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Taking a chance on humor

Here is what a good laugh looks like. It starts when you smile with your entire face and then start chortling. Next you probably wipe moist eyes while your head rolls around in disbelief at how funny something is. It’s delightfully contagious, so it makes people nearby chuckle and guffaw too.

Laughing is good for us; it’s a form exercise in a way. And as we age we don’t do enough of it. Kids laugh dozens of time each day. Some older adults go weeks without one small giggle. Not a good thing.

OK, is this funny? “Question: “Why are dogs such bad dancers?” Answer: “They have two left feet.” I kind of like that one, but I did have to think about it for a few seconds before I smiled. And I’m not alone in that regard. A long-ago study, published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, suggested joke comprehension decreases with age. As we get older we have more difficulty understanding a punch line. We’re less likely to realize something’s funny. We just “don’t get it.” That was the phrase my 13-year-old granddaughter used after relaying a joke to me that did not seem very funny. I laughed, but it was not terribly genuine, and she is extremely perceptive.

If I remembered that joke, I could share it right here, right now and let you decide, but that’s another problem as we age, we forget punch lines. Which, I suppose, is just as well if they aren’t that funny.

I like jokes that are written down so I can recheck them before I tell them. I have a 70-something friend who knows that and emails me my best stuff. My granddaughter would say, “Grandma, you have no ‘best stuff.’”

Here goes. “In Japan, they’ve replaced impersonal Microsoft error messages with Haiku poetry.” For example, say I’m looking for specific information to use in a column and not finding it, the message on my computer screen might say, “The website you seek cannot be located, but countless more exist” or “Serious error. All information has completely disappeared. Screen. Mind. Both are blank.”

That last one (almost, not quite) made me laugh out loud, which worries me a little, because it’s not even that funny. I wonder whether I’m over-identifying; maybe it’s too close to my own personal truth.

Speaking of identifying, perhaps I’ll abandon any attempt at joke-telling and focus on telling stories related to aging. How about this one? Reporters were interviewing a 104-year-old woman and asked, “What’s the best thing about living to this age? And she replied, “No peer pressure.” There’s a centenarian who definitely gets it.

Are we having fun yet? Don’t answer that. I’m at the point where I need a punch line. My husband wanders by and I happen to mention, “I’m writing a column on humor.” Without skipping a beat, without even a pause, he responds, “Well, that’s definitely a risk, isn’t it?”

You know, I love this guy, but he’s way too direct.

Sharon Johnson is a retired educator and executive director of Rebuilding Together Rogue Valley. Reach her at sharon@rbtrv.org.