A Laughing Matter

A Laughing Matter

Not long ago I got my first smartphone at the age of 39 1/2 – THIRTY-NINE AND A HALF! It was good timing, though, because my self-esteem had just climbed to a new high as well. Yes, I’ve finally learned to love myself and am ready to share who I am with the world!

I don’t mean here. Granted, I’ve been vulnerable on the internet for years and I admit, not being able to see my audience face-to-face makes that easy (albeit I’ve deleted a lot of that vulnerability recently, not because I don’t want to share, but because I want to share differently). As you’ve noticed, too, internet anonymity is the preferred method for internet bullying but trust me, I’ve never even been tempted to go down that road. No, my worst internet sins are in making false assumptions about individuals and directly emailing minor celebrities, given that they’re more likely than A-listers to read emails from weird fans like me. Most of the time I’m ignored (though the occasional, unexpected reply does make me feel special). Come to think of it, I’ve never really criticized the celebrities I’ve written but instead attempted to share my story with them. I’m prompted to do this after they’ve written or said something publicly that’s led me to believe we’re kindred spirits. Is it wrong to want to be seen by someone who’s successful? Don’t answer that. I want validation! [awkward smile]

Anyway, I started playing with the dating apps recently and I’ve noticed that, when I’m browsing potential dates (after I’ve swiped past the ones who have pictures with other women or have an aggressive expression on their face or too many muscles or just seem to be way too good for me), I look for words in their self-descriptions that make me smile, giving extra attention to anyone who can make me laugh.

So far I’ve not struck up a chat with any of these men, let alone tried to meet them in person, but I’m getting there. Keep in mind, it’s hard for others to love those who don’t love themselves and it’s not like I suddenly woke up one morning in love with myself. It’s been a very long, arduous process. Just ask my friends, the ones who’ve known me for a decade or more. Or you could say it’s like learning to play piano. You’ve got to learn to read music and play scales and chords before you can play Mozart’s “Sonata Semplice” (Sonata #15 in C, K545, which I never mastered, but I came close).

Ah, but laughter is the key to my heart! I know we can be friends if we can forget our differences and simply laugh together! The thing is, if I don’t know your story, I’m not confident I’ll know what makes you laugh and I’ll hesitate to be myself, afraid that if I say the wrong thing, I’ll offend you. Can’t you see? I really want to be liked! but I’ll be fine if you don’t like me too.

To put it differently, I can easily make my mom laugh or my sister laugh because I know them. I’ve studied them all my life. We don’t even watch the same sitcoms or laugh at the same comedians, but I can still tailor my humor to their specific tastes and end with both of us laughing. The challenge is with those I’ve not met. We’re strangers and, because of that, the only humor I feel I can get away with is the self-deprecating kind. 

For example: You want an embarrassing story about me? Well, that’s a tough one because it’s like “embarrassment” (and its evil cousins, “shame” and “stigma”) have been symbiotic to my life for as long as I’ve been capable of self-awareness. So how can I single out just one story when the problem has sometimes been so harmful as to trigger a crippling social anxiety in me? Then again, this blog post could be its own embarrassing story, if I’m crazy enough to share it

Seriously though, the “embarrassing story” is important in humor because it’s universal. I mean, you’d basically have to live alone (probably on another planet) your entire life not to have ever felt embarrassed (or maybe you’re a psychopath, I don’t know). The point is, we laugh at each others mortifying stories because they’re uniquely human and let’s face it, we’re relieved when the self-deprecating comedian takes the fall for the team. Right?

I think that’s why my good friend (and favorite writing buddy) laughs so hard when when she’s with me. Actually, we both break into spontaneous laughter. She laughs whole heartily at my embarrassing blunders and I laugh uncontrollably at her reactions. That’s a winning combination, don’t you think?

If you were to write a sitcom and base a character on me, I might be the “idiot savant” or the “innocent” because I’m the one who will say something inappropriate without realizing it, like, “I just want to go home and pet my kitty” or “you need to take something for that headache so you can be as perky with him as you are with me.” 

Now I believe being able to laugh at one’s self is healthy and I’ll tell you right now that I’m not easily offended by words. Even when I am offended, I don’t seek retaliation nor am I capable of firing back with quick witticisms. That’s probably the “idiot savant” in me, just more “idiot” than “savant” and I have an unofficial IQ test to prove it. (Note: it wasn’t an internet one – I bought it at Barnes & Noble and I followed the rules, no cheating, and came out as “average,” though I do take issue with the way the test was written [which I won’t get into here] and I don’t feel like a “complete idiot” for not scoring in the “genius” category).

For instance, let’s say we meet and you say something intentionally rude to me. Then I’ll react in one of two ways: I’ll either tell you to “shut-up” or I’ll cry and run away. In either case the damage is usually minimal (I cry easily, it’s just part of having a mood disorder and a uterus). I’ll also add that my closest friends regularly make fun of me, but I’ve spent enough time with them to know that’s just their love language and I’ll laugh with them. I think the all-time favorite game my friends like to play with me is: “Let’s Get Clara to say ‘F**k.’”

This beloved game began when I’d recently moved to Arizona from Texas as a fifth grader and my new friends, who were already swearing like sailors by age 11, found my “innocence” amusing, especially when they figured out how to make me laugh so hard my face turned the same shade as my hair. They didn’t break me then, but I know they enjoyed trying.

Several years later, when I was in my twenties and had just begun questioning my faith, a friend advised me to replace my bedtime prayers by saying the word “fuck” over and over again in succession. I laughed at the idea, though I couldn’t bring myself to attempt it. 

That’s when I decided to approach swearing from an intellectual angle. I picked up a book called “Expletive Deleted: A Good Look at Bad Language” (Ruth Wajnryb, 2005) that gave a little bit of history about why certain words are stigmatized in our language. A few years later, when Netflix was still just a mail-order DVD rental company, I rented a documentary called “Fuck: A Documentary” (2005) which focused on the one word but also gave some interesting historical and sociological insight into its usage. Of course, by the time I had my hands on that DVD, I’d moved back home with my conservative parents and sister and had to sneak-watch the show in my bedroom, door closed and locked. Being a liberal surrounded by conservatives is its own challenge, but at least they’re my family and I understand them slightly better than most.

Then, of course, I found articles online to support the idea that people who were proficient in profanity were usually highly intelligent (contradicting the notion I’d been raised with – that cussing is a poverty of vocabulary). I also learned that being able to use profanity to express emotion was healthy and, as someone with a diagnosed mental illness, I don’t think it would hurt to learn to swear, you know, for the sake of my mental health.

But I’m not there yet. Ironically, I do “practice” with my family when I’m angry with them. They hate it but they’ve never disowned me for it and my sister is the only one who still protests. To be clear, I only use profanity in anger and only around them. I don’t use it casually or jokingly (yet). Sometimes I’ll say it with my friends in a hushed tone if I’m quoting someone else, or if they’re daring me because they need a novice like me to drop an f-bomb (just to lighten the mood).

Of course, I have absolutely no qualms whatsoever with swearing in my second language: French. “Merde” (meaning “shit”) slips off my tongue naturally now, but only as an exclamatory. Usually this isn’t an issue in anglophone social settings although once I accidentally slipped and said in front of a French child. Oops. 

When watching my favorite sitcoms and stand-up comedy specials, I’m usually alone and, even though I truly enjoy them, I rarely laugh-out-loud. But if I watch them again with friends, all that changes. My friends and I tend to “Mystery Science Theater” everything watched at home nowadays (don’t worry, silence is still golden at the cinema). That only works if someone else is watching with you, though (I’ve occasionally talked at fictional characters on TV while watching something at home [presumably] alone only to have my parents walk in the room and wonder if they should report this to my psychiatrist [they haven’t and they won’t – they just wonder in a joking manner]). Lately my friend and I have been watching classic musicals from the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. Now, from a millennial point of view, you usually have three choices when watching old movies: either laugh at the unenlightened sexist, racist, homophobic, patriarchal, body-shaming, entertainment of the past, criticize it, or ignore it (although, I suppose if you’re clever, you can combine humor and criticism).

This is all well and good but does any of this make you laugh if you’re not in the room while it’s happening? I’m a huge fan of inside jokes if I’m in on them. But it’s always disappointing when I hear two friends giggling about something and, when I ask them what’s so funny, they say, “oh, you had to be there.” (FOMO is real)

Humor is experiential. So I suppose if I’m going to make you, someone I’ve never met before, laugh, I have to either bring you to the experience or bring the experience to you.

Wow! I can’t believe it’s only take me 39 years to figure this out! But that’s okay. My friends know how immature I am and when I can get them to regress along with me, I know I’ve found a kindred spirit.

Now, back to those dating apps. If I can make him laugh, he’s sure to like me.

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