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The Far Side of Inappropriate

Updated on October 5, 2013

I remember someone telling me, or having read somewhere, that laughing at inappropriate things is a sign of cruelty, perhaps psychopathy. At the time, during my impressionable twenties, that made me think – did I laugh at “inappropriate” things? Am I psycho? Certainly, a few of my “dates” were more or less put off when I laughed at their misfortune.

Once, during those pre-cellphone days, my girlfriend arrived for a classy dinner date with her hair styled by her sweat, her eyeliner smeared, and nose smudged, all from having to change her flat tire. That elicited a hearty guffaw from me. She wasn’t happy. But it wasn’t like she was missing a limb. There was no blood. She hadn’t been carried in on a stretcher. Maybe I was a psychopath, but then I thought no way that could be true because I certainly felt bad when she dumped me. (Narcissism is another story.) Since then, I’ve read a lot about it and know for sure that mostly-only-maybe serial killers, CEOs, and politicians are psychopaths.

However, the memory of my girlfriend showing up for a fancy dinner with a grease mark on her nose put a smile right back on my face. Maybe there was something wrong with me. Or maybe genetics and growing up in a family of four boys had something to do with it. My mother has dementia and my father is a WWII veteran, both in their mid-nineties, and they still laugh at all sorts of things. They are still going strong, sort of, my mother laughing at the same humorous story over and over within the span of a few minutes. But you know what? It’s still funny, like watching Seinfeld. I envision my parents laughing in the face of death, laughing all the way to the grave, space dust with a sense of humor.

If I was a psycho, so was everybody else, especially those who laughed at Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoons. I still carry ripped out pages of Far Side in my fly-fishing vest, occasionally sitting on a gravel bank and delving into their deep meaning while contemplating smallmouth bass and bluegill. One of my favorites – two guys in a boat with mushroom clouds in the distance. “I'll tell you what this means, Norm. No size restrictions and screw the limit.”

While craziness is inherent to the human condition, perhaps we can measure the intensity of craziness – the insanity of our times – through comedy; for example, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, the only place for real news.

We live in a funny world.

But sometimes it seems as if some people are wired to cry, or they’ve learned that crying gets them what they want. There’s another joke for you to contemplate deeply. Is it nature or nurture? Not that I haven’t cried a few times. It’s unavoidable. Crying had its place when I had a life-threatening mucoepidermoid carcinoma on the back of my tongue and throat, and talking, breathing, swallowing, were in serious doubt. But it was also knee slapping hilarious. I think. And my account of it, “Eight Billion Steps: My Impossible Quest for Cancer Comedy” has some funny parts. I hope.

Maybe it was a little more humorous when my two slightly older brother, Jim and John, and I were travelling deep into the Ozarks stream-hopping with our fly-rods, catching smallmouth. I was driving my family van, which was getting older (like my kids, but not me, proven by my level of maturity). I pulled over on a gravel road at a low water bridge. John hopped out and started fishing. But my van’s driver side window wouldn’t go up. Jim and I got the brilliant idea to have him pull on it with needle nose pliers while I held the electronic button full on. Then, all at the same moment, John caught a huge trout out of normally warm water suited only for bass and bluegill, it started to rain, the sheriff pulled up, and the van window exploded inside the door. All those pieces would never go back together, and those events would never again occur simultaneously. Except mathematically, but who does math at a low-water bridge except mayabe scientists and mathematicians, whom I admire greatly. They seem to have some idea what’s going on. But regardless of probability, I drove home in a downpour missing a window. That was funny.

The “point being, perhaps, that there is none.” So says Alice Walker in her poem “Suicide.” I’ve always found that line sort of funny, and certainly no reason to kill myself. To the point, I’d rather laugh myself to the grave, chuckling on my death bed rather than being way too sober about it. Doesn’t mean that I have to stay drunk or stoned for the rest of my life. I just have to keep in mind that my mind is clearly humorous.

Even glamorous rich and famous celebrities are often full of angst and they do desperately funny things trying to ensure 24/7 “happiness.” I’m not one to chase celebrities, but they are hard to avoid as they fill up “news” programs. Better to laugh at them than become upset. That’s not insensitivity. It’s a coping mechanism. But if we can laugh at them, we should also be laughing at ourselves. Life is tragic. Life is difficult. Life is… oh, blow it out your ass. It’s an amusement park of twists and turns, rocket-planes and puke-making machines.

Writers know hilarity all the time – isn’t it funny how writing something makes you feel like a genius but reading your own writing makes you feel like an idiot.


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    • Jeff May profile image

      Jeffrey Penn May 4 years ago from St. Louis

      Thanks Genna.:)

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 4 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Hi Jeff. I agree with Will in that they can still laugh. :-) Excellent hub.

    • Jeff May profile image

      Jeffrey Penn May 4 years ago from St. Louis

      i scribble, thanks for your insightful comments. Was Borat out after Abu Graib, not sure. I didn't make the connection when watching the movie. Not a fan of Family Guy... that's Seth McFarland? He managed to offend lots of people with his "I saw your boobs" routine. So, I suppose laughing at time *is* inappropriate. Thanks for stopping by.

    • i scribble profile image

      i scribble 4 years ago

      Great topic, and I love your point of view on humor. As you say, humor is a coping mechanism for life and is part of a well rounded person. Unfortunately, it is always at someone's expense, even if its just the family dog or kittens on YouTube. I guess we could limit our laughter to animal humor only, presuming they don't understand and are not offended. I guess it's also safe to make fun of and laugh at yourself. But I agree with you, (what I think you're saying), that humor is one area where political correctness can be taken too far. I enjoy a variety of irreverent humor ranging from Colbert and Stewart to Family Guy and Sasha Cohen's movie- was it called Borat? I see no problem with political humor-politicians are fair game, in my view. There are times, though, when I realize that shows like Family Guy may be offensive to people with spinal cord injuries, for example, and I am a little ashamed to laugh at humor at their expense. There was only one scene in Borat that actually crossed my line of acceptable humor. It was the scene where the two men were wrestling in the nude in suggestive postitions. The reason this crossed my line is because I felt the scene was inspired by the abuses of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, where Iraqi prisoners were forced to do those kind of poses in the nude in order to degrade them and their religion. I was deeply disturbed about what happened at Abu Ghrab in its totality, and found it nothing to laugh about. I guess everyone has their line, except for those who have no line.

      In regard to the incident with your girlfriend, I think she should have been able to see the humor and laugh at herself, unless she was just too frustrated with the difficulty of changing the tire or something, in which case she should have gotten over her resentment at your laughing and seen the humor later. It's important to be able to laugh at oneself sometimes, dont you think? Just my take.

      Love this article and how you've addressed the topic with, well, humor.

    • Jeff May profile image

      Jeffrey Penn May 4 years ago from St. Louis

      Thanks Will, hope you are well. Good to hear from you.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      God bless your dad and mom, and it's wonderful that they can still laugh. Great writing, Jeff