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Published: Saturday, 4/9/2005

No joke: 'He who laughs, lasts'

BY RICHARD L. WEAVER II
Weaver Weaver
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ARNIE had a good job in an orange-juice factory, but he got canned. He just couldn't concentrate.

That certainly isn't the funniest joke in the world. Dr. Richard Wiseman, of the University of Hertfordshire, based on a scientific experiment designed to discover the world's funniest joke, claims the following holds the title:

Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn't seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other man pulls out his cell phone and calls emergency services.

He gasps to the operator: "My friend is dead! What can I do?" The operator in a calm, soothing voice replies: "Take it easy. I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead."

There is a silence, then a shot is heard.

Back on the phone, the hunter says, "Okay, now what?"

Humor is all around us. If you read e-mails, look at bulletin boards, listen carefully to what others say, and just observe life and nature, you will see or hear it.

Steve Allen once noted that "nothing is quite as funny as the unintended humor of reality." Look, for example, at this advertisement: Dog for Sale. Eats Anything. Loves Children.

Humor has many advantages.

The first is that it can be used to brighten the environment. Jokes can turn a world that is often gloomy and dismal into a somewhat more enjoyable place. You have undoubtedly seen a humorous church sign: "Forbidden fruit creates many jams." "Try our Sundays. They are better than Baskin-Robbins." "Have trouble sleeping? We have sermons. Come hear one."

Another advantage of humor is to relieve stress.

The United Nations International Labor Organization issued a report that states, "Stress has become one of the most serious health issues of our times."

One night at dinner, after coming home from a recent operation, and during an argument, Adam said to his wife that he asked his doctor, "I have to admit I'm feeling much better since my operation, but I can't figure out why I got this big bump on my head."

"Oh that!" Adam claimed the doctor said. "In the middle of your operation we suddenly ran out of ether." Adam and his wife both laughed, and the stress created by their argument dissipated.

The chairman of the board of directors of a Chicago charity called the monthly meeting to order. "I have a stressful order of business," he announced. "We're looking for a treasurer."

"But we just appointed a treasurer six months ago," said a member.

"Yes," replied the chairman. "That's the treasurer we're looking for."

Mark H. McCormick, author of What They Don't Teach You At Harvard Business School, writes that "Laughter is the most potent, constructive force for diffusing business tension."

In his new book, How To Be Funny On Purpose: Creating and Consuming Humor, Dr. Edgar E. Willis says that, "One reason humor should be an element in every household is that children love it." In addition to relieving stress, he says, it stretches children's minds, helps them develop a sophisticated and balanced outlook, and starts them on the road to maturity.

Even the simplest "knock-knock jokes" can create waves of laughter: "Knock, knock." "Who's there?" "Olive." "Olive who?" "Olive you."

Yet another advantage of humor is that it makes for better employees.

Companies often keep bulletin boards posted with cartoons and funny sayings. A joke from one bulletin board reads: "A pleasure boat with 11 executives on it was caught in a storm and all 11 were tossed into the sea. A rescue helicopter came about an hour later and because of the intensity of the storm could only drop one line before having to leave. The 10 men and one woman grabbed the line and held on. The pilot shouted down: 'The line can only support 10. One of you will have to let go." The woman said: 'I will let go because I always have given into men, my father, my boss, my husband. I have always been self-sacrificing.' The 10 men immediately clapped for her and ..."

Studies have found that humor sharpens employee thinking, increases productivity, helps to resolve conflicts, enhances bonding among fellow workers, makes communication easier, and increases effectiveness and overall job satisfaction.

Another advantage of humor is that it makes life bearable.

A young woman was recovering from chemotherapy. She said her hair was starting to come back, but it was just soft fuzz. To accentuate her new hair, she dyed it red - a big mistake, she said. She had a difficult time rinsing it out, so she covered it with blond coloring. An even bigger mistake. The red and the blond produced orange.

So she decided to shave off her new soft fuzz that she was so proud of, and begin again. She laughed at her predicament, because it was so ridiculous.

Bill Cosby said, "You can turn painful situations around through laughter. If you can find humor in anything - even poverty - you can survive it."

Have you ever noticed how much laughing there is at funerals? Funeral humor is a natural and healing release from the pain caused by death.

A young woman looking into the open casket of a musician friend saw that his flute had been placed at an angle on his chest. "He gave orders," said a member of the family moving over and whispering in her ear, "that when he died it was to be buried with him. (pause) What were you thinking?" the family member asked.

"Oh," said the young woman, "I thought it a blessing he didn't play the piano."

Humor gives you immediate results, takes no special talent or ability, and requires no physical prowess or skill. It's fun, fat-free, and you don't need batteries.

Somebody once said, "I think God has a sense of humor."

"Why in the world would you say that?" asked a friend.

"Of course he does. Think about it. He made people like you and me."

And there was Mary Pettibone Pool, who said, "He who laughs, lasts."

Richard L. Weaver II is a retired professor of speech communication at Bowling Green State University.



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