IN FACT laughter distinguishes humans from the other species. But is laughing is humour, and is at the core of our humanness, why do so many people frown upon it as mere frivolity? Why is it that while we are capable of laughing, not all of us are capable of making others laugh? Can humour be industrialized and branded, like other products such as toothpaste or tinned soup? Let us look at of the questions in this context also their answers:
Can somebody teach people to be funny?: The answer is that you don’t have to teach people that. You have to un-teach them. Kids are natural comics. They get going all somber and earnest as they reach adolescence and begin to feel that being grown up means to be grim. The child sees the world in its own unique way. Conventions of education and general upbringing make us begin to see the world clichés and stereotypes.
Isn’t it rude to mock others? The answer is that the first person you should make fun of is yourself. The ability first to laugh at oneself ensures that we will never be laughing at others, but with them; at the common foibles that we all share.
Isn’t such self-depreciating humour a very British thing? The answer is that instead of trying to assign humour a place on geographical maps such as Indian humour, Punjabi humour, Scottish humour- we might try and locate our funny bone in different aspects of the human personality. For instance, there are people, irrespective of where they come from, who have a partiality for slapstick. Other prefer more cerebral and political humour such as satire. Generally, most of us enjoy various forms of humour at different times. It’s like music- there’s no such thing as your favourite music, it depends on your mood
Is it possible that the spectrum of humour spans everything from basic slapstick to sophisticated satire. Are there any examples of these polar types of humour? The answer is that slapstick is when a pompous looking fellow slips on a banana peel. Satire is when the satirist lets you know the pompous chap is the town mayor who’s been siphoning municipal funds by stinting on garbage collection and other civic amenities, and has now been hoist with his own slithery petard. Satire has a pointed political or societal message and is arguably the finest non-violent weapon ever invented by civilization.
Is there any humour that has a civilization aspect? The answer is that surely. As it is said that the first person to hurl on epithet instead of a stone was the inventor of civilization. When learn to crack jokes, not heads, we start becoming civilized. Just think of our national integration programme would d work much better if instead of stuffy slogans we organized joke-telling competitions at which ‘Punjabi’, ‘Sardarji’, ‘Madrasi’, ‘Ghati’ and ‘Bong’ jokes were exchanged. A man may kill the thing he loves. He’ll seldom kill the person he laughs with- and who laughs with him. Indeed, humour can be like a valve on a pressure cooker. That’s why we have ‘sick humour’. After a traumatic experience, laughter can help release the negative and harmful emotions of hate and fear building up inside. That is why days after Princess Di died, the public catharsis was affected by tears punctuated with ‘Die’ jokes. The same thing happened after 0/11.
Then why is humour frowned upon in so many societies? Even Plato wanted to ban it from his ideal republic. The answer is that humour is held in suspicion by all authoritarians because it provides a blue print for an alternative scheme of things by questioning: the societal context in which it is born. Our political windbags do not like to be deflated to subtle pinpricks. Not surprisingly, neither martyrs nor dictators have a sense of humour. Saints do, though. We must remember Augustine saying, “God grant me continence- but not just yet!”
But can someone teach humour? The answer is that there are certain mechanical aspects of humour. For example, repetition, which can be learnt by rote. Repeat a stock sentence and situation over and over and you will raise to laugh. The trick lies in knowing the exact timing of when to stop and bowl an inexperienced googly- just when the audience was expecting the same repeated delivery. To that extent, the more mechanical aspects of humour can be taught. But that will not make for consistently good, or even possible, humourist. For that , you need an innate talent for the offbeat. Can I teach you humour? Let me put is this way. Even the best tennis or chess coach can not make me a Leander Peas or Vishy Anand. For that, I have to have an inbuilt talent, which a coach can refine. But the talent has to be there in the first place. In the case of humour, this talent lies in the ability to take oneself so seriously that one does not take one self too seriously.
Could you describe the creation of a Dubyaman episode or Jugular. Vein right from concept to competition, including quality checking? The answer is that you don’t ask for a lot. do you? OK, here goes. Concept: I keep my mouth shut and my ears open to hear what everyone is talking about i.e. elections, crime, whatever. I pick whatever is creating the biggest buzz and I try to untangle the various threads that run through the issue and see how I can re-tangle them in an unexpected configuration which shows what lay hidden behind the original design. I run whatever I write past at least three people, one of whom is always my sternest critic: my wife.
What is an indispensable condition for you to write humour as Kushwant Singh has written? The answer is solitude. Like Geeta Garbo. I want to be left alone. Too much talk, corporate palaver, conferences, committee meetings, completely sap the psychic energy. I need- a sort of ordered hysteria- to create humour.
Would you say there are a lot of unrecognized amateur humourists? The answer is that you bet. Just look at internet humour, which has sprouted naturally from the great collective sub consciousness of cyberspace. Some of it is incredibly funny. Who is its originator? We do not know, because most of it is anonymous. This suggests that all of us can have our own funny moments. But can we sustain them and call them up at will, time and time again? That is the Rs one crore question.
Just that Rs. One crore. Would you not say it’s more like Rs. 10 million? With infotainment being the new buzzword, aren’t there big bucks in yucks? The answer is that now you’ve made me laugh. Alas, not all the way to the bank. If you read what has been mentioned above, you will always smile and laugh and make your life peaceful and happy. May God bless you with these virtues.