Have you ever met someone who simply doesn’t have a sense of humor? A few years back, I used a computer program to plan one of our daughter’s weddings. By entering data online, I could more easily keep track of invitations mailed, responses received and even table seating. Unfortunately, the program’s instructions were so confusing that I ended up frequently calling customer service. Each time I called, the same woman answered.
In general, when I speak with representatives of companies, I remind myself that they are fellow human beings with little sway over company policy or products. I attempt to be not only polite but cordial. By the time I spoke with the same woman for the third time, I was making light-hearted comments and bantering. I may not be Lucille Ball (for those under a certain age substitute Tina Fey) but neither am I completely boring and it was disconcerting when this woman’s replies to various humorous remarks were non-existent. Each phone call became a challenge. Could I get her to sound like a person rather than a robot? When I eventually scored one giggle, it made my day.
Being an ardent admirer of the funny bone, I admit to being shocked to discover, while listening to reports of Charlie Sheen’s implosion, that his TV show is so popular. I have seen bits and snatches of it offered as inflight entertainment on airplane trips and invariably had no interest in watching a complete episode. Vulgar? Yes. Juvenile? Yes. Funny? No. Somewhere along the line my taste in comedy split from that of millions of fellow Americans.
Sheen’s popularity helped me understand my friend Judy’s challenge. Judy Gruen is a humor columnist whose articles appear in a number of publications, among them Women’s Day, Ladies Home Journal and online at MommaSaid.net. Her three award-winning books are great pick-me-up reads on dreary days. An observant Jew, Judy eschews vulgarity and other forms of low comedy. In today’s age that immediately brands her in many eyes as out-of-date. How sad.
Because humor is so powerful, like fire and guns, it can be enormously helpful or catastrophically damaging. Reading a funny book or watching a funny movie provides a breather which makes it is easier to face life’s trials. At the same time, mockery and degradation disguised as humor contaminate relationships and tear down society. It is one thing for a three year old to laugh at potty language or for an adolescent boy to smirk at sexual innuendo. Something is very wrong when those references, along with profanity, lead to a comedian’s popularity among adults. All in all, I wonder if we should be less concerned about what a lack of civility among politicians says about our society than by enormously popular humor which caters to the lowest common denominator.