Francis Bacon opined that imagination was given to humanity to
compensate us for what we are not; and a sense of humor to
console us for what we are. Humor might be that which gives us
solace for the limitations of our human condition. It compensates
for our inability to soar the heavens, to create perfect lives, to make
of our talents an inexhaustible resource for good works. Humor
allows us to laugh at ourselves as human beings.
It also allows us to laugh at other human beings whether their
actions were intended to provoke mirth or not. Consider the antics
of any comic actor at the height of his or her slapstick prowess.
Jerry Lewis stumbling and rubber-legged. Chevy Chase falling flat
on his face. Lucille Ball stuffing chocolates in every available
orifice and pocket. Jim Carey doing all of the above all at the same
time. All of their actions provoke laughter not just because we
know it’s an ‘act’, but, because we would laugh at the very same
action – if only for a shocked instant – were it a real-life event.
Laughter can sneak up on us, and though we are not callous or
cold, it may give away our mirth in a spurt of loud guffaws before. If you’ve ever laughed at the wrong time…when a pratfall really hurt, or a friend ended up in a tangle on ice skates…you are not alone.
Seeing humor in an unexpected situation might provide a moment
of social embarrassment now and then. But, the same laughter, applied to one’s own difficulties can be a saving grace. You may have had this kind of
experience, too. An argument turns to shared laughter when you
realize the spat is too silly to be taken seriously. A low moment
becomes uproariously funny as you realize it could have been
much worse. Joyful laughter bubbles up as you realize a fall left
you unmarked and unhurt.
Here we come to another perspective on humor…that offered by
Arland Ussher, who saw humor (as)…’despair refusing to take
itself seriously.’ The ability to laugh at ourselves, and others, to take playful
mirth from play-acting, to revise serious and sad moments
with chuckles and hearty ha-ha’s — this is the serious
business of laughter.