Of the many things people say about me to my face, one of the most fascinating is how they are surprised that I have a sense of humour. I try to understand what makes people conclude that I look serous, or that someone who looks serious is incapable of cracking a joke, and my mind still can’t fathom its origins.
I’m thinking of this and many more as I try to write multiple essays and be as light and funny as I can be in all of them. Of course I fail, every time, but what does it mean that I try to be funny. Doesn’t my attempt at trying already expose me as sorely lacking in the humour department?
Yesterday, parked in front of a post office, I listened to a man tell a woman an incredibly dry joke, and thought about how dry jokes should be classified as an insult against humanity. Do those of us who keep all our jokes to ourselves till we can ensure their high moisture content have two heads? Don’t we also want to impress women but recognise our limitations and just pocket our paki-jokes? Of course this also is a stupid attempt at a joke in a piece that is getting too serious when all I want to do is liberate my blog from a dry patch. Maybe I should return to talking about writing and a sense of humour.
I was thinking about things in the news this evening, and felt a frown crawl into my face, then I opened a piece that made me smile and a part of me wanted to feel guilty for letting myself be pleasured. That was probably my stupidest moment today. There’s nothing wrong with laughing. (Rereading this now, I’m still surprised at how boneheaded that gesture towards guilt is.) An inability to view the world’s pain and still find a place for personal joy and happiness is a sure start to being broken in all the wrong places. I remember thinking about this so much when Robin Williams died, wondering how horrifying it must be for someone to watch people laugh and be happy because of his words and actions, yet find it difficult to find joy. [sigh] This is becoming grim again.
Perhaps I should return to this supposed inability of serious and funny to coexist. My favourite things is a long list of things that take a long, hard look at the our flawed humanity, yet strive to make me laugh or smile while doing that. It’s why I like Nell Zink. It’s why I like Zadie Smith’s On Beauty. It’s why I like George Saunder’s The Semplica Girls Diaries. It’s why I love everything by Flannery O’Connor. It’s why I probably like Key and Peele a little too much, even if E thinks they are not funny.
It was E who posted a comment on Facebook about the latest viral video of Nigerians who don’t understand the meaning of Oesophagus, and made me remember how I now find that Nigerian brand of comedy that mocks ignorance very crass. I can no longer laugh at Jenifa or Falz with abandon, because last year, I slowly came to the realization that the only reason we consider them funny is because we know Falz and Funke Akindele can speak good English (and so can we), they can code switch and are only taking the struggles many people have with that silly language and making acts out of them.
Now, it is one thing to like Falz, but another thing entirely to laugh at a woman in a video who has H-factor. As a Yoruba-speaking boy who wrongly places the article an in front of H-words more often than is normal, I know the pain of that H-factor palava and don’t find it funny at all. It’s one thing to laugh along with Baba Ijebu as he mirrors my struggles with the queen’s language, it is another to watch cool kids laugh at my Yoruba sister on Twitter. Again, I’m becoming serious. But, still, I try to be cheered by the things I find funny, like this piece by Rosa Lyster that made me smile.
I will continue to make space for light things in my life, like taking a break from writing and editing to compose this rambling post that started nowhere and I intend to take nowhere but where it wants to go, and now it’s here at its end and I can just drop the mic like Basket mouth—who I hope will find a fresh humour upgrade someday—did at one of his early shows.
Featured Image: Robin Williams, via Flickr by JoonHo Son