A lesson in humor: don’t shoot the opinion writer

When people tell me, “You take yourself too seriously,” I alwaysthink, “Go to hell! I’m the funniest person I know!”

Of course, we can’t all be funny. In fact, most people aren’t.George W. Bush isn’t funny. And neither is Kerry. If either of themwere, I don’t think the election polls would be as close as theyhave been. Imagine Bill Murray running for President — do youthink there would be a single undecided voter anywhere?

Humor is important. It helps us cope with situations that areoften too dark to face any other way. The word itself comes fromthe Medieval Latin “humor,” meaning moisture; Old Norse “vqkr,”which translates to damp; Latin “humere,” to be moist; and Greek”hygros,” or wet. Perhaps this is why we homo sapiens shoot milkout our noses when something really kills us, and perhaps explainswhere the phrase “cream your pantalones” comes from. (This is whathappens when something is so funny or scary that you wetyourself).

I believe the above etymologies actually refer to the bodilyhumors, or the semifluids (such as blood and spit) and secretionsthat make up a person’s constitution. I am not sure, but I thinkthat this is why premature ejaculation — especially for men in theU.S. Armed Forces — is never, ever funny.

My absolute favorite form of laughter is gallows humor. This ishumor “that makes fun of a life-threatening, disastrous orterrifying situation.” Its origin is attributed to an anonymousthief in the 19th century, sentenced to death for stealing apistol, a bowl of rice and a pair of young lady’s silkstockings.

“Any last requests?” asked his executioner.

Standing atop the gallows, shivering to death with a grizzlyfear, the hooded thief answered: “Yes. Please don’t kill me.”

“Sorry,” said the executioner, “but those stockings belonged tothe King’s daughter.”

“I didn’t mean any harm. Her legs were so smooth. I only meantto try them on. I was hungry.”

“Pervert!” yelled the executioner.

Gallows humor is what many Iraqis have employed the last fewmonths to cope with the horrors and stresses of war. On a recentepisode of a popular new Iraqi television comedy, a jobless andbroke Iraqi couple freeze themselves to be reawakened in the futurewhen things have improved. When they awake after ten years, the manasks his wife to turn on the television so that they can find outif the democratic elections were held.

She replied: “We have no electricity!”

“Black humor is the only way we have to vent our frustration,”another Iraqi said. “We cry one minute and laugh the next.”

Another example was illustrated in an Iraqi daily publication,the al-Moatamar. A cartoonist drew three exhausted Iraqis in theirunderwear, sitting on a bench. One of them is blindfolded, anotherhas his ears stopped up with cloth and the third has his mouthgagged with a handkerchief. A U.S. soldier is standing in front ofthem like a school teacher with a folder that reads: “Democracy:First Lesson.”

Now, that’s funny!

Life is difficult, dynamic, challenging, sometimes joyful, oftenserious, full of tears and laughter, and great tragedies. But don’tworry — nothing lasts forever.

But what if Nietzsche’s idea of eternal return is true? Whatwould the Iraqis do if they had to continue fighting for theirfreedom for another thousand years? What would you do if you had tosuffer again, for eternity, through the last four years of the Bushadministration’s crimes?

Personally, I’d run to the gallows.

A.J. Jackson can be reached [email protected]