Dying is easy; comedy is hard. So said a British actor on his deathbed. Another Brit, Oscar Wilde, is reputed to have said, in a similar situation, lying in a cheap Paris hotel room: Either this wallpaper goes, or I do.
We all know how that worked out.
Humour is not confined to humans. It, like almost every other clear distinction between us and the animal kingdom, has fallen by the wayside. We are not the only jokesters in the world. Bears, in particular, are well know pranksters and have been documented jumping out of the bushes with the sole intent (apparently) of scaring the crap out of passing elk.
However, humans, because of the gift of language, have raised humour to a higher level. We are not limited to stooge-like pratfalls or practical jokes. We can be more subtle in our efforts to make others laugh.
But why do we want that? Humour of the physical kind — jumping out and saying boo or watching someone trip on a banana peel is almost always humour for ourselves. We hurt others to amuse ourselves.
And of course, insult humour abounds. We tell jokes that are intentionally hurtful to others (personal insults or more general racist or sexist jokes), either to amuse ourselves or to create a bond with those who hold similar repulsive views. But what about jokes or remarks that do no-one any direct harm? Are they merely there for self-amusement or as a form of boasting (look how clever I am) or are they a device to relieve tension or create social bonding?
Are jokes nothing more than evolutionary devices to create social cohesion and increase our safety in numbers approach to survival. Are they, in fact, nothing more than an effort to get laid? And if so, do they work and for whom? I’m just saying that I haven’t noticed that many comics being dragged off to dark corners…
Or is humour something more subtle? Does it have a purpose all its own? I really can’t say.
But, a penguin, a rhino and a Buddhist monk walk into a…
Aw, but that’s ten minutes.