Our Return From OZ: or, “How can I ever thank you enough?”

(In which a two-page class exercise on using humor to diffuse stressful situations lends legitimacy to the showing of The Wizard of Oz to adult male prisoners in a medium-security walled facility….)

Last night, we completed a class exercise called “Popular Media and Its Uses in the Identification of Countervailing Humor Types.”  The countervailing humor types are constructive and destructive humor.  This particular use was in the form of a Blu-Ray disk.  And the specific medium used was an educational film for therapeutic purposes called The Wizard of Oz.

Prior to spinning the disk at 300 rpm, I distributed the above-mentioned exercise, containing 11 questions about how Dorothy & her companions use humor in dealing with the stressful situations they need to overcome.  I wasn’t sure how these men would take to answering questions while the lights were low and they were in the process of viewing a beloved movie that most of them haven’t seen since their childhoods.

But most complied, and some of their responses were spot-on, and even surprising.  One question reads:  “What do you consider to be the funniest spoken line in the film?  Does the line make you laugh out loud?  Is the humor constructive or destructive?”  One participant responded thus:  “The funniest line is when Dorothy says, ‘Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.’  It did not make me LOL.  The humor is destructive–shows her stupidity.”  This response made ME laugh out loud.  Stupid?  Dorothy?  Whaddaya DO with something like this?  The individual in question is from a country on the African continent, so the cultural gap may explain most of it.  But he reports that he’s lived here nearly twenty years, and he’s not even out of his 20s yet.  “Aw shucks, folks, I’m speechless!”  The following day, he tells me this was his first time seeing the movie.  That, in my view, explains it all.  We who have grown up with the film have emotionally invested in these characters.  What would we have thought of them if we were seeing the movie for the first time in our late 20s?  AND through the lens of a cultural gap?  Probably the same way as this young man.  We’d see Dorothy Gale as a stupid farm kid.  When I tell him, however, that Judy Garland was playing a character much younger than her actual age, that gives him pause.  “OK, now it all makes sense,” he says.  Finally.

To the question of How Uncle Henry uses humor when dealing with Miss Gulch at the farmhouse gate, one fellow writes: “She doesn’t find the humor amusing.  This is probably destructive, because the thrust of it is that she’s talking like a fool.”

The first question reads:  “Dorothy and her companions deal with considerable stress on their journey, yet manage to work in some coping humor along the way.  Name one scene where a character uses humor as a stress reliever.”  A student writes, “When it snows in the poppy field, the Lion awakens & says ‘Unusual weather we’re having.”  Another response: “When they meet the Lion and he’s bullying them, the Scarecrow cracks wise.”  Another:  “When the Lion has to lead the way into the Witch’s castle, he pretends to be all for it, but then asks the other two to ‘Talk me out of it!’  And then what I consider to be a strange response:  “The Wicked Witch of the West uses humor when she is stressed about the ruby slippers.  She laughs as she threatens Dorothy & her dog.”  WTF?   Another student responded, “When the Lion sings his song about his lack of courage, he calls himself ‘a sissy’ and ‘a mouse.’

About five minutes into the film, one prisoner in his 50s tells us: “This is the first time I’ve ever seen this.”  Incredulous, I ask, “How did you avoid it!”  He says, “I didn’t watch TV a lot!”  Tellingly, his was the loudest and most frequent laugh heard during the showing of the film.

The following day, my ILL clerk, who is a course participant, says: “Hey, I wanted to sincerely thank you for the film last night.  I haven’t seen that in ages.  It was good to see it again.  And I am impressed with Blu-Ray!  I have never seen such rich colors in a movie before!  That was somethin’ else!”

Praise, and for such a simple thing like showing a film, and introducing folks to new technology.  This job teaches me in many ways to never, never, ever take my freedom–and all concomitant blessings–for granted.

no place like it

“Hope eternal, in the strangest of places”

(In which we are reminded that, in the face of tragedy and disaster, attitude is everything….)

An inmate with throat cancer lives in the same block as one of my class assistants.

The other day, the assistant tells me: “We hide his speech pen all the time.  He larynges penknows to check with me first, because I’m the one who usually has it.”

When the clerk sees that I’m horrified at this, he laughs and explains: “He knows we mean no harm.  It’s the opposite.  We want him to feel normal.  We prank each other all the time.

We’re not gonna let something like cancer or any disease get in the way of life.  What good does it do to weep, or say ‘I’m sorry’?  So we tease.

bitch cancer

 

 

It’s our way of saying “It’s not so serious that we can’t be normal.  You’re gonna make it.”

 

 

Curses in Captivity #2 : “Live FOREVER!”

My ILL clerk is perpetually bugged by my cataloger, because they share space in my Lending Library office and the cataloger’s wit is quick & nasty. 

Whenever the cataloger slings one his way, the ILL clerk says “Keep talking, I hope you live to be 100!  Live forever!” 

eternityThey’re both lifers.  So the one is wishing immortality on the other.  He’s saying, “I hope you suffer in prison for eternity!” 

It’s the only place on the Earth where you can wish someone long life and have it be a curse. 

Laughter Yoga in Prison

(IN WHICH we re-discover that starting a new physical activity in the middle of New England Summer is not the brightest of ideas, and have reinforced for Posterity the time-honored human truism that A Little Bribe Never Hurts….)

 

laughter yoga prison

We did our first laughter yoga session on Tuesday, July 21st.  With surprise and relief, I must admit that it went far better than I had anticipated.  Well, telling them ahead of time that we’d only be doing it for half the night and then they could go served to brighten their spirits.  It was kind of a bribe.  

 

Plus, it was oppressively hot and disconcertingly muggy.  hot hot hotThere’s no A/C in this library, only windows on the west side of the room (with no hope of a cross-breeze), and a wall-mounted fan that at present doesn’t work.  We brought out several table fans from the back office, but like that’s gonna help when you’re jumping around laughing and clapping and spinning and hopping in 90-degree heat & 100% humidity, with the sun streaming in aggressively through giant panes of glass at precisely that hour of the day? 

I am NOT whining; I am simply reporting.    

 

The laughter yoga leader training manual talks about certain personality types you’re apt to find in your session.  One of these is called the Laughter Blaster, the person with the loudest, golaughter blasterofiest, most contagious laugh. Well, we had one, a lifer who’s a huge fantasy buffoon.  He really must have needed to laugh.  I’ve attended laughter yoga sessions in public, and have never seen this kind of naked “let’s DO this!” enthusiasm for the concept.  He was champing at the bit (everyone thinks it’s ‘chomping,’ but everyone is wrong.  It’s ‘champing’) to perform the silliest exercises suggested in the manual.  And I am using the term ‘perform’ accurately. 

 

At one point I read to myself the title of one, the “Kangaroo Dance” and pants downsaid “We have no hope of doing that one.”  This guy says “What?” as if throwing down the gauntlet to the Cosmos.  So I read the exercise description to them.  And the guy starts hopping all over the room and laughing his fool head off.  He hopped so hard, his pants fell down.  I did not need to see that.  Everyone was laughing at his pants.

 

 

acting like an airplane

 

Before this hot, muggy night was through, we had hopped, shouted, giggled, clapped, stretched, laughed silently, and pretended we were airplanes buzzing around the room with our arms out & laughing at each other. We were exhausted. 

 

killjoys

 

Laughter is work.  The Puritans banned it on the Sabbath [citation needed].  And they knew a thing or two about stomping out the natural joy God wired us for, you betcha! [common knowledge]

 

 

 

Them andcalvin those Calvinists.  I think those Calvinists used to pillory people who were found smiling on the Sabbath.  John Calvin, a real barrel of laughs.  What got his knickers in a knot?  There’s someone who needed therapeutic laughter!  I hope he’s in Purgatory now, being shown South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut on an eternal tape loop with his eyes pried open like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange.

ACWO_Ludovico.jpg

 

 

“Auntie Em! Auntie Em! It’s Twister™!”

“Sheep are very dim; once they get an idea in their heads, there’s no shiftin’ it.”   — Monty Python’s Flying Circus, “Flying Sheep” skit.

 

My poor interlibrary loan clerk.  This was the man who, one solar day before the humor-as-therapy program begins, comes to my office:

HE:   “Sign me up for that thing you’re doin.’  Whaddaya call it?  ‘Happy Time’?”

“‘Happy Time’?  It’s ‘Skill-Building Techniques for Stress Reduction.’  How’d you get ‘Happy Time’ out of that?”

“I couldn’t remember all that.  All I know is we’re supposed to laugh a lot.”

So I sign him up for ‘Happy Time,’ so he can laugh a lot.

A few weeks into our program, I ask this same ILL clerk if he’s completed his ‘Observing Your Personal Humor Style’ assignment for the week.  This assignment asks inmates to be aware of countervailing humor types (constructive & destructive) while watching TV, listening to the radio, hearing funny comments or observing practical jokes in the Unit or the Yard, as well as funny things they say, do, or think.  They are to keep a tally of each time they witness or participate in either constructive or destructive humor.

“I’m still doing it.  I hear a lot of negative humor all around me is what I’m learning.  There’s so much, I’ll have to use another page!”

“Just write in the space, ‘Too many to list.'”

“Oh!  We can do that?”

“That’s what I’M doing.  Especially with my thought life.  Lots of destructive humor swirling around in there.”

“OK, good, thank you.  That makes it a lot easier.”

“So, how’re you enjoying the course so far?”

“I like it!  I like when you showed the cartoons.  I laughed at almost every one of those.”

“Happy Time.”

“You’re not gonna let me forget that, thanks!  I like that you can laugh and learn new stuff at the same time.  Just don’t expect me to do Twister™.  I was talkin’ with some of the guys.  They’re gonna push back on that one.”

It is here that we must pause our narrative, and interject some much-needed-or-the-rest-of-this-won’t-stand-a-chance-of-making-the-slightest-bit-of-sense back story. 

In the previous class I mention that, when we finally do a Laughter Yoga session, we’ll need to remove the tables & chairs to make space for laughter exercises.  I also mention that, when I participated in a laughter yoga session at Walpole Pubic Library, at the end of it all we lay on mats and practice deep, relaxing breaths as a cool-down from all the belly laughter.  But In this man’s twisted mind, upon hearing the word mats and then the word exercises his thoughts twist to Twister™.

1966 Twister GameME:   “Twister™?  What the hell are you talking about?”

HE:   “You said we had to play Twister™.”

“Never.  Mother of God!”

“You told us last class.”

“Look, I created this program.  Like I’m gonna have adult male prisoners playing Twister™ with each other.”

“Everyone else think so, too.  They think you’re gonna make us play Twister™.”

“If they think that, it’s because of you!”

This past Friday, I mention to my course assistant that the ILL clerk refuses to understand that I never referred to, joked about, or even thought of Twister,™ “The Game That Ties You Up In Knots,” by Milton Bradley.

ME:   “He’ll go to his grave believing that!”

ASSISTANT:   “He’s a bug.”  (Usage note:  In New England, “He’s a bug” means “He is certifiably and dangerously insane”).

“He’s also the one who keeps advocating for us to screen The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  Hey, at least that has a twister in it.”oz twister<laughs>  “THAT’S what he’s up to!  He’s talking about twisters to make you show the film!  Whadda they call that?  Subliminal! He’s manipulating you!”

 

Nah.  He’s just a bug. 

BTW — Here in New England, they call it ‘Twist-ah.’  Of course they do. 

They also raise children, some of whom end up in jail believing that their rnG3Y6Librarian could even conceive of seeking written approval to supervise games of Twist-ah™ in an adult-male prison.

Humor-as-Therapy, indeed.

 

 

The Wonderful Home Brew of Oz

(in which it is driven home that word choice matters, even when discussing American cultural archetypes….)

 

WWOO2

Today with my course assistant, talk turns to our next humor-as-therapy class.  Last class meeting, our group decides in a future class to watch The Wizard of Oz as an object lesson for identifying instances of destructive & constructive humor.  I mention that, from a selection of 30 DVDs purchased for the program, their choice of this particular film surprises me.

“Bill, you can only see it on cable.  THAT’S why they wanna see it.”

“Yeah, but it was weird.  That was the first film I mentioned, and I suggested it as a joke, really.  But then every hand went up.”

“They miss it.”

 

 

Talk then turns to the performance of Judy Garland.  My assistant mentions that MGM originally wanted Shirley Temple for the role of Dorothy Gale.  I said that, as an old man, I now respond to her character from the point-of-view of a protective father.

“FYI — I won’t be able to see this film without tearing up.”

“Bill, I tear up at almost everything now.  TV, books, movies, don’t matter.  I’m a big lush.”

<pause> “So, you’re a drunkard now?  Since when?”

“What?”

“That’s what ‘lush’ means.  You’re a drunk.”lush

<laughs> ” Oh!  I thought it meant you cry easily!”

“What you mean to say is ‘I’m a wuss.’ ”

“OK–”

“–who likes drinking to excess.”

<laughs>   “Yeah!  I’m just a big lush!”

“I’m telling!”

“You probably will!”

 

hooch

Pruno.  Hooch. Home Brew.  And the score of other jailhouse nicknames for sugared fruit left out on the window sill to ferment into alcohol.  I doubt anyone’ll be drunk while OZ is playing.  Not even the ‘big lush,” who’ll be too busy crying.

 

 

darkoz1But I’m waiting for someone to suggest we synch the film to Dark Side of the Moon

How would you write the Authorization to Enter form?

“ITEM TO BE BROUGHT IN:  Pink Floyd CD to use as soundtrack to Wizard of Oz.”  They’d call a Code 99 & truck me away. 

 

 

WWOO

Unless they’re fans of the Trailer Park Boys.

Dark Side of Oz | “In Popular Culture”

 

 

Dummies and Their Prison Libraries

(In which a Decrepit, Exhausted correctional Librarian gets schooled in the rudiments of the library racket….)

Right now, the Commonwealth is kicking people out the door via early retirement packages.  It’s moments like the following that proves I’m cuckoo not to take one.

Last night, I’m in the Lending Library with a new hire, Don, an intellectually curious man who is widely-read, he says, “…in every subject but biology, that’s my weak point.”  We are trying to locate Gary Zukov’s The Dancing Wu Li Masters but not having much luck.  Then talk drifts to CS Lewis and Screwtape, a book which, a few months back, I urge him to read (he does). Since Don’s a spiritual man, we wander a few shelving units to the left to find Lewis.

“By the way,” says I, “We just got this in today.  It’s categorized under 213, the Dewey designation for the creationism/humanism debate.”  It’s a book called Going Ape: Florida’s Battle Over Evolution in the Classroom.  I take the book off the shelf, and notice the “Advanced Copy” admonishment across the bottom of the cover. Usually we don’t accept these, for good reasons.  But this section numbers around 35 now, and as I have a few scholars who love wetting their waders in this stuff, this afternoon I have the cataloger/classifier process it.

As for what happens next, I must say in my defense that it has been a long week, both here and at home, so I discover that the phrase ‘uncorrected galley proof’ will not leap readily to the mind.  At that instant, our typewriter clerk heads toward the front library doors to walk down the hall & into the Law Library to retrieve typewriters for the night.  Pointing to the ‘Advanced copy’ phrase on the cover, I ask Don: “What are these things called?”

Typewriter clerk stops.  Our eyes meet.  “Books,” he offers brightly.

Don smiles.  It takes me a few seconds –doe-in-the-headlights style– but it starts to sink in.  “I thought you went to school for this?” Typewriter Clerk continues.  Now I’m laughing.  “We should write Prison Libraries for Dummies so you know these things.” Exit Typewriter Clerk.

Now I can’t stop laughing.

Don, a student in the current cycle of our humor-as-therapy course, laughs & says:  “Was that an example of destructive or constructive humor?”  I reply: “It’s an example of Mocking The Boss, and that’s very destructive, indeed,” I say, still laughing.

Perfect timing.  I wish you could’ve been here.  So that’s what these things are called!  We have thousands of them!  They’re everywhere!

sandwich with words

A TIME TO WEEP: Or, “We get angry, we don’t cry!”

(In which the value of Tears and Crying are discussed, and we discover a Poet in our midst, to the fascination & delight of the group….)

In our PPT tonight, we discuss eustress and distress, and how having too much of either clouds a person’s thinking and causes confusion.

During this discussion, the usefulness of tears comes up.  Talk begins with the notion that, for a man, it’s ‘acceptable’ to cry at certain times, but ‘unacceptable’ at other times.

An older, wiser man says:  “It has become more acceptable for a man to cry in our current culture, almost expected of a man.  But that’s not the way it was when I was young.”eustress

An angry man says: “We’re men.  What we do is get angry, not cry.  Women cry when they’re upset.  Men get angry.  Crying isn’t an answer to a problem.  Saying to a guy “Whats up?” and calling him on his bad behavior is what men do.  Crying doesn’t solve anything.”

I say:  “Do you know what comes out in your tears when you cry?”

Someone answers.  “Saline.”

“Yes, salt.  But something a lot more important.”

All goes silent.  “Hormones!  For decades they’ve known that your tears wash out hormones that are causing you distress.  It’s actually necessary to cry, to rid your system of these hormones.  That’s why you feel so much better after a good cry.  It’s a cleansing mechanism.”

Mr. Angry says:  “Maybe, but boo-hoo-ing over a problem doesn’t solve that problem.  You have to confront your problem.”

I pointed to the PPT slide showing a chart of all the bad consequences of heavy stress.  “We just saw that stress causes muddled thinking and impairs your decision-making.  After you cry, your mind is free to think clearly again.”

“Oh.”  Mr. Angry mused on this awhile.

“So instead of acting out in anger, instead of being combative or confrontational, now you’re free of those emotions and can reason out another solution.”

“I can sorta see where you’re going with this,” says Mr. Angry.

Mr. Pun says.  “Well yeah.  Recall that emotions are often deceiving.  We think because we feel a certain way that we have the right to act out of that emotion.  In fact, emotions often lead us to to a place we’d rather avoid.  We all have the right to feel anger.  But bad things happen when we act of out anger.  What we have is the responsibility to acknowledge anger, let it wash over us, and then deal rationally with the problem.”

“But most times you don’t have the time to do that, you have to act,” says Mr. Angry.

Mr. Wise Man says: “What I do then, if violence is the only solution, I walk away.”

“But then you’re seen as weak!”

Wise Man says: “So be it.  I know I’m not weak.  I know I’m strong, because I’m the one who has the guts to walk away.  There’s where my strength is.  The ability to walk away.  And not let my emotions deceive me.”

A man in the Boston University program raises his hand.  “I have a writing assignment with me that is related to what we’re talking about.  It’s a poem.  If you want, I can read it.”  (Later, he stays behind so I can photocopy this).

He reads:

A TIME TO WEEP

You told me
“Big boys don’t cry”
Because I believed
you wrecked me

You lied I learned
the hard way yet
to spite you I
found the truth:

I triumph by the grace of tears

With them
I connect with tomorrow
Without them
I tread hopelesswords hurt children

When I oppress tears
numbness corrupts me
people litter my way
life is a formality
I refuse to pray

When tears fall
charity embraces me
I let the Light in
I cherish Now
my soul feels its worth

Through stinging-warm salt water
at a place beyond my
shattered heart
a feather-silent whisper
that sadness is
His angel

A tranquil and reflective silence envelopes us.  Someone says “That’s really nice.”

Wise Man says, “That’s what I’m talking about.  Why we NEED to cry.  Not only that, if I may.  This poem introduces another thing we didn’t think to bring up on our own.  Faith in something bigger.”

Mr. Angry says, “Please, let’s not go there.”

Wise Man, who is Muslim, says, “Fair enough.  But that will be something you have to work out on your own.”

“I think what the poet is saying,” Mr. Pun interjects, “is our resistance to tears as people and as a society.  If we’re open to them, then it doesn’t matter who considers it ‘acceptable’ for a man to cry.  What matters is that we believe that it’s useful and necessary to cry.  Crying is like an emotional safety valve.  It’s nonsensical to break it down to men and women.  Human beings need to cry.  That’s why men were given tear ducts.  We’re supposed to use them.”

Wise Man say:  “I’ve been in a lot of these programs.  I’ve heard many men admit that they were told as boys not to cry.  A show of hands — like me, how many here were told that growing up?”crying

About half the class respond.

“OK. Now, also like me, how many were BEATEN for crying?”

The same amount of hands go up.”  “Thank you.  OK.  Something I’ve also learned, because it happened to me, is some were beaten until they learned to shut down and not give the abuser the satisfaction of seeing them cry.  How many in here, the same as me?”

Several hands go up.

“OK.  Now that you’re men, you’re angry about it.  And rightfully so.  Just like I used to be.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Hear me out.  Now we have the the responsibility to do something positive with that anger.  We MUST get in touch with our feelings.  And for a lot of us, that means going in your cell, close the door, put up the Do Not Disturb sign, and let the tears come.”

“Anger is physically and psychologically draining.  Tears let you lose a lot of that negative energy,” say Mr. Pun.

Mr. Angry:  “I still say you can’t walk around crying every time something happens to you.”

“You just missed the point,” say the Wise Man.

Movement is called.  8:15PM.  Time for us to part.

To be continued….

“This ain’t funny, it’s SERIOUS!” New Reality Series

(In which the notions of men once again slam up against stark reality….)

“Skill-Building Techniques for Stress Reduction” is the name of the program we’ve just begun on Tuesday, May 26th.  Imagining this program to be a book & judging it by its title, you’d not think there was anything particularly funny about it.  But apparently the 12 prisoners who signed up for the course expected this presentation to teach them how to be funny.

That’s hilarious.  Comedians go to groucho disguiseschools for a year to learn improvisation, comedic acting, timing, joke creation, dealing with hecklers,  building a rapport with the audience, developing a point-of-view,  and constructing an act from start to finish.  What these prisoners expected to learn about comedy in 12 two-hour sessions is anyone’s guess.

About 10 minutes into the first PowerPoint presentation entitled “Program Overview,” one of the students yawns & says, “Y’know, I thought this was supposed to be funny.”

You can’t please everyone.  I take off my Groucho Marx glasses.  “We’re trying to show why you need a balanced sense of humor, and how you can use laughter to reduce the stress of incarceration.  Did you think you’d be in LA taking a workshop at the Comedy Store?”   Everyone laughs.

Mr. Bored says “See?  That’s more like it!  There should be more laughter!”

Says I:  “We’re barely 10 minutes into the three-month presentation!  Relax.  Take some deep breaths a then let out some big laughs.”

A half-minute later, our noggins awash in fresh oxygen, the glasses go back on.  “By the way,” I say, “What we just did was your introduction to the laughter therapy we’ll be doing later on down the road.”

“I am NOT looking forward to that!” says another.  “That seems silly.”

“OF COURSE it’s silly.  That’s kind of the point.”

“I don’t like making a fool of myself!”

Someone says: “Then why bother getting out of bed?” Everyone laughs.

“That’s destructive humor,” says someone.

“Yes, it is,” I say.  “That’s the kind of thing we want to point out.  Most of us–both Keepers and Kept–have an imbalance in our humor styles because we emphasize the destructive aspect of humor while ignoring the constructive element.”

“I’ve been imbalanced for YEARS!” says someone else.  Everyone laughs.

As I’m distributing a handout on Hans Selye’s Three Stages of Stress, I take off the paper clip holding the sheets together & toss it to a student who likes puns.  “Make a pun outta that before the night’s over.”

By way of illustration, the handout uses Photoshopped images of a mouse noticing a cat (STAGE ONE 1: “Alarm”), the cat chasing the mouse at 90 miles an hour (STAGE 2: “Resistance”), and then the mouse escaping and finding a safe place to recuperate from the ordeal (STAGE 3: “Exhaustion”).

Comments from the group:  “Ah, that big bully.  He should leave that poor mouse alone!”

“Well, EYE was hoping he was gonna EAT him!”

“You’re SICK, you know that?”

“Whaddaya MEAN?  The cat’s gotta eat SOMETHIN!”

“THE CAT’S NOT REAL!”

More laughs.

I think to tell them not to get hung up in the example, and try to stay in the moment to deal with the stages, but I know that it’s futile.  Inmates ALWAYS get hung up in the example.  They need to comment on what they see.  It’s a part of prisoner psychology in the class room dynamic that you grow accustomed to.  The times when you need to reign it in is when someone wants to spend too much time pontificating on the example.  In this case, that does not happen, so we move on.

“When are you gonna take off the Groucho glasses?” someone asks.  Before I can answer, some one chimes in, “Leave’em alone, he never looked so good!”

Ha, ha, ha.  “Destructive or constructive?” I ask.  “Destructive!” they say in unison.

“My favorite!” smiles Mr.Bored.

“Yes, I know, because you & I go back a ways.  You may discover the joys of constructive humor, where the intent is not to harm the Other but to just share an innocent laugh with someone.”

“Well, I do that too!”

“OK.  Tell us a constructive joke, just off the top.”

Mr. Bored think for a few seconds, smiles sheepishly & says “I can’t think of one, but I know what they are, so that counts for somethin’!”

Across the room someone says “A pig fell in the mud! That’s constructive.”

“Yes, but why?”

“Because it’s just humor.  You’re not saying it to hurt somebody.”

“Correct.  Now, since destructive humor has as its target the feelings of someone else, should we NEVER use it?”

Mr. Pun says “Well, no, because it can be used within a group of friends who know not to feel threatened or hurt when its used.  Destructive humor among friends can be a measure of the intimacy within the group.  The better you know each other, the more intimate the humor dynamic of the group becomes.”

“Excellent.  Isn’t it odd, though, that the better we know people–and this is our FRIENDS we’re talking about!–the more insulting our humor becomes?”Men-VS-Women

Says Mr. Bored:  “that IS weird!  I’ve noticed that, but never really thought about it.”

Mr. Pun says: “I wouldn’t characterize it as ‘weird,’ because it’s a natural extension of the intimacy the friends share.  You wouldn’t go up to a stranger and use insulting humor, because that intimate bond’s not there, and you’re probably gonna get punched out.  But you will chance destructive humor with a friend, because you know each other and you know that the risk of the joke will be offset by the cords of your friendship.”

“It’s getting hard to breathe in these” I say, removing the Groucho glasses.

“Oh God!  Put them back on!”

Ha.  Ha.  Ha.

“See?”  says Mr. Bored.  “If we didn’t like you, we wouldn’t tease you about your looks!  That’s intimacy!”

“Well, at least you’re learning.  Unfortunately, it’s at my expense.”

“Well, that’s the price you pay,” says Mr. Pun.  Everyone groans.

“You can’t help it, can you?”

“Apparently not.”

“Where were we? Oh yeah, we were laughing at my expense.”  I turn to continue with the PowerPoint, but am interrupted by a man who up to now has been quietly taking it all in.

“You say ‘At my expense.’ But I remember when I first met you.  I came to your office just to get some typing paper, and you made about three destructive jokes toward me, and I didn’t even know you.”

“You know why I do that?  It’s to test your sense of humor.  Most guys smile and give it right back.  I want to see if you’re secure enough with yourself to take a little ribbing.”

“Mr. Bored says “I’ve seen you do that many times.  Is THAT the reason?  Here I thought you were just actin’ like an asshole!”

“Actin’ like one?  he IS one!”

Ha.  Ha.  Ha.

“Can I have my class back, please?  We gotta get through the rest of this PowerPoint.”

“Only if you promise to put those glasses back on!”

Ha.  Ha.  Ha.

“Listen to all the destructive humor.  The level of intimacy in this class room is intense.  We must really like each other.”

“PREA!”  someone shouts.

We never did get through the PowerPoint.  It’s now the end of the class and, as inmates paperclipare filing out of the room, Mr. Pun hands the paper clip to me and says:  “I was going to return this to you earlier, but you were going at quite a clip.”

“That took you the whole night?  That joke is just fasten-ating.  Get it?  Fasten?  Paper clip?”

Mr. Pun is nonplussed.  “Destructive humor is more your forte.  Stick with what you know.”

New program tonight: “You mean ‘excited, not ‘nervous.'”

(In which again we plunge Headlong into the Breach, all in the name of rehabilitation, socialization, and re-integration….)

Last night, I mentioned to She Who Must Be Obeyed that the humor-as-therapy course would begin Tuesday night, and that I was ‘nervous.’  Said She:  “You don’t mean ‘nervous.’  You’re ‘excited,’ not nervous.”

nervousOf course, She is right.  And that’s an important distinction.  You get nervous about the unknown.  The only thing unknown at this point is how my curriculum actually plays out in the class room.  Even THAT’S not an unknown, because modifications to lesson plans are always necessary.

I should relax.

 

HA! The Science of When We Laugh and Why is our text, and the priHAsoners were given two weeks before today to finish it.  I’ve been thinking about how best to incorporate the views in this book into the presentation, as currently I don’t refer to it in any of my PPT lectures.  I guess I can just tell them that the book gives them a good scientific foundation for what humor is, where it comes from, how our minds process it, and why we need to practice it in our everyday lives.  Yeah.  THAT sounds good.  Maybe they’ll fall for it!

 

ha-ha-ha-very-funnyIn an email, I told a friend about tonight, and he wished me well.  “Break a leg,” he said. “BEFORE the class.”

Everyone’s a comedian.