I love comedians. None personally, but from a distance I enjoy the way that they can make the banal absolutely hilarious. I try to be funny, but most times I try I end up saying, “That was meant to be a joke…” which takes away from the overall effect.
I am not funny.
That said, when I was younger I inspired a lot of laughter. Outspoken and awkward, I was pathologically unable to identify and respond to the social niceties of my peers. Great with adults and magical with little kids, I was a fish out of water with my contemporaries. As an adult now, I’m not surprised that kids laughed. I am sure that I said and did things that were absurd.
And for a period of time that response lead to me having an aversion to laughter. Or more accurately to people laughing at me. Or near me. Because when it was near me, I was sure it was at me. And that was the way that things were from the time I was old enough to be aware of ridicule until I got over it.
I wish I could remember the moment, or series of moments, that helped me come to terms with my quirky individualism. All I know is that at some point I realized two things: 1) laughter is good for the soul and 2) I was good at creating moments for laughter. And as I thought about it, I also realized that laughter is good for you whether the joke is intentional or unintentional, whether the person is good-spirited or bad, whether it is “at” you or “with” you. So, I decided that although I would never be a comedian I was going to lean into my unique ability to make people smile and laugh — just by being me.
Now, I am not condoning for one moment mean-spiritedness and I hope that I would be one of the first people to stand up for someone else who is the butt of someone’s joke. It’s just that at this point in my life I believe that the humor people find in the good-hearted, well-intentioned things that I do and say is therapeutic. It lightens hard conversations and builds trust.
Recently, I pulled a presentation together for my boss to give to a large group. In it, he wanted to share a concept and asked for a dictionary definition. The definition from Google was useless, but I gave it to him anyway and told him, “You can use this as a way to get a laugh from the audience and springboard into the more important conceptual ideas.” He liked the idea and I sent him off to present the next day.
Soon after, I got a call from someone in the audience. She wanted to let me know that my name had come up during the presentation when my boss had explained the definition. He said something like, “I asked Mel to get me a definition and this is what she gave me. Not so helpful.” My colleague was worried — she knew me, but what would other people think? Was I ok?
I smiled. I told her how the presentation had come together and that the definition was my idea, even if I hadn’t planned on being the punch line. But only one thing mattered to me at that moment. “Did the group laugh?” I asked. Yes, she said, it was the biggest laugh of the day, rippling through the group. I could feel my smile widening.
Hmmm, maybe I’m a comedian after all.