You know when you do that thing where you keep recalling something funny — a verbal misstep, a misunderstanding, — that you haven’t quite got out of your system the next day, and it’s rupturing up to the surface and spilling over at inopportune moments?
Tragedy plus time, they say, equals comedy.
Have you ever just completely lost it, like fallen apart in second-or third- wave laughing fits in a supermarket over an awkward autocorrect intervention — a typo — 48 hours or two weeks after the fact? You’ve got a massive moth in front of you. I still haven’t forgotten about that,
Have you ever tried on a new self-deprecating anecdote for size in a social situation, only to have it thud down onto the floor in the middle on the conversation, leaving nothing but bemusement and, worse, actual tangible concern in its (very literal) wake?
Sometimes, comedy plus time equals tragedy.
It’s all a matter of timing and recall.
The science says that we better recall things we find funny. Humorous material is more readily recalled than non-humorous material, even when the subject is in a dysphoric mood.
Think about that photo of you and a best friend, caught mid-howl, so out of control in your laughter you look grotesque?
You couldn’t possibly remember the joke. You remember everything but the joke.
Or the curse of the drunk Dad at Christmas: You remember the punchline but not the build-up.
Forgetting, mis-remembering, paralysis, making a fool of yourself — it’s all essentially the same stuff.
We medicalise humour, make it about our insides becoming our outsides. We talk about funny bones, of having your tongue in you cheek, your sides splitting open. Stuff falling off. A chronic sense of humour failure. If it’s awkward, it’s gut-wrenching, toe-curling. We dissect the joke, prod at it until it squirms and withers, rolls around on the floor.
It’s absurd: wildly unreasonable, illogical, or inappropriate.
Any comedy workshop will tell you that these things work in threes. That your trilogy of punchlines should be increasingly absurd, and land satisfyingly, furthest away from the expected, on the third. Memory games work in the same way. Grouping things into threes. If you’re laughing, they say, then you’re learning.
When a loved one starts to lose their memory faculties, though, how do you begin to talk about that? It’s not very funny, until it has to be. If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry.
There’s a difference though: comedy is tactically withholding, and crafting, a matter of timing. (Good) humour is shrugging it off. Not saying anything, taking it in your stride.
Some anecdotes recited from recent experience:
*“Look at that thing up there, doing bugger all” (she was absolutely livid at the moon).
**Then there was the story about the horse on the golf course, the one that got more convoluted every time we re-told it, out of some sort of respect — awe — for it’s sheer preposterousness.
***The one about where they used to wash the sand.
Actually, that’s all I’ve got off the top of my head.