Healing with Humor

ImageI love a good joke. Even a bad one. Which is one of the reasons I wrote my first novel. In The Joke’s on Me, a stand-up comic returns to her hometown of Woodstock after a major crisis and tries to get her groove back. One stepping stone toward reinventing herself is to craft a workshop on Healing with Humor. Frankie ferrets through research notes, movies, and videos of other comics, trying to glean what’s funny and why it makes people feel good.

Having laughed my way through some serious and not-so-serious health problems over the years, I felt unerringly qualified to write about a fictional character writing her workshop.

After all, a string of funny romance novels by Janet Evanovich got me through a nasty back injury, and elephant jokes once saved my sanity.

Elephant jokes? Yeah. Okay, they’re a little juvenile, but a good case of the giggles is still good medicine. About twenty years ago, I had one of those not-so-great mammograms (which turned out to be a false positive), and my perhaps overzealous doctor had referred me and my films to a breast surgeon. Needless to say, the forty-minute drive to his office was a bit stressful. So I turned on our local NPR station, which was running “Knock on Wood” during that time period. Some of you—and especially those of you in the Woodstock area—may know Steve Charney and Harry, his ventriloquist’s dummy (Yeah, I know. A ventriloquist on the radio.) That day, Steve was doing a long string of elephant jokes, one after the other. I was giggling so hard I almost ran off the road. Yeah, silly, but it definitely took my mind off where I was going.

So this is why one particular joke stuck in my head. Recently, when the lovely Carol Wyer, author of several humorous novels about aging disgracefully, interviewed me on her blog, Facing Fifty with Humour, she asked me to tell a joke. This was the one I selected:

Q: What do you get when you cross a kangaroo with an elephant?
A: Great big holes in Australia.

Okay, not spit-coffee-across-your-keyboard funny, but cute.

Then I came across this website. Apparently, the author, Kevin R.R. Williams, had read Carol’s interview and felt the same about my joke. In an effort to parse the eternal question of what makes people laugh, he deconstructed it over a dinner party. How I wish I could have been a fly on the wall.

Or the elephant in the room.

What do you think? Has humor ever helped you through a tough spot? Can humor really be analyzed? Once we do, does it lose its comedic value? And what’s your favorite elephant joke?

20 thoughts on “Healing with Humor

  1. Jen Daniele says:

    Humor saves my life in some way every single day. After a recent – extremely nasty – falling out with some old friends (who turned out not to be friends at all), I laid awake for a few nights reconstructing the event in the form of stand-up comedy bit. This not only took most of the sting out, but it also reduced my anger and helped me gain some perspective on things a lot sooner than had I just brooded over it.

    We could analyze humor, but if we over-analyze it, I think it does lose the comedic value. I think comedy mainly boils down to connecting to people through our own common experiences by retelling them in a funny way that changes their perspective on something they’ve also gone through. Humor can also take a bit of the fear out of something scary by reducing it to a punchline. Or it can simply be just viewing the world through a silly-scope: sometimes an elephant is just a really large animal and sometimes it stars in a funny poem.

    I walked outside
    and looked up at the sky
    I saw a birdie fly by
    Oh damn, he pooped in my eye
    But I won’t cry
    I’m sure glad elephants don’t fly.

  2. acflory says:

    Don’t hate me! Q. A mosquito flew into a nudist colony. Why did it have a nervous breakdown? A. Because it didn’t know where to begin.

    I love humour, but as the above proves, I suck at it. 😦

    So glad your mammogram was a false positive, and I loved the kangaroo/elephant joke. 😀

  3. lynnecantwell7 says:

    Great post, Laurie. I used to know a whole bunch of elephant jokes. Here’s one:
    Q: Why do giraffes have long necks?
    A: So they can spy on elephants in their tree houses.

    Another? Okay:
    Q: Why do elephants wear tennies?
    A: Because nine-ies are too small and elevenies are too big.

    And finally:
    Q: What’s gray on the inside and clear on the outside?
    A: An elephant in a baggie!
    (Showing my age with that one. I suppose today it would be a Ziploc bag…)

  4. jacquiegum says:

    Humor, laughter has always been the greatest elixir for me. Laughter can cure anything, I’m not sure it’s always appreciated by the people I choose to share with 🙂 My humor leans a little towards the twisted. Nonetheless, I crack myself up…that’s good for something! 🙂 Loving your posts Laurie. Just subscribed 🙂

  5. ktelega says:

    I love Janet Evanovich. Her books could get me through 6 hours in the emergency room, no problem. I’m so glad I found your site through Indies Unlimited. I write about aging humor, so it’s always good to find kindred spirits.

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