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June 2024
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That’s So Funny …

… I forgot to laugh.

By John Cadley

Illustrated cartoon judge with gavel being sprayed with water by clown
Illustration by Bart Browne

You’re a good person. You see someone suffering and you want to help. You’ve heard that “laughter is the best medicine” so you make a little joke. Perhaps you do make the person feel better … or perhaps they punch you in the nose. If so, you have now learned that there are times not to be funny.

This may sound odd coming from a professional humor writer, but I’ve seen too many amateurs put their foot in their mouth not to know it’s true. Not only is it painful to watch; it rubs off on professionals like me who do know when to put a sock in it.

“What do you do?”

“I write a humor column.”

“Oh, you mean you’re one of those people who thinks they’re funny but they’re not?”

I can’t afford that. I could lose my job and then it’s back to SpaghettiOs for dinner. So please listen while I tell you when not to be funny.

Let’s start with an impacted wisdom tooth—not yours, of course, but somebody else’s. Yes, their swollen cheek makes them look like a chipmunk with a two-pound walnut. But you can’t laugh, not even when they tell you they have a dentist appointment and it comes out as, “Ah hahb a denbish apahmint.” This person is in pain. You can secretly rejoice that it’s not you who’s suffering—I mean, that goes without saying. Just don’t show it. No wisecracks about how the orthodontist will have them in stitches, or “Now you can put your money where your mouth is.” They just might laugh, in which case the pressure will blow the tooth through a window, and you’ve gone from a toothache to “This is 911. What is your emergency?”

Remember, too—airport security is not Comedy Central. You are in one of those rare situations where nobody wants to be there. The passengers don’t like having their nail clippers confiscated, and airport security agents don’t like you trying to fool them by hiding baby alligators in a sock. You just want to get on the plane; the TSA workers just want to get away from people who are usually impatient, sometimes rude, and occasionally crazy. This is not the time to walk through the scanner and say, “I bet you can see right through me!” They see through you, all right, and you don’t want to know what they see.

So please listen while I tell you when not to be funny.

Another time to curb the comedy is when you see your friend on a recumbent bicycle. Yes, they look ridiculous, peddling with their feet up in the air—and even more so wearing a helmet. They’re practically on the ground anyway. The farthest they could fall is two inches. You want to say, “Gee, it must be nice to exercise lying down.” Don’t. People who ride recumbent bikes are so serious about exercising they call it training—for what, I don’t know, but they’re serious, and what is the opposite of serious? Funny. With an average body fat index of .004%, these hard bodies have no corporeal cushioning. If you make them laugh, they crack a rib.

Another No Fun Zone is the Internal Revenue Service. Oh, they can laugh, all right. Who wouldn’t when they see deductions for salad as a healthcare expense? But familiarity breeds contempt, and IRS agents have seen enough of these bonehead entries to where it isn’t funny anymore. So if you think you can write off pet food as a business expense because your cat keeps mice out of your home office, send your cat to the audit.

And just in case you need reminding, law enforcement—specifically as it involves you—is no place to display your rapier wit. Getting pulled over for speeding … making a court appearance for 79 unpaid parking tickets … being indicted—these are all times when even the most clever remark will be as welcome as a fly in your fruit salad. You want to talk about serious? This is Serious Central, where humor is known as Contempt of Court. When the judge asks if you know the penalty for perjury, don’t answer, “Is it less than what I’ll get if I tell the truth?” They’ll throw the book at you. Then they’ll throw the gavel.

I hope you see the point here: Just because you can be funny doesn’t mean you should be. Humor can heal or it can hurt. It can bring smiles or tears. It can make you the life of the party or get you thrown out of a funeral home. There’s no funny explanation for that. Don’t even try.


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