22 December 2008
a forced smile
ring lardner, the 1920s humorist, didn't like jokes. once, he sat in a bar for more than 6o hours, leaving only when someone came up to him and said, "have you heard the one about. . . "
he didn't like jokes for the same reason i don't generally like jokes: the implied laugh contract. it is polite to laugh.
"have i told you this one," someone says. i don't recognize the joke as it starts, so i say no. then it comes back to me. i know the punchline as the joke goes on. it would be rude to interupt the joke teller and say, "oh, i do remember that one. johnny gets rid of the rake and grabs a hoe, right?"
i know it's rude, because i've done it.
so, one must suffer doubly. suffer from the joke contract itself--straining a smile from the beginning to prepare the laugh muscles for a heartfelt fake laugh at joke's end--and suffer from the knowledge that it will be even harder to fake a laugh while not even listening.
to share a joke is a very intimate thing. it's like making a pass at someone. refusing to enjoy the joke is like turning down a romantic gesture with a kick to the pelvis--whatever a pelvis is.
sure, every so often, i find a joke funny--but more in the aha, clever sense than laugh out loud sense. but i have to give the outword loud fake ha regardless. no one feels satisfied with "i found that joke to be clever. i'm not laughing, but i appreciate the humor in it and thank you for your kind gesture of cheer."
for the same reason, this won't work:
he: hey, you're looking hot tonight.
she: that's probably true, but while i appreciate the compliment and admit it helps my ego, i'm afraid a giggle here would give you the idea that i might be romantically interested in you, which couldn't be further from the truth.