It’s the way you tell ‘em - and who to, when and where...

Comic philosophy from Ken Dodd
Comic philosophy from Ken Dodd

At a recent meeting we posed the question “ Is “Miranda” supposed to be funny?” and we agreed that it is supposed to be funny, and that some people appear to find it funny, but we didn’t.

So the next question was “what is it that can be defined as being funny”, and a member immediately said that it was funny that we should ask that, because coincidentally he had wondered whether being humorous, amusing, comical, entertaining, witty and hilarious were really all the same thing. Unfortunately he had to leave the meeting early because he said he felt a bit funny.

Our meetings are often monopolised by the cricket aficionados who tell stories frequently mentioning Brian Johnston, Freddie Trueman, Geoffrey Boycott or W.G. Grace (e.g. the one where W.G. Grace apologised for some poor fielding by saying that the ground gets further away from you as you get older, or Brian Johnston saying on air “the bowler’s Holding, the batsman’s Willey”).

But why do we laugh? What do we laugh at? Why do we laugh when other people laugh? Why do we laugh at some comics, some jokes and some mishaps and other people don’t? Why does some humour pass the test of time?

A decision was made that we should all bring our favourite joke to the next meeting.

The minute secretary very quickly realised that not all would be suitable for publication due to the present day tendency for people being offended, insulted and libellously inclined at every opportunity. And also squeaky-clean minded editors of course. Having run the rule over everything from mother-in-law jokes to “take my wife - please” jokes, at one stage we thought we might be left with only cricket jokes.

Introducing a higher intellectual level to the discussion our retired cleric informed us that there is a reference in the Bible to Abraham’s wife Sarah laughing when she discovered she “was with child”. None of us could see the funny side of that but he continued with the story of the vicar who was asked to take the service at a remote country church.

Thinking it appropriate, the vicar outlined the parable of the shepherd who devoted much time and effort to search for one lost sheep out of a flock of one hundred. When he asked the congregation why did the shepherd do that, a little lad put his hand up and said “’appen it wer t’ tup.”

We decided that the right time, the right place and the right person telling the joke were essential requirements for getting a laugh. There could be a bad time to describe the recently widowed lady who on receiving the condolences of a friend confessed that she was partly responsible for her husband’s death. “How was that?” enquired the friend. “Because I was the one that shot him!”

People laugh at other people’s mishaps, they laugh when the words they hear are not what the speaker intended. The classic Spoonerism of the university lecturer proposing the loyal toast to “our queer old dean” is a good example.

Some people favoured the one-liners such as “a man might be a fool and not know it, but not if he is married” and one of the quieter members thought it was better to keep your mouth shut and appear a fool, than open it and remove all doubt.

Ken Dodd once said that his philosophy in life was “don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today - because if you do it today and like it, you can do it again tomorrow.”

There was a lot of laughter and it was achieved without any recourse to an overload of expletives. Memo to most of the present day comedians - it is possible.

The only grumble we had was that one or two members ruined a very good joke. In unison we all agreed, “It’s the way you tell ‘em”.

We hope to continue to grumble – and to laugh.

Someone said about our last article, “if you think that was funny, you must be joking.” Quite.