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?