Still I laugh

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


9 Replies to “Still I laugh”

  1. Well this post lived up to its Rambles name! Since I now manage to ramble when I attempt a simple four or five word sentence, I followed it perfectly. The plus side of rambling is we don’t stick with anything long enough to bore anyone. Confuse maybe, but not bore. I have a lot of English teachers on my face book page and they sometimes get on their high horses about simple grammar mistakes. I once taught English also, but now when trying to write/spell correctly my mind seems to simply shut down. I think old age has some similarities to Autism. My granddaughter, when under pressure to answer someone, seems to freeze mentally and find even simple verbal questions indecipherable. I think a feeling of pressure releases some chemical that triggers the fight or flight response. Since fighting isn’t appropriate, we just shut down. It takes me so long to write posts because I have to check spelling and grammar so often. And I used to speak without a script….maybe a handful of cues only. Now it has to be all written out. I probably criticized people who mangled English, at least mentally, back when I had a memory. So I figure it’s justice for me to end up on the other side. I think this is what “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” warned us about. What goes around comes around. I’ve lived long enough to end up on the return side of quite a few of my unkindnesses..

    1. Some grammar pedantry is probably expected when the person doing it is trained to teach the language. What I often find troubling, however, is how we seem eager to mock other people for their perceived lack of proper grasp of the language. I guess the internet has made it easy for those of us who are not particular about grammar, and want to exercise the right to be improper with English, to speak out and find an audience.

      I see what you’re saying re what goes around comes around, and want to defer to your thoughts on it as it concerns you, because, obviously these are your experiences. But maybe, just maybe you’re being too harsh on yourself here. I’m sure you’ve also engaged in enough acts of kindness for that principle to swing both ways.

      Thank you for always commenting with care, Eileen.

  2. Hi Ife,

    @ “high moisture content” made me laugh. I imagined a watering can and a garden with jokes sprouting out of the ground.

    I think the best type of humour is the sort that does not depend on other people’s laughter to reward it. Quite simply, the person says what they want to say mostly for their own enjoyment.

    PS: Recently, I read a participant’s recount of the workshop and saw photographs of both your serious and not-so-serious face.

    1. How did you know it was me, Nedu. And I used to think i was fairly anonymous on the interwebs. 😦 Oh well, there goes another delusion.

      I want to say is it humour if nobody laughs, but I’ll have to agree with you, because 99 percent of my jokes start on that premise—that’s the only way they can be classified as humour.

      I’m just happy you’re the kind of person who laughs at ‘high moisture content’. People like you are the reason people like me think they can tell jokes. So, thank you. Thank you.

  3. I used to write and print a six page newsletter for our church. If there was one typo, those who focus on details would immediately comment on that. I’m definitely more about communicating meaning than about the details. My father and my son were both newspaper editors, so maybe I’m a tad over aware in that area. And yes I have often been on the receiving end of my past kindnesses. I’m just at the stage of life that honesty about “most” of my mix of human traits doesn’t bother me. At seventy-nine, the only opinion I need to be concerned about is God’s and he knew all about me long before I will. Thanks for your kindness though.

  4. I’ve been practicing ‘mood’ pieces, and by that I mean that I determine what mood I want a piece of writing to elicit from readers before I start. Then I write. Mostly I’m successful, judging by the feedback I receive. Many times, humour is the hardest emotion to inject in my articles.

    This piece made me smile. It has achieved its stated purpose. I suppose it is lightly serious. Lol 🙂

    1. Getting the mood right is something I always think about too. But words can get out of hand sometimes, delivering a mood other than the one I set out to. Sometimes that’s a good thing, other times a very bad thing. I’m glad this one achieved the intended mood. And yes, humour is hard.


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