It is said that one must "know thyself", and "to thine own self be true". OK, here's my truth: I am just not a funny guy.
For starters, I can't remember any good jokes, only a very few bad ones, and curiously only those that would be funny to people between the ages of 5 and 10. I can't write humorous stories. I can't tell tall tales. Yet I personally love a good laugh. In fact, the very first book I ever bought with my own money was A Subtreasury of American Humor. So I am not some humor-deprived sour puss. I just can't make other people laugh.
I am not funny.
To be funny, you have to be smart. Well, a certain kind of smart: quick-smart, memory-smart, keen-observer-smart. It helps to be a bit of a cynic. You have to be able to see the absurdity all around you in literally everything, everywhere, all the time. Like this:
"One difference between men and women is that when women see a mess, they clean it up. When a man sees a mess, he announces it. Like my husband: 'Honey! The dog just threw up on the stairs!' Okaaay..." -Rita Rudner
What exactly is humor? What makes something funny? I thoroughly enjoyed watching my own children learn what makes something funny. Every toddler goes through this phase where they think funny just means nonsensical. So they'll string two nonsense things together, and then break into laughter: "His hand is banana! Bwa ha ha ha ha ha!!"
I remember me trying to explain it like this to a youngster: something is funny when you make a hard left turn in a story. You set people up expecting one thing, and then, bam! you hit them with something they don't expect. It's the surprise that gets the laugh. But if you merely say something that makes no sense, they won't be surprised, they'll just be wondering what you're talking about. To be a surprise, the joke has to take a legitimate but unexpected turn.
Using phrases like "legitimate but unexpected turn" worked about as well as you'd imagine. Nothing says funny like a vocabulary lesson to a 5 year old! Gets 'em every time.
My problem is I am mentally wired to lay bricks. All my thoughts run in straight lines and precise corners that connect to load-bearing walls that transfer weight onto foundations. But at the same time I am also emotionally wired to experience life in a state of perpetual introspection. The "life of the mind". I am an observer of life, but from the inside, looking out.
This is what conspires to make me not funny. I can't do hard-left turns, I mentally reject hard-left turns. Anything truly unexpected is merely something I haven't found a place for yet, something disconnected from the load-bearing structure that needs a spar or a beam to connect it to ground. And I am not looking outward at the vagaries and inanities of life, I'm looking inward at the shining crystal I've built up in my mind.
Ah, well. Thank God for funny people. As necessary as the air that we breathe! Here's the best joke I know:
Did you hear about what happened to Batman and Robin? They got into a terrible accident. They got run over by a steam roller! (Pause) Yeah, they had to change their names to "Flatman" and "Ribbon".
Man, that slays 'em between the ages of 5-10. Works every time.
So, know any good jokes and stories? Let me know in the comments below! And Happy Thanksgiving to one and to all. I hope it's the best one, ever.