The milk of humour and kindness

I once told my father the one about the doctor who says to his patient that there’s good news and bad: the bad news is you’re dying of cancer and the good news is I’m dating that hot receptionist.

Dad laughed long and hard with his hands covering his face, muttering that’s terrible, that’s terrible, that’s terrible.

Something unspeakable was said; for a doc with any conscience, a verbal taboo was broken. If he didn’t give a damn, then the joke wouldn’t work, the horror would be missing.     

But guess what?

He might have been mortified, but he didn’t die (not right then, anyway). He was safe— with a member of his irreverent but kind family.

Scientists have yet to agree on much of this weighty topic.  What they do seem to agree on is that the physical act of laughter releases all sorts of warm and fuzzies throughout our bodies and that laughter serves a basic social purpose —  to unite people in processing fear.

Voltaire said that God is a comedian, playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.

Shared laughter is a release from fear, a confirmation that danger has come and danger has passed.

For kids (and sadly, for some adults), watching someone fall down or slip on a banana peel is funny. The fear passes and the person is still alive.

British comic, Ricky Gervais, distinguishes between two types of comedy: 

Dumb comedy is, by definition, more popular, I think, because there are more dumb people in the world than smart people, which is good.  That’s the way it should be.  Otherwise, there’d be no reason to be a comedian.

As we get older and start to think about things, the type of danger changes. It becomes social, political, existential, sexual—-in other words, ironic.

Gervais also believes there’s an element of kindness, of empathy, that produces the deepest laughter.

A huge fan of The Simpsons, Gervais says:   

I want to hug Homer.  It’s a family unit around a flawed father who’s not very good but he’s doing his best; and at the end of the day, he loves his family.  He can’t do it without them.  He’s dependent on them.  And that’s that’s really sweet

In Will and Grace, Sean Hayes plays Will’s best friend, Jack. Of his character and their special relationship, Hayes says:

Jack is highly neurotic, extremely outspoken, a little bitter, maybe even borderline obsessive-compulsive. However, underneath all that, he is a caring soul and a good friend to Will. 

Like it or not, Jack and Homer are us—or at least a part of us. 

Jerry Seinfeld, George Costanza, Elaine Benis and the genius hipster-dufus Kramer–they, too, are a selfish bunch.

But they’re also uncommonly aware that they are living in a selfish world; and in the end, they give us a pass—-a big fat break. 

We are the inner-circle; we get it. 

Apparently, humour is universal;  but it’s also likely genetic, not just cultural. I’ve read that identical twins separated at birth have met up in adulthood to discover they share the same sense of humour and even the same laugh. 

So if it’s genetic, there must be an evolutionary advantage, right?

Then why are so many gay men hilarious? How is someone like Carrie Fisher, who’s struggled openly with bi-polar and addiction, able to be so squirmy honest about it? Why so often are the funniest people we meet so flawed?

Because we’re all flawed.  

The difference is that we, the divinely initiated, know it. And without this knowledge, in my comic world book, people aren’t funny.

Ricky Gervais claims he can’t really laugh with someone he doesn’t like. Russell Brand says he can get a long with many types, but couldn’t love someone who doesn’t make him laugh. 

So, it’s tribal, right? 

For me, it’s also about trust. If you can’t trust someone with your own human and humiliated self, then real laughter, real connection can’t happen. 

I’ve got more than a few truly funny people in my life. And though these hyper-ironic relationships can be challenging, on most days, they’re the only ones that make any sense. 

I called my friend Suzanne today and told her about this card I found in A Baker’s Dozen on Main Street. She laughed before the punchline.


Yep. It’s about tribe. It’s about calming fears. It’s about trust. 

But an evolutionary advantage?

I’ll leave you to think about that one.


2 Responses to “The milk of humour and kindness”

  1. Mark Says:

    Most definitely an advantage! Roll on fine lady, M

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