You’re Not Funny!


Bill Tune

Humor is a funny thing (pun intended). I like to make people laugh (on purpose), and I love people who make me laugh. So I thought I'd write a thoughtful introspective of the serious nature of humor. Just kidding! Life is too short not to laugh. I have enjoyed the Reader's Digest for decades, especially “Laughter, the Best Medicine.” Sadly, I was never funny enough to make that column - and I tried. (I really did.)

Humor is frequently triggered by an unexpected twist at the end of a story or joke (A.K.A. the punch line). An example of this would be the story about a small country church that got a new preacher. After he'd been there a few weeks, he was shaking hands with his parishioners one Sunday as they left the church when a young girl looked up at him with sad eyes and said, “Preacher, when I grow up, I'm gonna save all my money and give it to you.” He was deeply touched by this sentiment even though also somewhat puzzled by it. He thanked her and asked
why she would do such a nice thing, to which she replied, “Because my Daddy says you're the poorest preacher he's ever heard.”

I also love the story of the two golfers who were on the course when a funeral procession passed by. One of them stopped, took off his cap, and waited quietly until the somber parade had passed. The other golfer was amazed and said, “George! I'm impressed that you would show such respect for a funeral.” George said, “Well, Edith was a faithful wife for 42 years. It was the least I could do.”

Sometimes real life can be funnier than a well-crafted joke. Art Linkletter's Kids Say the Darnedest Things comes to mind. A small child's attempts to understand the complex world of adults can lead to many erroneous and humorous conclusions. We so quickly forget what it was like to be a child that we are often surprised by the things they say.  When my son was 5, he knew that the sun was a huge ball of fire, but he couldn't understand how it could set in the west without setting all the grass on fire west of town.

The children's sermon on Sunday is rife with humorous opportunities. Most parents have nightmares about what their child might say into the pastor's mike, and many of them have stories to share that they would just as soon not. At our church the kids recently celebrated “Veterinarian's Day” and last Christmas when asked to describe Christmas decorations in their homes, they forgot an important one. When carefully prompted to say “manger” by giving a description, an eager hand shot up and answered “Gingerbread House”!

The funniest kids' sermon fiasco I've ever heard may or may not have actually happened, but I'm telling it anyway. Picture it: Easter Sunday morning. The altar area is covered in a sea of young eager faces dressed in their Easter finest. The proud pastor makes an obvious choice for the day's sermon topic and starts by asking a question. (This is where so many children's sermons go wrong: asking a question.) He says, “Who knows what resurrection means?” After a brief pause a hand goes up and the son of the soon-to-be-mortified parents says, “If it lasts more than four hours you have to call a doctor!”

Speaking of kids and their skewed perspective of the world, this is especially true of students with respect to their teachers. Early elementary teachers have to deal routinely with students who are shocked to see them buying groceries or shopping at Wal-Mart. As the students age, so does their understanding of teachers as “real people,” but even in high school there can be some surprises. My friend John taught HS English for many years. In the faculty workroom (we're not allowed to use the term “faculty lounge”), he was a dry wit and a constant source of amusement. Of course, in the classroom he was all business. One day we had a faculty meeting before school and a couple of my first period students attended for some good reason, although I can't remember why. As I recall, the meeting was very routine, but when we got to first period I overheard one of those students exclaim to her friends, “I didn't know Mr. Pinkerton was funny!”  Now THAT was funny!

To be fair, students can only understand what they get to experience. I had a similar, if completely different, experience years later. One of my freshman algebra students was visiting with me after school and was trying to wax philosophical. He asked me to describe myself. Without being too immodest I began listing what I perceived as my attributes and included the often-made comment (by people other than myself) that I had a good sense of humor. At that point he looked at me with shock and sputtered, “You're not funny!” I was somewhat taken aback by this response, because I always “killed it” in the workroom. Then I realized that he had the misfortune of being in my most challenging class discipline-wise, and he was right. In his class I was constantly struggling to maintain enough control to actually teach some math to a group of highly unmotivated freshmen and there was nothing funny about it. I frequently used humor in my other classes and was very funny. Sometimes even the students laughed.

There are many great comedians I have enjoyed over the years, but the people I admire most are people who don't get paid for it. I've written before about my brother who keeps us laughing almost non-stop. Last Christmas Beverly bought me personalized University of Texas license plates for my car, which display my initials and year of graduation - BCT 75. Budd had one of his typical comments upon seeing them for the first time. His best attempt to hide his intense jealousy was, “Gee, brother, how much extra did it cost to put your age on there?” Classic Budd.

I have a new comedic hero that I have met in the past year. He shall remain anonymous because a man like Jim Roy deserves his privacy. He's seen a lot of life, and if I could spend more time with him, I would do an entire essay on Jim Roy, but I'll limit this initial introduction to a couple of my favorite comments. Even if these are timeworn clichés that make his family roll their eyes, this stuff is new to me and it is funny!

When my wife asked about his kids: “They're horrible! We had to move 600 miles to get away from them!” Needless to say, his wife disagrees. Speaking of his saintly wife, I asked her if he was following her around one day and he jumped in with, “Oh it's quite the opposite! But I have to take her everywhere I go. Otherwise I'd have to kiss her good-bye!” Granted, these would be funnier if you could hear Jim Roy do the delivery. He's got the timing down pat. I'm sure he's had lots of practice.

Where do you find humor? Everywhere! It's like that small-town rule: If you haven't heard a rumor by 10 a.m. - start one! If someone's not making you laugh, do something funny. It's not that hard. Just remember: be willing to make fun of yourself, do something original, and don't forget the unexpected twist at the end. Some people get paid to do this, but not me.


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