Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Humourless

Was demoralised yesterday when I discovered a friend of mine does not understand Humour. I don’t mean the Laurel-and-Hardy variety, wherein the Fat One accidentally sits on the Thin One, and most people recognise that now would be a good time to laugh out loud, and in unison. No, I’m talking about that - alas! - rarity: Delicate, Understated Humour (which we’ll henceforth call DUH), the sort that doesn’t need to broadcast itself from a far distance.

Like the first sentence of a comment I posted on this friend’s blog yesterday. (Not revealing details here, though doubtless she’ll hang her head in shame on reading this). It was a black joke that derived its funniness (or so I like to think) from being stated matter-of-factly, unaccompanied by a signboard saying "Laugh here!" Why then should anyone be able to recognise it as a joke, you ask? Well, because of its content, which was plain absurd; it was like nonsense verse, a non-sequitur, a Jabberwocky. If the sentence in question had been meant seriously, it could never have fit in with the frivolous overall tone of the comment.

But this friend mails me saying, "Are you serious? What happened...etc etc." What unnerves me is that she’s very with-it in most other respects, and has a work efficiency that I’m in awe of (incidentally, I came within a couple of months of working directly under her, which we agree would probably have ended the friendship for good).

In fairness though, she’s not the only one to respond thus. Thinking back, some of the most intelligent people I know just blank out when administered a small dose of DUH. Now I’m worried because I often write mails in this vein to friends, and could this be the reason some of them have stopped calling me?

For solace, I turn to Martin Amis. Here is what he has to say about the Humourless:

"Watch the humourless closely: the cocked and furtive way they monitor all conversation, their flashes of panic as irony or exaggeration eludes them, the relief with which they submit to the meaningless babble of unanimous laughter. The humourless can programme themselves to relish situations of human farce or slapstick -- and that’s about it. They are handicapped in the head, or mentally ‘challenged’, as Americans say (euphemism itself being a denial of humour). The trouble is that the challenge wins, every time, hands down. The humourless have no idea what is going on and can’t make sense of anything at all."

(Having said which, I don’t find Amis - or his dad - as funny as many others seem to. But that’s Irony.)


  1. And to think of it, I accuse some people of reading too much into things.... Oh god, you have made a whole blog of this Humour thing. One instance I don't 'get it' and that's it, you dedicate a blog to how unnerved u r. Really Jabberwock. Learn to be more tolerant of others less gifted than yourself!!! Am gald we can spar online again though!!!!

  2. sadness is experienced when a beautiul creature, expresses that everything around him/her is so ugly and uncouth (except maybe the holiday locations abroad). Sadness is also experienced when the very intelligent think that s/he is surrounded by cretins (euphemistically mediocre) and the only intelligent people around are the ones s/he never meets or meets for interviews.
    But this is good in a perverse sort of way for "who wants to belong o a club which has 'me' as its member". So it is them that humiliates ,who we shall read, The other option is to read self help books...which one can laud only with superhuman toleration.

  3. Anon, I think you said more than in that little (well, somewhat) comment than Jabberwock did in the post.

  4. It was extremely interesting for me to read the post. Thank you for it. I like such themes and everything that is connected to this matter. I would like to read a bit more soon.