Have I become one of those people who feel they always have to be funny? Because I hate those people. You know, the ones who insist on being the center of a conversation and are always “on”, making those swooping air quotes. Yes, they might make everyone laugh, but when you’re standing next to them at a dinner party you think to yourself, “Give it a rest Seinfeld, just let me eat my cheese plate in peace. And yes, while you find their story about clown college funny, you can’t help but feel their neediness. And though you did happen to learn one can get a degree in juggling fish, it makes you wonder if certain people have to get validation through laughter. And by “you”, I mean “me.” And by “fish” I mean, “fish”.
Lately, I’ve become worried I’m using humor to either deflect a lack of real engagement or conversely, I’m desperately wanting to engage more. Either way, I find in most conversations I somehow manage to work in comments about the joys of clean underwear or how I automatically respect people more with British accents. So then, does this mean I’m needy?! Good Lord, I hope not. I’ve always fancied myself fiercely independent and only mildly insecure, but certainly not in desperate need of constant praise.
But after a friend of mine recently told me I always made him laugh, a wave of panic rolled over me. “Am I only good for a laugh?” Then, of course, I couldn’t help but go down an even darker hole. I started to think about the reasons people even choose to talk to me at all. And this is what first came to mind:
Stranger on the street: Red curly hair
Person in a night club: My singing voice
Human trying to mash faces: My jokes
So then the deep dive of wonder unraveled…Do people only like me for my bangs? What if I’m just a haircut away from having no personality at all?
Or, If people don’t like my singing voice, then what place do I have in this world? Am I a person of interest, or just someone you hire to be the soundtrack to moments when you’re getting drunk with buddies, humping your partner, or cleaning out your sock drawers?
Or, can someone funny be interesting or attractive beyond their humor? Because let’s be honest, if you were in a bed with Kate McKinnon or Trevor Noah, probably the thing you’d want to do most is listen to them talk.
So where does that leave me? Am I nothing more than a well-styled head stump that entertains at holiday parties?
That being said, for the rest of this story I’m going to try very hard to not say anything that might be perceived as funny, like, “banana”. Or “nurture”. Or “bonding with my partner.” Instead, I’m going to take this time to investigate when exactly it was I went from being a person who was just mildly entertaining, to somehow needing every third sentence to have a punchline.
Starting right now. Wait. Better get this out of my system first… banana.
Ok, now I’m ready.
You know how they say men who are jerks are merely compensating for secretly having a tiny penis? Does the same theory apply to the overly jokey? Are extra funny people compensating for having a dead body in their closet? Also, when women are being jerks does that mean they are compensating for having a tiny vagina? (I can see it now, “Tiny Vagina” the breakout memoir turned blockbuster action film.)
Personally speaking, when I stumble upon a concept that seems funny, it feels like the collision of both an intellectual and energetic event. This lovely discovery is an urgent opportunity to release a bubble of joy trapped inside me. It’s like my spiritual LaCroix needs to be burped. And for whatever reason, laughter triggers a refueling of the whole process. And if I were to pretend to be a scientist who specializes in laughy science, I would go so far as to say laughter actually shifts the way our body feels, which is usually good.
So, by the transitive property:
Laughter = Good Feelings
Good Feelings = Healthy Body
Laughter = Healthy Body
(Thank you Mr. Gumshinger in 8th grade for teaching me math stuff.)
Of course, there are certainly times laughter isn’t ideal. For instance, when getting stitches, calling the IRS, or preparing to get drilled by your dental assistant. Ok, that last one might be funny.
So maybe that’s why we do it, why we seek it, why we crave it. What I want to know is on an evolutionary level, what purpose does laughter serve? Was there a time once when a group of cave people stood around the campfire and as Gunther scratched into the stone wall the number of fish he’d killed that day, his sister-wife pointed out to him his fish looked like a chubby bear. And this then triggered the first laughter? But then what, they all laughed as they chewed on the tiny skulls of field mice?
Think about that for a second, the origin of the first laughter. It makes your head feel kind of bendy, right?
According to this website article/fashion quiz I just took, laughter’s function as an actual form of communication is still unknown. Yet, supposedly people are up to 30 times more likely to laugh in a group than when alone. So whatever you do, don’t read this at a sad poetry event. You’ll ruin everything. Also, apparently I have the fashion sense of a 7-year-old boy.
Speaking of looks, I find when you look a certain way, (curly red-hair, mismatched socks, under 5’ 5”) people assume you are just built to be funny, so there’s an unspoken pressure to live up to that. To be fair, people make other assumptions about me. I also get asked a lot if I am a bartender. Or a bounty hunter. Don’t get me wrong, I should be completely happy being mistaken for Rock McSavage, the toughest criminal catcher and mixologist west of Reno. It’s just that, I think sometimes we lean into the assumptions people make about us if those assumptions aren’t godawful.
But I still worry that maybe I’ve begun to enjoy laughter and making others laugh just a little too much. I mean, it’s not like I’m cracking jokes at other’s expense or yelling in the elevator, “Who farted?!” I definitely feel a lot of joy when others laugh, and even when something I write makes me laugh. But does it all really just stem from my own need to feel validated, or wanted, or valued?
Could it mean I’m trying to fill a giant hole in my life with euphemisms and impeccable timing, or does it mean that it’s solely a selfless act of wanting to connect with others and make them happy?
To me, the connection to laughter feels for a brief moment, like the doors to a new universe open and we all have the opportunity to celebrate together. And as we bounce around in the hysterical flotsam, we can note both the ridiculousness and beauty of it all.
Conversely, when I’m talking with someone who has the personality of a box of rocks, I unconsciously shut that door and instead linger inside a white room with a dusty plastic plant, discussing dry and flavorless information. While I bludgeon my inner jester into submission, I find myself longing to be floating back inside my happy place with others who get the joke of it all.
Making others laugh is like breakdancing. It can go horribly wrong, leaving everyone watching cringe in discomfort as you smash your boobs awkwardly on the floor. But when done right, it can bring a room full of strangers closer together. So after years of lingering on the edges of the dance floor, quietly shaking my hips and practicing my robot moves, I’ve slowly begun to step into the middle of the circle. And while I’ve fallen on my face numerous times while popping and locking, (not to be confused with pooping and locking which involved a bad meal and a broken bathroom door) it doesn’t seem to matter because once a person laughs, it’s just enough of a hit of adrenaline to keep you flailing your arms until the next laugh arrives.
No matter what, with every joke, I feel a little bit lighter. And I guess I have to relish even that temporary escape from gravity.
I hope that those who read my stories or hear me ranting in line at the DMV feel a touch of that too. And if it is in fact, an addiction for you, may it be one that brings you together with like-minded universes.
All I really know is this: banana.