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HUMOUR-RESEARCH  1999

HUMOUR-RESEARCH 1999

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Date:

Tue, 26 Jan 1999 18:08:59 EST

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Further to my introductory query, many thanks for the kind replies. To
introduce myself a little more, I've made a living for much of my life from,
among other things, humour writing. And with all the fairly typical
psychosomatic trappings -- a Filipina maid my first wife and I employed once
in Hong Kong, watching me at the kitchen sink one morning, grim, ashen-faced,
depressed and terror-stricken over a magazine deadline, asking my wife: "What
does your husband do, ma'am." "Oh, he's a humour writer, Aurora," my wife
replied. "He writes funny stories."
I would like very much to discuss humour as a therapy for many ills, but I'm
not a therapist and I'm not sure what the bounds are with this list. I agree
outright with the ban on jokes -- there's nothing more infuriating than
finding oneself on some well-meaning clown's round-Robin of silly gags. The
anecdotal ban I'm not quite clear about. What might seem anecdotal to others,
I'd offer more as examples in search of reasoning or answers. Anyway, here
goes, and I'm sure someone will put me straight if this is not the forum for
what I would like to talk about and need to know. 
Scanning the key humour therapy websites, I find a lot of clowns, red noses
and balloons; the same level of gaiety seems to be a feature of a lot of the
humour therapy clinics that have sprung up in the States. I may well be
generalizing here, but it reminds me of a meeting I once had to discuss a new
inflight entertainment format for Cathay Pacific Airways. A hotshot from an
advertising agency suggested audience participation aboard the planes as a
radical new approach.
"Why don't we have a guy with a guitar who gets up during the flights and
invites everyone to sing?" he suggested. I told him, and I think I was right,
that if a guy got up with a guitar on any of the midnight red-eye flights from
Hong Kong to London I'd probably be stampeded in the rush to wrap the damn
thing around his head.
The point is that if I was sick in hospital, feeling dreadfully useless and
depressed, a clown with a red nose ho-hoing into my room would have the same
effect as the guy on the plane with a guitar. And this, then, raises my
questions: how does humour therapy take account of widely diverse levels of
sophistication, taste and pure reaction among widely diverse individuals? Is
it, in fact, sophisticated enough in itself as a science to examine and cater
for the myriad different and often conflicting triggers and impulses that make
people laugh? Or are therapists in danger of applying, in some respects, a
blanket Disney culture to a highly complex phenomenon?
This, again, may be anecdotal, but is offered as an example in support of my
queries. One of the blackest moments in my life was in my mid-40s when my
marriage irretrievably collapsed. There were children involved, and all the
guilt, sense of failure and helplessness that happens in these situations.
At the final breakup, I went to stay with my parents for a couple of days,
before flying out of England. It was while we were having supper that the
grief suddenly hit me, and hit me hard, and I left the table and went into
another room, where I broke down completely and bawled and sobbed.
As I was weeping, I felt my father sit down beside me. He waited a while, as I
sobbed and choked, and then he finally spoke. "I can't understand why you're
tearing yourself apart like this, son," he said softly. "All I said was that
you don't leave the table until you've finished all your greens."
I was dumbstruck for a moment. Then the sheer comic audacity of what he'd said
turned all the grief and helplessness into an incredulous love for this man;
and we both sat roaring with laughter. It didn't cure the grief, but it
certainly resigned me to the essential frailty and absurdity of life, and at
the right time.
But it would seem to me to be an example of the sheer complexity that humour
therapy will have to cope with if it's not to simply apply dogma to diverse
personalities and needs.
With all best regards, and apologies if this is out of turn.
derek maitland  

  


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