Someone recently asked me how I got my amazing sense of humor. I’d actually been asked the question several times before, because my sense of humor is legendary, matched only by my extreme humility. I thought about it carefully, for a whole second, and then told them that it’s really just a self-defense mechanism.
My sense of humor has saved my Life.
It’s just a way of looking at things. I developed it over time from a variety of experiences, most of them quite bitter. Instead of being angry and sad, I choose to Be Happy and laugh. This laughter is usually internal though, I try to keep a deadpan, clown-like, look on my face. It’s useful when playing Poker too. I see the absurd in situations even when it’s happening to me. The issues underlying my best jokes are usually very serious.
Shakespeare himself realized how closely tragedy and comedy were related that’s why he was able to master both forms. His play Comedy of Errors, for example, tells of a man’s tragic life experiences.
The most serious or tragic experiences can be uplifting if we choose to remain positive. If we continue to search for the Silver Lining in every Dark Cloud. Even heavy topics like Racism and World Wars have been made into the backdrops for comedy. The Jerk, starring Steve Martin, was about a white man who thought he was black and “Allo, Allo” remains a cult favorite worldwide.
I was watching the Jeffersons one night and suddenly realized that maybe 98% of the comedy on TV is just about insulting someone. Seeing someone in a terrible situation or being insulted (and realizing that it’s not us) automatically makes us laugh or feel better.
Even religious leaders and Spiritual Gurus have noticed this aspect of the human condition. In the Book “The Art of Happiness”, the Dalai Lama suggests that comparing yourself to others, worse off than you, will make you feel better. My mom would always notice when I was having a rough time and say “It could be Worse”.
You just fell off your bicycle and broke your arm ? Well smile because it could have been worse.
Some of the greatest comedians in the world are really just magnets for the worst that can happen in any given situation. Rodney Dangerfield, Woody Allen, Chevy Chase …they all live by Murphy’s Law.
Rowan Atkinson, best known in Jamaica as Mr. Bean, is that rare type of comedic genius who doesn’t even need words to elicit a laugh. Like Charlie Chaplin he gets into ridiculous situations and then his physical exploits and his facial expressions while he tries to get out of the sticky jam invariably leaves us crying with laughter or rolling on the ground.
Peter Sellers, in shows like The Party, adds the aspect of imitation to his Mr. Bean type roles. After Sellers played the role of an Indian man accidentally invited to the Party, his Indian friend Satyajit Ray took offence and never spoke to him again.
That’s the danger of this type of comedy, those who feel the joke is “on them” won’t find it funny at all. They may even plot some form of revenge, remembering the adage, “he who laughs last laughs best”.
A higher form of comedy is that of Larry David. His show “Curb your Enthusiasm” and his work with the Seinfeld series is classic. It is a brand of humour not based solely on insults or feelings of superiority over others. He uses a shrewd insight into human nature and the absurdity of common place experiences that we can all relate to.
In an episode of “Curb your Enthusiasm” Larry David dealt with the most serious eternal problem all couples face. No, not problems in communication, finances or sex, he dealt with the real tough one. Men leave the toilet seat up and Women want it down. David’s character actually is a man so lazy that he sits even when he pees and his wife is a drunkard who lifts the seat up because she throws up in the toilet after over drinking. This type of reversal of roles is a key to most great comedy. Of course, the couple now argue because the wife left the seat up.
Jamaica is blessed with great comedians too. Ity and Fancy Cat, Glen Campbell, Oliver Samuels and Simon Crosskill, to name a few.
Simon Crosskill how did he get on that list ? Yes, he may not be slapstick or crude, but he has the insight of a Larry David, the genius of a Dr. Bill Cosby. I think he should do his own Late Night show like David Letterman or Jay Leno. Although Simon’s uncanny chemistry with Neville Bell makes them a great team to watch sadly I usually miss the morning show because of work. He’d do well in his own show. He’s versatile enough to intelligently argue with political guests and sports heroes too.
Simon Crosskill can be very serious at times, during the celebrations of our athletic victories he said;
” As we celebrate the performances of our athletes it would serve us well to remember from whence they came. Remember that next time you are tempted to think you are better than someone, because of how they look, or speak, or which ghetto they come from. Remember that every Jamaican, no matter rich or poor, black brown or white, has the ability to be a world beater, if given a chance to develop his or her talent. Why do so many Jamaicans exist without social and economic benefits ? Some would say most of our people are lazy. It’s a lie perpetuated by those who are unwilling to create policies that would help spread the enormous wealth of this country. Who would dare label Shelly from Waterhouse and Melanie from Maxfield, lazy.But how many of us who have the wherewithal to make a difference even know where Waterhouse is ?”
Serious if and when required, but usually though, Simon Crosskill delivers his insights in a humorous way, sometimes even just as a question. Like on his Facebook page he once asked, (not in these exact words), “Why is it that you can get everything and anything at a gas station convenience store yet you cannot get air for your tires there ?”. He was highlighting a strange paradox that occurs frequently in Jamaica because our crime rate is so high that people even steal the air hoses from the gas stations.
In Jamaica we realize sense of humor is a means of self preservation that’s why we “tek serious ting mek joke “. Seeing the problems and still being able to laugh while solving them is a very serious business. The Court Jester must force the King to realize his nakedness. The Motley Fool, comedian, political satirist or clown has the serious task of making us ask why things are the way they are and urge us to seek better. They carry truth into closed minds and enter freely into power circles others would fear to tread.
Without these brave geniuses around we’d probably all just curl up and die after freezing with fear.
Instead, with a sense of humor, we can see the tragic and the painful, perhaps even more acutely than others. We are sensitive to the problems but we are also aware of the power of “reversal”. We know things can change completely and in a flash, one banana peel, one misstep and Goliath will fall. One pie, thrown in the face, of a haughty business man or politician, will show them who is really the don, and even as we seem to lose, or when we’re even forced to cry, we know that we will get the last laugh.
We live by a simple credo, a simple code, one that is difficult to explain, or even understand, at times, given the enormous challenges of life.
Be Happy !!
I am gonna be celebrating my birthday in a few minutes. To be more precise, in a few minutes it’ll be my birthday.
Then again people have already been wishing me a Happy Birthday on Facebook from all around the globe and I just realized that where they are it’s already been my birthday for awhile now.
From their perspective it’s already October 12. Columbus day, my Birthday. Truth is most of what we think is reality is just a perception, a way of seeing, or even worse, just a dumb habit.
A perspective. What time of day or even what day is it anyhow ? It depends on your perspective.
Columbus thought he had discovered something when really he was just lost. A perspective shift makes you a loser or a Hero in your own mind.
The older I get the only thing I know for sure is that I don’t know squat.
Some people avoid all this Birthday hoopla and hype by living in a way where it’s like their Birthday every day of the year. Life is one big continuous party for them.
Some people want a surprise party thrown for them every year and they go through extreme histrionics pretending they were all surprised and squat.
( As I get older I realize it’s best to say squat rather than er..well…er… squat. )
Yeah, so anyway, they act all surprised and stuff, yet you and I know this happens every year and they could not possibly be surprised by it anymore.
Some people don’t celebrate Birthdays at all. Jehovah’s Witnesses say it’s a pagan practice which should not be followed. Others just see it as a waste of money or prefer to be anti-social. Like Scrooge at Xmas. Some just hate being reminded that they’re now a year older.
In my own mind I see myself as one year wiser. Survival is granted to the fittest and smartest and by surviving one more year I am proving myself wiser than many. I only hope that in the coming year I live more instead of merely surviving though.
I feel alive when I am creating. That’s why blogging first thing on my birthday was important to me. Even if no one else reads this crap… I mean this squat… at least I feel creative and thats something.
In my long life I’ve learnt that your own trivial and fleeting happiness isn’t trivial at all and if you can find Flow experiences and enjoyment grab it with both hands.
Surviving is like getting lost. Living is like Discovering the New World. Anything in-between is like being Stuck in Customs.
I am gonna be Habitually Creative. Then again Creativity is said to occur when you break habits so by being Habitually creative I’m actually not creative at all. I am so dull I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate my birthday than by blogging ?
It’s sad. I need to change how I see things. I’m like a frustrated photographer who suddenly realizes his photos are not cutting it. They don’t snap, crackle and pop. The boring minutiae of Life is not sharp and memorable enough.
First though I’m gonna get some sleep.
Oh yeah almost forgot to tell myself.
Self , Happy Birthday !
Sorry Self there will be no surprise parties this time but we will break some old habits and celebrate all year.
Let the Champagne Flow.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
In the book God’s Psychiatry by Charles Allen the recomendation is made to fight stress by reciting this Psalm, three times a day.
I have tried it and found it to be very helpful indeed.
[ This piece was written in 2001, it has been published before in a journal called Jamaican Diaspora, sadly it’s non-fiction. Thankfully I have travelled a far way since then but in all journeys we must remember the good and also the bad. I also hope it may help someone that reads it. Live !]
This is not a suicide note.
It’s a message to myself . Something I’ll read when my life is going merrily, merrily, like a dream, to keep myself humble. It’s a note to remember that I was once feeling more pain than I’d wish on my worst enemy. A pain of being lonely, a pain of not accomplishing my goals in life. A pain of watching life pass me by and feeling invisible and helpless.
It was painful mental anguish which made the idea of looking into a deep gully and trying to fly seem intriguing. The knowledge that hard concrete would end this pain seemed inviting. What would it be like, I wondered, hurtling through the sky ? I imagine it feels quite liberating at first, the sensation of bungee jumping without a rope , but then as you near the bottom I imagine that your basic instincts desire to live, you change your mind, you decide to stop falling . You scream ” NOoooooo !”. Gravity does not listen . I guess that your mind then goes blank overloaded from the sheer panic caused by a terrible mistake.
Thoughts of my own funeral , who would attend ? What would they say ?
I guess Wayne would be there. He’s my older brother and perhaps he’d remember that he once predicted I’d end up dead in a gully. He’d think of his friend a fellow singer who comitted suicide and the song he wrote about a suicidal lottery winner years ago. The song was always one of my favourites. I may be slightly biased but I think Wayne is an even better song writer than Bob Marley himself. Michael I’s amazing bass guitar and my brother’s lyrics, a perfect combination.
Colin possibly would be there also. Perhaps a moment like this would make him remember that he’s my brother. Then again perhaps not.
My Mom would be totally distraught . I would never intentionally do anything to make my mother cry. Truly a Mother’s Love is the most powerful thing God ever created. I know because it saved my life.
My Dad. What would he be thinking ? No one would ever know. He’d be as silent now as always, the tear flowing down his cheek speaking more eloquently than any words. Perhaps he’d wonder about his own father. The man he never knew. The ghost who seems to have haunted our lives silently. Perhaps my dad would hate this ghost for all he never did. I thank him for what he did do. The one act he felt was a mistake was the greatest thing this ghost ever did. The ghost haunts me no more. I will not listen to this ghost who encourages us to turn our back on life and to ignore our destiny. I forgive this ghost, not because what he did can be ever be condoned, but because I refuse to continue this cycle. I use this ghost’s real mistake, the mistake of not raising his son, as an inspiration and a motivation to live differently and responsibly.
I choose life.
Shelly, the woman I love. She never knew the pain I was going through. I realize now that was a big mistake, her love was always there for me, her words would have soothed my pain. I never wanted her to see my weakness. I always wanted to be there for Shelly, to always be strong not realizing that if I shut her out from my problems I’d be making us both weaker.
No, this is not a suicide note. ( I’m way too pretty to ever be in a closed casket. )
It’s a man realizing and deciding to use the only thing he truly owns. His life.
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