What’s there in a joke?

Satjit Singh

There is a very old joke: One day, well past midnight, Santa Singh suddenly started laughing. His wife got up.

“Earlier you used to walk and now laugh in sleep”, she said and slapped him to wake him up. But he was fully alert and explained, “Don’t worry, my dear, it’s a joke that made me laugh.”
“Someone telling you jokes in dreams?” she quipped.

“No, my dear, a friend told one yesterday but I understood the meaning now, so could not control laughter”.

Something similar happened with me many years ago. I was reading the humour section of a magazine. To understand the meaning of a particular word, I just picked up the dictionary and laughed when the meaning of the punch line became clear.

My son Arun, a student of Class V then, asked, in all earnestness, “Papa, are there jokes in dictionaries also?”

It was a bit embarrassing but I admitted the reality.

A few days later, he came back from school and asked me to explain the meaning of a two-line joke, which had appeared at the end of Khushwant Singh’s column in The Tribune. It was a sort of ‘mild adult’ joke.

“You won’t understand. Why do you ask about this particular one?” I tried to put him off.

I got the least expected reply, “I memorised and told this joke in the class. Only madam laughed. Now, all my friends insist that I explain the meaning to them.”

His class teacher didn’t imagine that he was himself reading and reciting the jokes, which she enjoyed. Understandably, she sent a message advising us to avoid sharing such jokes in the presence of children.

The incident raised Arun’s curiosity; Why do we laugh? What’s there in a joke that makes us laugh? Why some people do and others don’t laugh at a joke? How are jokes made and who writes them, etc.

While I was grappling with the challenging questions for some days, another comic (may not be the right word) situation arose. One of our neighbours, an ex-serviceman, was a very typical character. He was always well dressed but hardly smiled. The beard tucked tight in black net, and fatty cheeks bulging out, further highlighted his expressionless face. The children in the colony didn’t like him.

One Saturday evening we were going out for dinner. Jagga, the teenaged son of the Major, was walking his dog, a pug, near our car, parked in the lane. Arun stopped and patted the dog lovingly. Looking for a moment at the flat face of the pet, he remarked, impromptu, “Jaggu this dog looks very much like your father.”

Before Jagga could react, I pushed Arun into the car and drove away.

When we were at a safe distance, everybody laughed, more because of the near correctness of the observation.

But Arun didn’t find anything funny in the situation.

I tried to conclude, “You unwittingly made fun of Jaggu’s father. That is how jokes are made.”

He thought for a moment and said, “But I made fun of the dog and not of his father.” That night I saw, in my dream, Major Saab, with a gun in hand, knocking at my door. This story is now about 20 years old and the whole family, including Arun, laughs heartily every time we talk about it.

Jokes apart, the original question still remains unanswered, “What is there in a joke that makes us laugh?”

Source Link: http://www.tribuneindia.com

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