A few months ago I experienced a euphoric moment where I became one giant ball of humor and started rolling downhill, frantically collecting nuggets of comic gold along the way. Wisecrack after wisecrack just kept dropping into my head and soon I realized that I might actually be Tina Fey. Unfortunately, this rare (alright, singular) occasion occurred while I was asleep. In my dream I was somehow a writer/director of a comedy show, and boy was it hilarious. After waking up I actually sat up in bed, leaned forward, and started cackling at my own genius. I cannot wait until I get up later because then I can somehow acquire the actors and lots of expensive cameras and make this a reality because I AM SO FUNNY! The next morning I was less enthused because I had forgotten all the jokes and only remembered the context, which hadn’t made any sense. I mean, why were the main characters Bert and Ernie, and why was Bert green? Also, in what world is the main premise of an episode cucumbers? Out went Tina Fey and in came reality.
I have a question for you. Several, actually. Is there a funny gene? Do you have to have some initial natural flair for humor? Is it a requirement that you appreciate comedy more advanced than The Three Stooges? Can you even learn to be funny? What if you’re not? Are you doomed to a life without meaning, without sunshine? And what exactly is a sense of humor anyway? Can you have a sense of humor without being funny? Everyone’s dating list seems to include “must have a sense of humor.” It’s so cliché it almost doesn’t have to be included anymore. But if a sense of humor is the ability to find things funny, then doesn’t everyone have one? It seems pretty instinctual. Babies laugh when I look at them. Babies laugh. They have a sense of humor, but they don’t crack jokes. The funniest they get is making fart noises, and really, who actually finds farts funny? So, perhaps you can have a sense of humor without being funny? And you know what? I’ll take it, because if I have to actually be funny then there’s a good chance I won’t be going on many dates in the future.
My own struggles with “lack of funniness” have presumably been lifelong. I can’t remember trying to be funny when I was really young. Humor wasn’t something I was particularly attuned to. Periodically I would lose my mind and start to do spontaneously funny things, but that was the type of outburst that led people to use funny in the other sense of the word. I do remember that one time I was five and my dad took me to see a High Five concert. And I lost it when Tim started to sing the “Pink Chair Song”; I just broke down. No one else found it very funny, but I appreciated Tim’s humor at what I thought was a much higher level. It was pink, and he sang about it!
At some point I internalized the idea that since I couldn’t seem to make people laugh, I must be in possession of a far more advanced strain of (as yet), untapped comic potential. The potential was certainly taking its time to develop. Towards the end of primary school, my humor arsenal contained one thing: repeating funny stuff people told me in a significantly less funny way.
Friend: And then, after all that, Lisa tripped and face planted. Hahahaha.
Me: Hahahaha, yeah, it’s like, I’m Lisa, and I’m walking and now I face plant. Hahahaha. Isn’t that so funny?
And then…high school. A time when kids begin to develop their own personal brand of humor. Despite the fact that Two and A Half Men was the only show I knew of that was meant to be hilarious, and that for some reason I was still watching the Disney Channel, I felt I was beginning to bloom. It started when my grade nine teacher wrote in my report that I was “engaging with other class members more and demonstrating a developing wit.” At that stage, I thought wit was just another word for funny. I ignored the fact that witty people were also generally smart, quick thinkers with agile minds, none of which applied to me. I just latched onto the funny part. I may not be a stand up comedian, guys, but I got wit!
For the record, I was showing no such wit, nor any ability to be funny whatsoever. The funniest thing I did was eat old food off the ground as a sort of misguided party trick. However it seems that if people see you as the shy, quiet person who never really says anything interesting, any comment that you do make in jest is greeted with disproportionate appreciation. I cottoned on. The one-liner became my tool. It was a fickle tool, and I never really understood it, but a tool nonetheless. Just say something, anything, in a half deadpan, half cute voice during conversational lulls, and people might laugh! I was happy. It worked upwards of 40% of the time! Of course my so-called wit soon deserted me as I grew older, and I realized I wasn’t actually being witty, but failing at a mix of stating the obvious and playing dumb.
I tried to revive my inner jester. Surely being funny wasn’t that hard, right? A few times I tried to learn some jokes, but that backfired. I would either forget the punch line or only recite dad jokes. At one point I decided I would use “all of my own material,” but since then I’ve only come up with one joke. I made it up several years ago when I needed an “ice breaker” for a speech about New Zealand tree species, and have paraded it around proudly ever since.
Q. What did the dog say to the tree?
A. You’re all bark and no bite!
Then someone told me the joke was not only lame, but already in existence. It was the final straw. My hopes of ever being purposefully funny were dashed, and I went back to bed to dream up something more humorous. Preferably with real humans this time.
So to the funny people: If you’re reading this, please share your secrets below.