Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Importance of Being Silly

As I reflect on the extreme, often ugly nature of the current political scene, with Tea Party candidates coming out of the woodwork, I turn with relief to Mark Twain, Will Rogers, et al., whose comments remain politically timely, and to the comfort of laughter, which is a daily necessity if I am to cope with what life brings.

I am thinking of Rogers' wisecrack in the 1930s: "There's no trick in being a humorist when you have the whole government working for you." I would add "the whole political scene." Twain wrote that all Congresses and Parliaments "have a kindly feeling for idiots, and a compassion for them, on account of personal experience and heredity."

These old-time humorists are on my mind because I've been preparing a future presentation on Historical Humor, the third part of a program with my friend David Jordan. We never seem to run out of material. As someone said, "Political jokes are common; some of them get elected."

On the private level, too, silliness and laughter are indispensable in any marriage or relationship. My wife and I, subscribing to the philosophy that it's never too late to have a happy childhood, use silly names for each other, lines from movies and books, and bits of nonsense throughout the day to ward off any possible tension.

Comedy gives us a necessary detachment and distance from the horror of the news and the violence of our fellow citizens; as a result, we can see step back and appreciate the Big Picture, smiling at folly, stupidity, greed, and all the other vices that keep re-surfacing in our lives.

By smiling, we relax our tense facial muscles; by laughing, we relax the all-important stomach muscles. Even if there's nothing to laugh at, we can always benefit from a belly laugh since our stomach doesn't know what is or is not funny.

So I am grateful to the perennially funny writers of the past and to people like Andy Borowitz and Steven Colbert whose wit helps rescue us from despair.

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