers out of cross-dressing. Metrosexuals are funny in and of themselves. Show a pretty lady with a deep voice or put a guy in women’s underwear and you have a recipe for hilarity. COROLLARY NUMBER ONE: add the word ‘Monkey’ to anything and it is funny. Both because of its sound and imagery the word Monkey is full of the power of funny. Because monkeys are the imperfect mirror of humans they are a great humor tool. Plus just saying the word tends to make me happy. Say it with me: Mon-KEY. Combine the First Rule of Funny with Corollary one and you get a sure fire comedy tool, e.g. Monkey Butt. COROLLARY NUMBER TWO: when you rhyme its humor time. Ask any linguist and you will find that rhyming is an established technique for diminishing the seriousness of a situation or poking fun at it. When I tease my friend for being ‘fancy-dancy’ I am not trying to recapture my role as the queen of the school yard limerick but to poke fun at her by pairing the word fancy with a rhyming word. This is often used dismissively, as in ‘God-Shmod’. We can thank the Jewish for this Yiddish language tool (thanks to my literary sister for bringing me that revelation). Even the potential rhyme has humor power. All I have to do is write, ‘There once was a guy from Nantucket’ and humor ensues.
Unfortunately for me my home study of humor has not made me a funny person. I lack an essential ingredient: timing. Watch any of the greats, the Marx Brothers, Bill Murry, Richard Pryor, Phyllis Diller, Ellen Degeneres, or Tina Fey, they all have GREAT timing. I am sure that this can be learned in some formulaic way: tie an early joke back in later in your material or don’t rush the punch-line. But I have yet to master any of these skills and must rely on my Rules of Funny and my scant abilities.
There is hope for those of us who lack humor. Our saving grace is available to everyone above the age four: the JOKE. Prepared and practiced by thousands before us they are time tested smile inducers that rarely fail to please. Even a four year old knows the power of ‘knock-knock’ or ‘why did the chicken cross the road’. Everyone should know at least one ‘clean’ joke. It should have no bad words, no sexual double entendre, and no racism/sexism/or ageism. My philosophy 101 teacher said this all the time. It was even the last question on our midterm exam: ‘Question 50. Tell your favorite (CLEAN) joke.’ I got full points for this gem: What is white and yellow and green and blue and pink and purple and green and white? Crayon sandwich. Everyone needs a joke to call their own, to tell in mixed company or to amuse those you seek to impress. I have a really funny one but it involves calling Superman and a**hole and doesn’t really count as ‘Clean’.
So until that day that I can fully channel Gilda Radner I am forced to wallow in a sea of unfunny. But I will keep working on my rules and collecting more jokes. I have been working on a new technique common to the funny — self-deprecation (see title) and will see where that takes me. I am forced to admit that the answer may be, ‘yes, you are not funny’. But that’s where the self-deprecation comes in.