When we say that someone has a “good sense of humor,” it is useful to define our terms. Let’s rule out compulsive giggling and joke-telling, dirty words with nothing behind them and Bob Hope. Comedians have a tough job because we know in advance they want to make us laugh. Most of the funniest people I have known have not been perky. They tend to be introverted, grim-minded or depressed. A sense of humor is more than a social grace; it is a way of looking at the world. This complements the observation above from Max Beerbohm’s essay “Laughter” (And Even Now, 1920).
Since entering the hospital last Friday I have done a lot of laughing. You might suggest my laughter is pharmacologically enhanced, and I couldn’t argue, but I’ve always found pain and uncertainty excellent goads to comedy. Correspondingly, I’ve made a lot of other people laugh, including my neurosurgeon. When I’m hobbling to the bathroom with my walker, where my raised toilet seat awaits me, what else can I do but laugh and make the nurses laugh? Think of Yeats: “They know that Hamlet and Lear are gay; Gaiety transfiguring all that dread.” Self-pity can be amusing to observe, but indulging in it is never funny. Back to Beerbohm:
“To such laughter nothing is more propitious than an occasion that demands gravity. To have good reason for not laughing is one of the surest aids. Laughter rejoices in bonds.”