Humour: The jam on the toast of life

Girls using props to make funny faces to take a selfie
Photo: © Anna Khomulo / 123RF Stock Photo

The classic comedy scenario involves a man, preferably fat and pompous-looking, walking down the street, stepping on a banana peel and falling on his well-padded bottom. A spectator would find this comic because the prosperous, self-satisfied air of the fallen one has been so easily and so incongruously deflated by so humble a piece of refuse as a discarded banana skin. The episode which sums up the old moral science lesson that pride goes before a fall has about it an elegant symmetry.

What is humour?

A sense of humour is the dancing of a happy stream down a wooded mountainside, laughing around boulders, giggling gleefully in downward bounce, bubbling all the while it is cool, refreshing, soothing to the head, throat and feet.

Two eggs with funny faces drawn on them

True humour is natural, spontaneous and has a childlike quality about it. Mencius said, “The great man is he who does not lose his child’s heart”. A child’s heart is full of fun and frolic, full of humour and laughter — the child on a swing, the child singing and dancing, the child making sand worlds on the beach. This childlike quality of fun, frolic and light-heartedness is disappearing from our society. Rarely do we hear spontaneous, uproarious laughter. We pay large amounts of money to get professional comics to make us laugh. We love clowns in weird attire, they perform outrageous and hilarious antics to make us laugh, to help us see the simple truth about our human frailties, and fragilities. Deep down we are clowns; some of us more polished, sophisticated clowns, performing our strange antics in the theatre of this world.

The sense of nonsense

Nonsense is very often loaded with a lot of sense. Aristotle, the great philosopher, said: “There is a foolish corner in the brain of the wisest man”. Some degree of nonsense is relished by the best of men. One who dares to be a fool may be taking the first step in the direction of wisdom. An erudite, scholarly fool is a greater fool than an ignorant fool. The fool in Shakespeare’s King Lear is much wiser than the king himself. The foolish man who is happy and gay is superior to the cynical, bored intellectual. The sadness and inertia of the bored person may be educated, sophisticated and intellectual, but they cannot possibly be such good things in themselves as the great purpose, the high idealism, the starry enthusiasm and the imaginary delights and exploits of a Don Quixote. It is a far superior thing to have a firm anchor in nonsense than to sail in the troubled waters of thought, speculation and confusion.

Newton was so fond of a cat he had that he cut a hole in one of the walls of his house to make it convenient for its entry and exit. One day he saw that she had kittens and in his usual philosophic absent-mindedness, cut out a neat little hole (a much smaller one) for the kittens!

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Prof Dr John Mathews
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Prof Dr John Mathews

Prof Dr. John Mathews is a professor of English Literature and Philosophy. A motivational speaker and columnist, he is the author of The Wisdom & Power of Positive Living and An Encyclopaedic Treasury Of Positive Thoughts For Effective And Creative Living.