My wife and I go back and forth with our different styles of humor. She was raised in a house that was sarcastic- and not in the fun way (at least in my opinion). It was like you were being made fun of… Or they might make some jokes about farts and things of that nature. All of these things were foreign to me and my humor wheelhouse and it was uncomfortable. I was raised in the house of Baptist pastor. Everything was a pun. It was a nightly competition at the dinner table to see who could make the best pun about their day. We didn’t even say the word fart. We called passing gas “Making Bunnies” because naturally, the gas was passing through your buns…silly, right? But that was my house nonetheless.
So when I started hanging out with my wife’s family I would make puns or do some corny jokes and realized that none of them were landing. It dumbfounded me. I couldn’t even understand why there wasn’t an eye roll or a chuckle. I would make a classic pun and you would’ve thought I would’ve just told them that I had a mediocre day at work or found $5 or bought a Nerf Gun. It was not something to be celebrated and enjoyed. The non-reaction was almost a silent type of sarcasm where I was mocked for being “not funny”. So, I tried to adapt. I would make jokes at other people’s expense. I was sarcastic. It felt weird. It felt wrong. And I know that they knew that I was trying too hard.
I would tell Rachael of my distress on the way home from a Euchre/NASCAR/Mario Kart night at the Balakin household, and she would say that I should just be myself, that I was stressing too much about it. But the problem was that I wanted to be like. I wanted to be accepted. And didn’t want for it to take years for it to happen. I have seen husbands who stand in the corner of family gatherings just hoping that nobody talks to him, and I didn’t want to be that guy.
I decided though that Rachael was right. (Don’t tell anybody!) I needed to just be my own authentic self instead of trying to fit in. Eventually, I got a little bit more in with the family. I am not all the way there, but it’s a work in progress.
My bigger point though is this. I have been interviewing people for two months now, and in pretty much every single conversation there has been some form of laughter. Even if they faked it, they laughed. While I get the pleasure of editing audio for each episode, looking at the sound waves of people’s laughter, they’re all completely different. There are no two waves of laughter that are the same. I have no scientific data to back this up, but I would imagine that if you collected all of the world’s genuine laughs, put them into a computer program, and looked for an exact match according to tone, pitch, rhythm, velocity, breathiness, and volume none of them would be the same. I would imagine that they are as unique as a fingerprint. There is probably some secret government laugh factory somewhere that has a forensic login based on an individual’s laugh pattern. You have seen it in movies. It is the ultimate lock mechanism that you could fathom.
Laughter is truly the essence of who you are a person. How much do you laugh? At what things? How often? Do you have multiple laughs? I have a laugh that I am embarrassed by and that Rachael almost didn’t marry me over because of it. Hayden and now Braden both have developed fake laughs that they use to mock people who aren’t funny. They are their mother’s children.
But I always know when they are faking though. I always know what is staged at my expense and what is genuine full-hearted laughter. And so do students. So when you laugh with your students this year, search for a laugh that is genuine. Look to build genuine relationships built around respect and joy. The depression rate in this country has gone up 10-fold since 1960, and the average age at which people become depressed has been cut in half from 29 to 14.5. We are on the front lines of a mental health crisis, and as Patch Adams taught me, laughter is the best medicine, so give it out in large doses this year. You never know when someone is going to need it.
Thanks for reading,