Monday, April 30, 2012

What makes you laugh?


“Of all days, the one most surely wasted is the one in which one has not laughed.”
                                                                                                  Nicolas-Sebastien Chamfort               
                                                                                                  French writer           1740-1794


My family thinks I have no sense of humor. Sometimes, they call me a fuddy-duddy, and other times, a prude. I think they’re wrong – we just have different ideas of what deserves a guffaw and what deserves a smile, grin, or giggle.


My categories: 
  • April Fool’s Humor – Includes knock-knock jokes from elementary school and activities like short-sheeting beds and scotch-taping the handle of the kitchen sink sprayer. The humor isn’t necessarily in the words; it’s in the excitement of planning and executing the deed.
  • Boy Humor – Includes comments about an individual’s culture, career, or body, and are not usually appropriate in public. Laughter begins with an embarrassed giggle, but as the individual feels more comfortable showing emotion, the giggling turns into full-fledged roar.
  • Grins and Giggles Humor – Includes witty one-liners and anecdotes that pop up in dinnertime conversations, comic strips, and TV sitcoms. They lighten the mood and cover up awkward pauses when conversations have turned too serious.
  • LOL Humor – Describes a setting where the telling of one story leads to another and another; laughter is contagious and increases in volume with each addition. Occurs when surrounded with family or friends and often includes stories from the past.
The fuddy-duddy designation comes from my responses to Boy Humor, but the key to this discrepancy with my family can be summed up by the phrase “push the boundaries.”

On May 6th, Comedy Central will air the second annual Comedy Awards, honoring “the most talented writers, directors, actors and stand-ups, who provided the laugh track to our lives this past year: the pioneers who pushed boundaries; the TV shows that we rushed home for; the movies that are etched into our collective pop-culture memory; the stand-up comedians and the viral videos that make us laugh every day.”

I understand the importance of being able to laugh at oneself and not take life too seriously. There's even some research that shows a connection between sense of humor and physical health, reporting that laughing may prevent heart disease, reduce stress, and boost immunity. But, there’s a fine line between the ability to laugh at oneself and humor that relies on degrading another or using vulgar language. Some boundaries should not be pushed. I suspect many of the cable network’s awards will be given to what I consider boy humor and I wonder what that says about who we are. Why do we laugh at another's expense?

So check out this questionnaire. It invites you to rate your responses to real-life situations, focusing more on attitude than words. My score (51) is slightly below their “score of 53 may mean you have additional laugh protection against heart disease,” yet I’m confident I seldom waste a day according to Chamfort's definition.

Last fall, when my daughter was convinced she was going to flunk Geometry, I found a few sayings that made me laugh, so I wrote them on notecards, and  taped them to her folder: 
  • “A circle is a round straight line with a hole in the middle."
  • "Geometry is just plane fun."
  • "The only angle from which to approach a problem is the TRY-Angle."
  • "Without geometry life is pointless."
  • “I heard that parallel lines actually do meet, but they are very discrete.”
She smiled, but moved the notecards from the folder to her bulletin board.


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About Chamfort
Nicolas-Sebastien Chamfort, the illegitimate son of a French aristocrat and a cleric, was raised Sebastien Roch Nicolas, by a grocer and his wife who had lost a son, born on the same day. He was schooled in Paris and became a playwright, journalist, and revolutionary. He wrote comedies, literary criticisms, and political articles, including one of the first arguments for a republican government in France.

He briefly served as co director of the Bibliotheque Nationale. He supported the French Revolution but was then jailed by fellow revolutionaries and is remembered, politically, for a grisly, and failed, suicide attempt.

As a writer, Chamfort is best remembered as a aphorists. The quote, above, was published in his Maximes de Pensees (Maxims and Thoughts). Poet W.S. Merwin translated many of his aphorisms and anecdotes and published Products of the Perfected Civilization in 1969.