Common sense, dancing

“Funny ha-ha. Do you consider yourself funny? What role does humour play in your life? Who’s the funniest person you know?”

So many questions.

Do I consider myself funny?

Well, people are always laughing at me, so I suppose I must be. If I’m not, it certainly isn’t for the want of trying – and people do often reassure me that I’m trying.

As I wrote here recently, humour is positively therapeutic, so maybe I’m just self-medicating.

While doing some research for this post, I came across this quote from the American philosopher William James. I’d never seen it before, but I think it’s spot-on.


Common sense is practical and linear: it gets you from A to B briskly, and by the shortest available route. Humour, though, meanders around whatever the subject might be, throwing in a lot of moves that aren’t strictly necessary and probably look rather odd to those – on the outside, looking in – who have stayed on the straight and narrow of common sense.

It is just like dancing,

The beauty of humour is that you can dance in your head, where nobody else can see you and where there are no physical constraints on what you can do, or where you can go. Plus, there’s no need to make a fool of yourself in public and embarrass your family. And quite possibly dislocate something vital.

What role does humour play in my life?

It’s always been there. Being introverted and analytical by nature, when I was younger I tended to exude common sense and seriousness, which obviously set me apart from many of my more outgoing contemporaries. It didn’t really bother me though, because in my head I was usually having a good laugh. Try it: step back mentally and observe life around you with a sense of detachment. Most of it makes no kind of sense at all, even the common variety.

Humour is very subjective. In much the same way as some people like to waltz but can’t comprehend ballet, some people like slapstick or mime, but simply don’t ‘get’ verbal humour. I’m of the other persuasion, so to speak: generally, visual humour leaves me cold. Mr Bean’s got no chance. And don’t even get me started on Marcel bloody Marceau.

What really makes me laugh is verbal absurdity: the wrong words in the wrong places. Google ‘absurdity’ (other search engines are available) and at the top of the search results you’ll find this definition:

“The quality or state of being ridiculous or wildly unreasonable”

Elsewhere, you can find it defined as “the state or quality of being absurd”. Which, insofar as it purports to be a useful definition, is pretty absurd in itself.

Any innate attraction to absurdity was nurtured by the comedy I listened to or watched in my youth. The real favourite from my formative mid-teens was ‘Round The Horne’. Almost fifty years on, its mix of punning, double-entendre and cast of bizarre characters – Jules and Sandy, Rambling Sid Rumpo, Mr Gruntfuttock – still has me in stitches. Here are two of the other regular characters, Dame Celia Molestrangler and ‘aging juvenile’ Binky Huckaback as Charles and Fiona:

As for TV comedy, not surprisingly I lapped up Monty Python, but before that there was nothing to beat Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s ‘Not Only…But Also’. Priceless.

Who’s the funniest person you know?

I watch and listen to a lot of comedy, so it’s not easy to pick out a single favourite. Although if you pinned me down, I’d probably have to say that the one comedian who’s wavelength I’m most attuned to is Eddie Izzard. Here he is discussing – appropriately enough, given my love of verbal humour – the differences between British and American English:

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