Humor: a most personal taste

Where one gets their sense of humor is a question that can be deliberated; for some it may be inherited such as one inherits their blue eyes, or it might have been nurtured beginning with the way we may have reacted to situations and then how this reaction was perceived by others thus forming our ‘own’ sense of humor.

Humor can be something subtle or it can be found in a story that takes time to read. And then humor can take on different modes such as when we hear a joke, see a show, or find a situation that is ironic, not outwardly funny but rather it is understated. And then sometimes what we consider funny may not seem humorous to others.

But regardless of origin or style… humor is a human characteristic that can take us away from the most unpleasant day and send us happily into a different mood, even if it is for just a moment.
Today’s blog is my way of bringing perhaps a bit of humor to your day… by taking the liberty of sharing one of my pieces that I think is…well…kind of funny!

eeeks a mouse_compressed_avery

Henri Bergson and humor

cartoon blk and white Humor is like a twin sibling that grows up with you. It is always there by your side however, it too changes and matures; whereupon things and ideas that you once considered humorous may now take on a less than funny state. For what makes you laugh now is quite different from what made you laugh as a child. Take the comic section of the newspaper…it is a curious thing…when you were young the drawings lured you into their story cells, but once inside the cartoon bubbles were not very funny…even to an extent that they really made little sense; creating a disappointing sham to your six year old mind. (After-all… your concept of satire and irony was just forming.) And it was not until you grew older that the humor contained within each comic strip made you laugh.

As ideas and values have transformed with time, from one decade to another, what amuses us to the point of laughter has gone in and out of vogue. Which moves us along to another phenomena; laughter is a uniquely human quality. Yes, I too have sensed that an opened mouth pet looks like they are laughing, and yes, the dog’s tail wags wildly when you talk in a “silly and endearing voice,” as if they found you to be rather amusing. However, no matter how much teeth and gum they show, I would have to say we humans hold the lease on laughter.

Henri bergson Today’s blog brings back our esteemed thinker: Henri Bergson. Like many before him the idea of humor and laughter was “no laughing matter” for there was and likely still is wonderment about it. Mr. Bergson found a “common ground” regarding humor, the comic, and laughter in his essay titled Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic. And so, let us take a pass through the early 1900s and contemplate a snippet extracted from his words.

“…the comic demands something like a momentary anesthesia of the heart. Its appeal is to intelligence, pure and simple. This intelligence, however, must always remain in touch with other intelligences… Laughter appears to stand in need of an echo, Listen to it carefully: it is not an articulate, clear, well-defined sound; it is something which would fain be prolonged by reverberating from one to another, something beginning with a crash, to continue in successive rumblings, like thunder in a mountain. Still, this reverberation cannot go on for ever. It can travel within as wide a circle as you please: the circle remains, none the less, a closed one.

Our laughter is always the laughter of a group. It may, perchance, have happened to you, when seated in a railway carriage or at table d’hote, to hear travelers relating to one another stories which must have been comic to them, for they laughed heartily… However spontaneous it seems, laughter always implies a kind of secret freemasonry, or even complicity, with other laughers, real or imaginary. How often has it been said that the fuller the theatre, the more uncontrolled the laughter of the audience!

On the other hand, how often has the remark been made that many comic effects are incapable of translation from one language to another, because they refer to the customs and ideas of a particular social group! It is through not understanding the importance of this double fact that the comic has been looked upon as a mere curiosity in which the mind finds amusement, and laughter itself as a strange, isolated phenomenon, without any bearing on the rest of human activity…

To understand laughter, we must put it back into its natural environment, which is society, and above all must we determine the utility of its function, which is a social one. Such, let us say at once, will be the leading idea of all our investigations. Laughter must answer to certain requirements of life in common. It must have a SOCIAL signification…”

Esteemed thinker: A.A. Milne

a.a. milne There are a multitude of experts in the world, and I use that term loosely, who are relied upon to tell others what they like. For example; the interior designer tells the home owner what they like, the stock broker tells the buyer what stocks they like; the advertiser tells the consumer what products they like, and so goes the list. Writers are not immune to this phenomenon for reviewers will relay to the public what they, the reader, will like. So one has to wonder, what makes an ideal author? What are the criteria to which one would find a favorable light cast upon their continence…no, let’s have it cast upon their work.

Is the ideal author one that is the designator for the disenfranchised, the author that dares write what others only think… the author that delights the reader with whimsical stories… or the writer that retells the tales of yore?

So for today’s blog, after we ponder the question, I give you a moment to pause with the thoughts from our esteemed thinker: A.A. Milne (1882-1956). Our London born author is best known (thanks to Walt Disney productions) for his classic work Winnie-the-Poo… But please toss this aside for a moment ; for though the charming tales claimed him international notoriety and success, his career began as the assistant editor of Punch , a British humor magazine; he was a prolific writer, gaining recognition as a novelist, poet, short story and play writer, and essayist. Now, I give you Alan Alexander Milne aka A.A. Milne and a bit of wit from his essay, The Ideal Author

“Samuel Butler* made a habit (and urged it upon every young writer) of carrying a notebook about with him. The most profitable ideas, he felt, do not come from much seeking, but rise unbidden in the mind, and if they are not put down at once on paper, they may be lost forever. But with a notebook in the pocket you are safe; no thought is too fleeting to escape you. Thus, if an inspiration for a five-thousand word story comes suddenly to you during the dessert, you murmur an apology to your neighbour, whip out your pocket-book, and jot down a few rough notes….

If I do not follow Butler’s advice myself, it is not because I get no brilliant inspirations away from my inkpot, nor because, having had the inspirations, I am capable of retaining them until I get back to my inkpot again, but simply because I should never have the notebook and the pencil in the right pockets. But though I do not imitate him, I can admire his wisdom, even while making fun of it. Yet I am sure it was unwise of him to take the public into his confidence. The public prefers to think that an author does not require these earthly aids to composition. It will never quite reconcile itself to the fact that an author is following a profession— a profession by means of which he pays the rent and settles the weekly bills. No doubt the public wants its favourite writers to go on living, but not in the sordid way that its barrister and banker friends live. It would prefer to feel that manna dropped on them from Heaven, and that the ravens erected them a residence; but, having regretfully to reject this theory, it likes to keep up the pretence that the thousand pounds that an author received for his last story came as something of a surprise to him—being, in fact, really more of a coincidence than a reward.

For this reason a layman will never hesitate to ask of an author a free contribution for some local publication.. But the same man would be horrified at the idea of asking a Harley Street surgeon (perhaps even more closely connected with him) to remove his adenoids for nothing. To ask for this (he would feel) would be almost as bad as to ask a gift of ten guineas (or whatever the fee is), whereas to ask a writer for an article is like asking a friend to decant your port for you—a delicate compliment to his particular talent…”

*Samuel Butler was an English Victorian writer.