The Best Medicine

by

Bill Tune

bctune@gmail.com

Anyone who's a fan of the Reader's Digest can guess what this essay is really about - humor.  For longer than I can remember, I have loved reading the jokes in the Reader's Digest.  I love to laugh. I love to make others laugh.  Unfortunately, the latter was not possible with the editors of “Laughter, The Best Medicine” as they rejected my every submission.  Nonetheless, I have been known to make people laugh, sometimes on purpose.  [Disclaimer: My personal stories below are mostly true, but sometimes humor needs a little help.]


What makes me laugh?  Fortunately, I am easily amused.  I like stand up comedy, TV sit-coms, movies with quality comedy, witty friends, and, sadly, often myself.  I have never sung in a church choir that didn't include at least a couple of other clowns beside myself.  Singing is great.  Singing and laughing is the best!


I appreciate the well-crafted joke or timely retort, but I'm not a fan of other's pain.  I'm cursed with an excessive amount of empathy, so events that cause hysterics in others often leave me sharing the pain of the victim more than pleasure of the onlookers.  My mother-in-law does not suffer this curse.  I discovered this early on in my marriage when I made a brief, unsuccessful attempt at riding an old skateboard in my in-law's front yard.  It immediately vacated the space under my foot, leaving me and my right elbow at the mercy of the concrete sidewalk below.  By the time the searing pain in my arm began to subside, I grew concerned about my mother-in-law.  The woman was laughing so hard she could not draw breath.


Actually, humor is largely responsible for my being married.  Beverly and I used to tell people we got married because she liked that I was funny, and I liked that she would laugh at my jokes - perfect match!


Humor can be tricky business.  It requires timing and often the element of surprise.  One also has to carefully consider the relationship between the content of his humor and his audience.  Sometimes humor is very relative.  An Aggie joke, for instance, might not be received as well in College Station as in Austin.


I have a long list of favorite comedians including, among others, Bill Cosby, George Carlin, Phyllis Diller, Carol Burnett, and Jerry Seinfeld.  But the non-professional that cracks me up most often is my brother, Buddy.  My wife and my sisters also make me laugh on occasion, but Budd's comedic genius seems to come as naturally to him as breathing to the rest of us.  He was in junior high, I believe, when we first discovered his talent for humor.   The unspoken rule in our house at the time was that Dad was the funny one.  I'll never forget the look of surprised shock on Dad's face when Budd's clever comments began to top his.  In college when asked if he and his twin sister looked alike, Budd's standard answer was always, “Naw, she has a full beard.”


Of course, with great wit comes great responsibility.  A lesson I learned the hard way, after I got married, was that making your beloved the butt of a joke can cause serious problems in the relationship!  In a broader context, humor at the expense of others is not appropriate - unless the other person is my brother, then all's fair.  I should have learned this growing up, but my father set a poor example.  My sweet mother took far more than her fair share of the brunt of my father's humor.  My mother was a quiet person and not very musical, which my father was, and with a last name of “Tune,” there were many jokes related to our name.  One of Dad's favorites, which sadly I still repeat, was, “The only way Lois can carry a tune is to pick up one of the kids!” (Please don't laugh.)  My saintly Mother always took the humor-at-her-expense with grace and dignity, but I regret that I did not know then how to filter my attempts at humor.  I think that today I am a far kinder humorist; more often than not keeping to myself the humor that might hurt another.


Speaking of my family and humor, there was an incident when my older sister was in high school that I love to tell.  'Twas the Christmas season in the early 60's, and my Dad was impressed to find red and green light bulbs for sale.  He bought one of each and in celebration of the holy season, he put the green one in our front porch light.  However, when he learned that my sister was getting teased at school because she had the “go ahead” light on her front porch, he put a stop to it!  Yes, you guessed it.  He replaced the green light with the red light.  My sister was so proud.  Sadly, she developed a mysterious illness shortly after that and missed a month of school.


Humor came in handy as a teacher.  Sometimes my humor in the math classroom caused such uproar that it woke up the other half of the class.  My classroom humor was often too subtle for the masses, but that was okay with me.  I took great joy in detecting the sparkle in the eyes of the few who got it, or if I failed to connect with anyone, I had at least entertained myself.  Of course, humor was not always possible.  I had a few difficult classes along the way where mere survival precluded any attempts at humor.  I had one such class of freshmen my first year at Conroe High.  It was a difficult year, but I survived, and in the end all charges were dropped.  Late in the year one of the few well-behaved students was visiting with me after school one day.  He was very reflective and for some reason asked me to describe myself.  I listed a few worthy, but modest attributes; then remembering what a riot I was in the faculty workroom, I mentioned that I thought I was humorous.  At that point his eyes widened as a look of total shock and bewilderment filled his face, and he almost shouted, “You're not funny!”  I then realized that based on what he saw every day, I was anything but funny during 4th period Algebra I.


Some of the most satisfying humor is the spontaneous comment, especially when it happens in a group of strangers.  I was recently on a cruise that included the Cayman Islands.  Anyone who's been to Grand Cayman Island knows that one of its favorite tourist stops is the community of Hell.  It is standard practice for each tourist to send at least one post card from Hell with the message: “Wish you were here!” As one would expect on a tourist bus traveling through Hell, the hellish humor was rampant, all original I'm sure.  I made my contribution when we saw a couple of people walking along the side of the road.  I shouted, “Look!  There's a couple of Hellians now!”  Everyone laughed; as well they should, because I laughed at their jokes, too.


I define classic humor as that which when viewed (or told) multiple times is still funny.  Other humor seems to lose its value after the first exposure.  I'm not sure what makes the difference.  I've never laughed harder than when I went to see Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story starring John Reilly.  Maybe it was the mood I was in or the barometric pressure in the theater, but when I bought the DVD months later and re-watched it, it just wasn't that funny.  There are a lot of classic TV shows that make me laugh over and over. Golden Girls, M*A*S*H, Cheers, Frazier, and I Love Lucy are, I think, among the best. One of my all-time favorite moments on TV came on the Carol Burnett Show when her talented crew did a parody on Gone With the Wind.  In the critical moment after Scarlett got the idea of making her new dress out of the curtains in the window, Carol (as Scarlett) descended the staircase wearing her “new” dress -- complete with curtain rod resting on her shoulders.


I will close with an old joke that I remember my Dad telling:  A gentleman moved into a new community where the men routinely gathered at the local watering hole each evening.  He made a friend of his neighbor who invited him to join the nightly gathering.  During his first visit, one of the men shouted, “24!” and the room burst into laughter.  Another said, “32!” and again there was riotous laughter.  The man turned to his friend to inquire what was going on.  The friend explained, “Years ago we took all our jokes and made a numbered list.  Now we just have to reference the number of the joke we want to tell.  It saves a lot of time.”  The man got a copy of the list and spent a week memorizing it.  With eager anticipation he again joined the evening gathering.  At his first opportunity he shouted, “42!” but this time there was no laughter.  He tried again, “17!” but again dead silence.  He turned to his friend and said, “What's wrong? I memorized the whole list!”  His friend turned to him and said with a shrug of his shoulders, “Some people can tell 'em and some can't!”


Sometimes I can tell 'em, sometimes I can't, but I enjoy trying.  Most of all, I enjoy laughing. It really is the best medicine!

enough

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