OPINION: Humour is a funny business. Everyone has some sense of it but not everyone hears the same punch line.
The 2012 Comedy Festival is currently playing in Auckland, and it got me thinking about what is deemed funny and what is not. One person's guffaw is often another's groan.
It's hard to accurately define one's own comic preferences, but after over 40-plus years on Earth I know what I don't like. Fart jokes are definitely out for me, so English humour, with its tendency to thrive on bodily functions and orifices, I look upon as decidedly over-rated. Others think it's a gas.
Slapstick generally leaves me cold, but great physical comedy from the likes of masters such as Seinfeld's Kramer, Eddie from Absolutely Fabulous or anything involving Lucille Ball really spins my wheels. Who could ever forget the conveyor belt scene in I Love Lucy where Lucy and Ethel are forbidden to let one piece of candy get past them without wrapping it? Or Lucy getting stuck in her kitchen by a monster loaf of bread after using way too much yeast?
Of course, one person's funny is another's offence. I simply don't get the Paul Henry brand of gag whereby India's Sheila Dikshit's name is a source of great mono-cultural amusement, or Greenpeace's Stephanie Mill's moustache is deemed hil-hair-ious. It's too pointed and nasty - I mean the joke, not the moustache - and only serves to show up the teller as a first-class immature dork.
I enjoy clever Kiwi humour and miss it dreadfully when overseas for any extended period of time. I virtually sprint on to the Air New Zealand plane parked up at some foreign airport to hear the accents and the dryness of the flight crew.
Over time I have come to learn that I lean most heavily towards Jewish comedy. Jewish humour incorporates strong traits. They laugh at themselves, tend towards the neurotic and are always self- deprecating. Think Woody Allen and Ruby Wax.
There is a wit about Jewish entertainers, a turn of phrase and enough surprise attacks of unexpected logic that I completely relate to. It keeps me on my toes and is always, without fail, intellectually clever. So disarming in its endless parody of eccentricity and foibles that it makes me feel right at home in my less than perfect human skin.
Initially, Jewish jest was more an inside joke, but after the war and on safe shores, Jewish immigrants went on to dominate and alter forever the comedy scene in America. Jerry Lewis, The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers.
My favourite comedy ever is Seinfeld. Consistently lauded for its genius at creating hilarity out of little, the laughs come from the characters' reactions to mundane things like buying soup or waiting in line to see a movie. They're smart and stupid at the same time, just like most human beings.
Jewish humour's genesis, insists one standard view, is all about the coping. Jews faced misery and the laughter and self- mockery was a survival tactic.
"I do not know whether there are many other instances of a people making fun to such a degree of its own character," Freud wrote. By altering their world view, Jews learned to accept the unsympathetic world for what it was. "Want to alleviate your big- time worries? Put on a tighter shoe," advises a Yiddish proverb.
Jewish humour is nothing if not democratic in that it mocks everyone equally - including God.
It frequently satires religious personalities and institutions, rituals and dogma while also affirming religious traditions and practices, seeking an understanding of the differences between the holy and the mundane. Nothing is so sacred not to be laughed at.
So while my funny bone is particularly tickled by humour delivered by Jews, whichever way your laughter quotient is served up doesn't matter. Studies consistently show it is an absolute health boost akin to internal jogging.
I don't know about you but if I were forced to have to give up any range of human emotions laughter would not be among them. I live in anticipation every day that a laugh is in there somewhere and in the most ordinary places.
With a world in turmoil, the ability to see humour in the ordinary is an extremely valuable coping mechanism. Indeed the ability to laugh at one's self is crucial to coping with life's endless slings and arrows. It is my drug of choice.
So before they slip on your toe tag, remember that life is short and none of us are getting out alive. Throw your head back and laugh hard.
- © Fairfax NZ News