“The Art of Communication: Writing, Talking, and Laughing” is the title of my BA degree from Fairhaven College at Western Washington University. This interdisciplinary achievement was an ongoing combination of journalism, sociology, and writing classes. In one of my very first classes at Western, about British women authors, I met my laughter mentor, Rachel. (Anyone know where Ms. Rachel Tanner is these days? I’ve lost her. Please get in touch!)
I was already writing my Blessed by Silliness woman comedian novel in those days, and Rachel was a great support. I housesat for her on Lummi Island and read through her personal library of books on humor. There were some great books on women and humor, my exact intersection of interests. The social and psychological explanations of who laughs at what, especially gender-wise, is a fascination of mine, which Rachel shared.
Rachel ran laughter workshops. She’d trained herself to laugh spontaneously, and contagiously, and I picked up that talent from her. It is a wonderful and helpful social skill. I went with her on her Laughing Lady tours of local nursing homes where we donned goofy glasses and fat red clown noses and went from room to room, juggling scarves, showing off silly toys and telling sillier jokes. Some people did not have time for our undignified company, but others fell naturally into our laugh fests.
Not laughing at people when they are being too serious would be a nice skill too; I’m working on that one. In community (at college, the peace crowd, Quaker groups, my work cohort, places where people know me), I am someone people hear laughing across a room. My laughter is distinctive. Folks come around afterwards saying “I knew you were here, I heard you laughing.” Well, back at Fairhaven, people also said that about my friend/housemate Denise. Both of us in any crowd was always a good foundation for raising the laughter quotient.
I enjoy laughing and treasure the same old jokes that I know will get me there. The snail, crossing the road, got run over by a turtle, ended up in the hospital. His friend came to visit and said “What happened?” The snail said, “I don’t know; it all happened so fast.” The companion joke is “Why did the turtle cross the road?” To get to the Shell station. I will never not laugh at these jokes.
I’m not always so easily amused. Stereotype jokes (like mocking fat ladies in stretch pants) have never made sense to me. Why is that funny? I recently watched Steve Carell in The Forty Year Old Virgin with some friends and was mostly unamused, while the other women laughed contagiously at the inanities of Hollywood’s guy characters. I got distracted, remembering my own sweet experiences with virgin men, which were fun, but not really occasions for laughing out loud.
What is fun? What is funny? Why do those two things so often fall so far apart, especially when sexuality is involved? More study is needed.