Do you think you have a sense of humor? Of course you do. You didn‚Äôt even have to consider the question. It was like I asked, ‚Äúdo you have a mailing address?‚Äù I‚Äôve visited thirty-five countries, and performed standup comedy in four of them, and not once have I met a single person who thought they might have a deficient sense of humor. Like the kiddos of Lake Woebegone, everyone is above average.
Yet surely you‚Äôve met other people who are oblivious to their own sullen gray existence. I‚Äôve encountered many such people, and generally steer clear of them once identified. They might be perfectly pleasant individuals, whom we attribute sterling attributes like ‚Äúefficient‚Äù or ‚Äútidy‚Äù to. But to those of us who are funny professionally, these people are not just closed markets, they are another species who may or may not become homicidal when a confusing joke fries their circuit board.
If confronted, every single person in America can fall back on the same logic confirming their unquestionable sense of mirth. ‚ÄúI love to laugh‚ÄîI watch Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory all the time.‚Äù
Forget for a moment that these are hacky, terrible sitcoms. You can insert in any television program. They might even like a brilliant show like Arrested Development. The ‚Äúsitcom‚Äù defense belies a deeper deficiency: people lacking a sense of humor do not understand jokes out of context.
If plopped down on their couch with a non-interactive device which¬† spoon-feeds them one-liners and clarifies the punchline via a canned laugh track, they ‚Äúget it.‚Äù If you say something dry and clever in conversation, they blink at you and get confused. Or, worse, become offended because sarcasm has a stealth quality they cannot detect. Yet if questioned they can whip out a receipt for their Pauly Shore DVD, so rest assured they have a functional sense of humor.
Understanding context is the main element of a ‚Äúsense‚Äù of humor. Someone with the 20/20 vision, hear-noises-only-dogs-can-hear equivalent of humor sensitivity laughs within an expansive context. These are people who not only get the joke, but can find some minutia on a DMV form to chuckle at, or laugh when they stub their toe. If you are joking around with them in conversation they will giggle, and this capacity for amusement will likewise translate to enjoying live standup comedy, internet memes, and films. They might enjoy low-quality content, but that has more to do with propriety than ability.
Possession of a good sense of humor is not the same as being funny. You can love jazz and vinyl records without knowing how to play a saxophone, and you can enjoy football without being a refrigerator-sized block of charging muscle. So to with humor. A sense of humor implies a mind adroit at detecting comedy in multiple contexts. A funny person is someone with a good sense of humor who can distill amusement and export it as a joke. (Ironically, people who aren‚Äôt very funny but have an excellent sense of humor are generally far happier than people who are funny professionally.)
If you suspect you might have a deficient sense of humor, we can go through a questionnaire which might clarify things:
- Are you easily and frequently offended?
- Do you find ‚Äújokesters‚Äù at your accountancy firm unprofessional?
- Do you seldom laugh outside of a movie theater or television episode?
If you answered ‚Äúyes,‚Äù you might have a bad sense of humor. There is a cure, however. For a small fee I will ‚Äúshadow‚Äù you throughout your day. When someone says something funny, I will play a recording of laughter, until you connect automated sitcom humor to the world around you. Eventually you will develop a Pavlovian response and laugh appropriately on your own.
If this proves fruitless, we can move on to shock therapy.