Puns first published 14 May 2019

I’d like to write something light. Something full of puns and much less serious than the writing I have subjected you to in the past but I think I’ve lost it. I can turn your message into a meaningless pun when you least expect it. Jennie explains my behaviour as, “Bruce’s attempt at humour.” And when a joke is explained this way the teller gets no pleasure from the effort. Silence is the only anecdote.

It wasn’t always the case. At school I showed no skill at writing, yet a Miss Smith – who later went on to marry Robert Gunner, – was my English teacher in my last year of school. She said to me, “I really liked that essay you wrote for me in your last exam. I can’t take your exam paper and use that as copy for the school magazine but do you think you can write the same article again for me and I will put it in Baltarta? I promised to try but it never appeared because I could never reproduce something I had written spontaneously. 

The same problem reappeared a year or two ago. I was in Tea Tree in the Northern Territory, and I had spent an afternoon musing, much like I am now, and I closed my IPad and lost every word I had written. I couldn’t remember the sentence construction, nor could I remember much of the illustrative examples of it as it was written as a sort of meditative exercise. Such is life when the blessing is living rather than remembering.

Not like Pat, the girl guide commissioner who went to a fancy dress party dressed as a gynaecologist. On the front of her operating gown was a message, At your cervix. On her back,  So dilated to meet you. This might be comical, but hilariousness is met when she tells us her son, and his Indian wife, have only this photo as a reminder of the dress up, and it is the only one they have of their parents  on their dresser in New York.

Humour is difficult to define. Slapstick can be funny yet it is not funny when the butt of the joke is hurt as you so frequently see in Australia’s home videos. Sixty one line gags a minute might have worked for Bob Hope but it leaves the listener no time to savour the words. Shaggy dog stories told by a competent storyteller will leave you wailing at the absurdity of the tale and while the story is funny it is too silly to dwell upon. These are like the jokes loved by the six year old. They are innocent and easily forgotten. Why did the chicken cross the road? A. It wanted to meet the horse, it’s neigh-bour.

I find sarcasm comes easily to me, when said it is usually said without malice.  However  when I spoke that way before Jennie’s aunt Gertrude, early in our marriage, she replied curtly, “ Sarcasm  is the cheapest form of wit.” Since then I have swallowed plenty of remarks yet too many have escaped my lips and caused unintended harm. 

Hannah Gadsby is a comedian with a droll delivery. Her one hour show on Netflix, Nanette, has been an international success. Her delivery previously was to tell jokes at her own expense. I too told many tales of this nature without thinking seriously about them, just for the sake of a laugh at a quip. Over the years many people have told me not to put myself down in such a way. Thank you Kate.  I have more recently come to understand it can be cringeworthy to the listener and I have sometimes avoided a remark for this reason. Hannah Gadsby says she has put behind her this practice too. Her recent work is sharp, decisive and unforgiving as she cuts into the memory of notables known widely for their misogyny yet untouched previously because of their fame. Her show is not funny because truth hurts. Too often we allow remarks and behaviour to pass and we don’t call it out for what it is simply because we have been trained to be polite and not hurt people. The people who trample over the lives of others need to be called out but like Trump, if they are they  seem never to be affected by it.

So much for lightness. Humour is after all a serious business. As is said today, “Suck it up princess.”

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