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From Tears to Laughter: Navigating Life’s Punchlines

From childhood taunts to adult jokes, the journey of one man’s relationship with humor is a winding road full of laughter and tears

I became an overweight boy very early in my life. I still remember an incident from my childhood. My younger brother called me ‘Fatso’ in front of some house helpers, who burst out laughing. I rushed into the house crying. Even now, later in life, one-liners aimed at me still turn me on.

More recently, my daughters attended a show by a famous stand-up comedian. My ignorance led me to learn more about the term. A stand-up comedian is a person who stands or sits on stage and delivers ironic one-liners to an appreciative audience. Over the course of a century, it has evolved to address everything the actor believes is wrong in the community – religion, beliefs, taboos and yes, the politician – that eternal punching bag.

There are so many anecdotes that you would lose count of the number of politicians who traded barbs against others of their ilk. We heard that Disraeli insulted a rival politician. If Gladstone fell into the Thames it would be an accident and if anyone pulled him out it would, I think, be a disaster. This one is beautiful when Lady Astor said to Churchill: If you were my husband I would poison your tea; to which Churchill’s response was a classic: Madam, if you were my wife I would drink it. Or the other one about Churchill, who quipped when Bessie Braddock scolded him for being drunk: “My dear, you are ugly, but tomorrow I will be sober and you will still be ugly.” Or this one about one of our politicians who wanted to make the roads in his state as smooth as the cheeks of a movie star from his heyday – even though he was probably just trying to give a compliment. Many of these could at least be considered sexist.

Recently I sat with a few other authors addressing a group of young students at a literature festival. An erudite lady made an instant connection with the appreciative audience as she talked about her love for the Korean TV series – especially her mention of the term Oppa. The students burst into loud laughter when one of their fellow authors demanded to know the meaning of the term. I just smiled knowingly, as if I understood the joke, because I didn’t want to show my ignorance in public.

We tend to lose our funny bone when humorous barbs, at least from the narrator’s point of view, are aimed at us. At the same time, we don’t hesitate to laugh, or smile, or even grin – as I did, at someone else’s discomfort, when it suits us. Life would be much simpler if we just put as much effort into developing our funny bones as we do in discussing international affairs, politics, religion and much more.

Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, summed it up almost a century earlier: The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is a kind of trick you learn as you mastered the art of living.

(The author is an electrical engineer with the Indian Railways and teaches creative writing; opinions are personal.) Very early in my life I became an overweight boy. I still remember an incident from my childhood. My younger brother called me ‘Fatso’ in front of some house helpers, who burst out laughing. I rushed into the house crying. Even now, later in life, one-liners aimed at me still turn me on.

More recently, my daughters attended a show by a famous stand-up comedian. My ignorance led me to learn more about the term. A stand-up comedian is a person who stands or sits on stage and delivers ironic one-liners to an appreciative audience. Over the course of a century, it has evolved to address everything the actor believes is wrong in the community – religion, beliefs, taboos and yes, the politician – that eternal punching bag.

There are so many anecdotes that you would lose count of the number of politicians who traded barbs against others of their ilk. We heard that Disraeli insulted a rival politician. If Gladstone fell into the Thames it would be an accident and if anyone pulled him out it would, I think, be a disaster. This one is beautiful when Lady Astor said to Churchill: If you were my husband I would poison your tea; to which Churchill’s response was a classic: Madam, if you were my wife I would drink it. Or the other one about Churchill, who quipped when Bessie Braddock scolded him for being drunk: “My dear, you are ugly, but tomorrow I will be sober and you will still be ugly.” Or this one about one of our politicians who wanted to make the roads in his state as smooth as the cheeks of a movie star from his heyday – even though he was probably just trying to give a compliment. Many of these could at least be considered sexist.

Recently I sat with a few other authors addressing a group of young students at a literature festival. An erudite lady made an instant connection with the appreciative audience as she talked about her love for the Korean TV series – especially her mention of the term Oppa. The students burst into loud laughter when one of their fellow authors demanded to know the meaning of the term. I just smiled knowingly, as if I understood the joke, because I didn’t want to show my ignorance in public.

We tend to lose our funny bone when humorous barbs, at least from the narrator’s point of view, are aimed at us. At the same time, we don’t hesitate to laugh, or smile, or even grin – as I did, at someone else’s discomfort, when it suits us. Life would be much simpler if we just put as much effort into developing our funny bones as we do in discussing international affairs, politics, religion and much more.

Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, summed it up almost a century earlier: The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is a kind of trick you learn as you mastered the art of living.

(The author is an electrical engineer with the Indian Railways and teaches creative writing; opinions are personal)