Our society takes laughter very seriously. We are often consumed with finding something to make us laugh. The reasons for this I will not get into now (although I expect I may dive in at a future time), but suffice it to say that there is a deep-seated reason for this. Consequently, I think it worthwhile to discuss humour as a topic for examination in the life of one aspiring toward a gentlemanly life. This is a complex issue, surprisingly, as there are so very many grey areas in humour which make it difficult to determine what is appropriate and what is not. I will say upfront, however, that I believe that humour has the potential to be dangerous, and to hold severe repercussions on our attitudes toward the world.
There are many different types of humour, and I have learned that-just as in drinking and smoking, different types of humour can be an acquired taste. For example, for quite some time I found that I did not appreciate the more modern type of humour that is represented in actors such as Will Farrel and movies such as Napoleon Dynamite. This humour essentially consists in shock-value acting, that seeks to surprise people with the high level of outlandish occurrences. In many ways, the show The Office should receive the credit for truly breaking in with this humour and making it mainstream. For good or for ill, we are stuck with this humour for the near-future. Humour does come and go in waves, however. During the 1800s, high-brow humour was at a high level. This is the type of humour that you will find in books written by Charles Dickens. Interestingly enough, these books were not written for the high class. Regardless, the humour relied upon wit and descriptive nuances to highlight ironies of the world. A good modern example of this is the stand-up comedy of Seinfeld. He does an excellent job of making us recognize the hilarities within our own lives through sophisticated yet simplistic descriptions of our own actions. This type of humour, in my not-so-educated opinion, is pure delight. It serves to expand our self-knowledge, helps us to laugh at ourselves, and also encourages a keener level of observance about the world, all of which is a very positive thing. Following this, there was a wave of slap-stick humour, most commonly represented in the Three Stooges, and Abbot and Costello. This humour has the potential to be gut wrenchingly comical. I do think that there is a slight danger in our enjoyment of this type of humour, as gentlemen. This is only that we need to ensure we do not reach the point where we find other people’s pain to be funny.
Recently, I was walking down the street with my wife to vote on our provincial election. A young boy went past us on his scooter, and unfortunately fell a little further down the street behind us. I looked back to make sure he was al-right, but at the same time I began to hear uproarious laughter coming from further down the street. Two girls were pointing at him and laughing. I immediately scolded them, and told them they should help him, not laugh at him. The one girl said that it was “alright-he’s my brother”-I still have no idea why she thought that was a rationalization. The incident upset me, and it made me think about humour a little deeper. It is my opinion that humour that in any way degrades another human is something that we should avoid, and is not the way of the gentleman. This includes sarcasm, which in my experience can be very harmful over time, as it has the tendency to escalate into increasingly biting remarks. All of this is to say, a true gentleman must be aware of what he is laughing at and taking pleasure in, and should never allow himself to laugh at another’s misfortune.