Laugh and the whole world laughs with you … weep and you weep alone

Date posted: January 7, 2009

Countless articles highlighted the importance of laughter and humor; how it prolongs your life, why it is a natural anti-aging solution, when it is the ideal way out of an embarrassing situation, where it is cute and adorable, what makes it the best camouflage for wrinkles, and the fact that it just makes you more likable and more socially acceptable. In presentation skills and public speaking workshops we guide the attendees on how and when to use humor, in customer care sessions we never get tired of stressing how the customer could see your smile on the phone, in motivational courses we tell people to start their day with a smile and urge them to turn dreary situation into joke material. But were you ever tempted to tell someone that they were not funny or that their jokes were off or that you just could not stand their wit?

I was watching a movie with one of my friends and he was rolling on the floor with laughter when I found the movie to be silly – yes silly and stupid. A few weeks after that incident I was out with some friends and they were quoting jokes and lines from that very same movie and I still felt the same way about their humor – silly and stupid. Today I was on the phone with someone and he said something that I found rather tasteless, cynical, and morbid when he was cracking up with hiccups-inspired laughter and I hate him for it – this time I am the one who felt silly and stupid. I loved the Axis of Evil; their wit, humor, jokes, perceptiveness, gestures, air, and aura – see! I could laugh but not at anything. Triggered by my own failure to relate to certain humor and by my need to justify it, I decided to share with you the humor guide – this is what I call it now to make it sound complex and important.

I will start by quoting Anthony L. Audrieth, author of "The Art of Using Humor in Public Speaking" 1998 and will use my own examples to illustrate:

Adviser: the comic adviser gives uncalled for advice in a Punch prototype. For example: My number one advice to a man who wants to approach me: Don't!

Anecdotes: any interesting event, either having to do with a celebrity or something smaller, that helps the humorist make a point. Anecdotes are great for the speaker and writer. This is just like the story of how I ended up writing this piece on humor.

Aside: a thought added as if something the speaker was saying reminded him of it. Maybe my story up there would remind you of how you failed to laugh at a certain joke yourself.

Banter: good-natured teasing back and forth; exchange of witty remarks. This happens a lot when two people are on the same metal wavelength – I could only think of the Nile FM couples; Zach and Erin, Heba and Lou, Safi and Yara.

Blendword: blending two or three words to make a new word. The author's example is: smog for smoke and fog. My example is: fugly!

Blue Humor: not appropriate for the public speaker. Humor based on easily offensive subjects like making love, body parts, and bodily functions. Reminds me of Egyptian plays where a man cross-dresses as a woman then the other actors make fun of his unshaved legs or muscular built.

Blunder: wit based on a person who makes a mistake, which makes them appear foolish. This happens a lot on talk shows and it makes me laugh – it is natural and genuine.

Caricature: exaggeration of a person's mental, physical, or personality traits, in wisecrack form. Usually how I describe my ex-men. Take my Mr. big for example

He walks in a room with his head stuck up; his big smile covers layers of confidence alternating with other layers of high self-esteem. He is known for daring eye contact and can mesmerize you with a naughty gaze before you even mention your name to him. He has the air of a Jane Austin aristocratic hero and his words, jokes and stories will make your hand-watch obsolete.

Wait … hold your horses … take a second look! "Mr. Big's" big ego is big enough to swallow you, your pride and your dreams of a happily ever after ending with this charmer. Your slow walking slow talking hero will walk you to the verge of insanity and will talk you into changing your car, your look, your house, your friends, and he might go as far as your mother, father, brothers and sisters. He is ready to whip you with sarcasm and nothing, absolutely nothing, will stop him but a knife in his heart or a plate in his face.

"Mr. Big" will smash your big toe under his big foot and your big love will be expelled in seconds out of his big heart. He will wear his big black suit, put on his big black sunglasses, get in his big black car and will leave you to suffer alone in a big black hole after he has made his big exit.

The Catch Tale: a funny story that messes up the reader or listener by implying an awful ending but then stopping with a small declaration. That one reminded me of The Happening – After about 10 million deaths and two hours of waiting for the other shoe to drop, it turns out that the trees were unhappy with human beings for mistreating nature.

Conundrum: a word puzzle that can't be solved because the answer is a pun. For example: why do cows wear bells? Their horns don't work. If you have young kids or nieces and nephews then you must have heard a lot of those.

Epigram: clever, short saying about a general group – mostly satire about mankind. Two types, wordplay and thought play. For example, He was too foolish to commit folly. In Arabic we say he/she/it is more stupid than stupidity itself.

Exaggerism: an exaggerated witticism that overstates the features, defects, or the strangeness of someone or something. My favorite: All men are jerks.

Freudian Slip: a funny statement which seems to just pop out, but which actually comes from the person's subconscious thoughts. How many times did the truth just fly out of your mouth?

Hyperbole: extreme exaggeration. A friend of mine was talking about his ex girlfriend and how she used to wear so much makeup … he said: when she smiles her cheeks fall off.

Irony: a leading part of humor. Irony is using words to express something completely different from the literal meaning. Usually, someone says the opposite of what they mean and the listener believes the opposite of what they said. So your boyfriend gets you a cheap thoughtless gift on your birthday, you give him the look and tell him that he did not have to bother.

Joke: short story ending with a funny climactic twist. We have a lot of the "Bush and the Shoe" jokes going around these days.

Nonsensism: inclusive of the epigram and the wisecrack, it is any kind of funny nonsense in speaking form. Nonsensism includes all kinds of absurdity without realistic logic and makes a general observation of absurd reference. This is the type of humor that I never really get … people talking nonsense and other people laughing about it (Egyptian Limbi movies)

Parody: humorous version of any well-known writing or person. This is how the guys on Moga Comedy imitate famous talk show hosts.

Practical Joke: a joke put into action. You hear an oral joke, sees a printed joke, and feel the practical joke. The trick is played on another person and the humor comes from what happens. This also appeals to me but within limits – candid camera style.

Recovery: a combination of blunder and wit, where a person makes an error, and then saves himself with a fast correction.

Repartee: includes clever replies and retorts. The most common form is the insult. Here is an example:
A husband and his wife had a bitter quarrel on the day of their 40th wedding anniversary
The husband yells, "When you die, I'm getting you a headstone that reads, 'Here Lies My Wife – Cold As Ever'" "Yeah" she replies, "When you die, I'm getting you a headstone that reads, 'Here Lies My Husband -Stiff At Last'"

Satire: wit that is critical humor. Satire is sarcasm that makes fun of something. Most of Ahmed Fouad Negm's poetry could fall under that category.

Situational Humor: this is comedy that comes from your own life. No one in your audience will have heard it and it can get a group used to you. This type of humor is based on a humorous situation that you have experienced. Cheerful and optimistic people see humor in the most serious situations.

Understatement: making something that is regular or large seem extremely smaller or less. Intentionally down- sizing a large object. In relationships, a lot of men and women hurt their partners using that type of humor – they simply deny them the right to fully express how they feel.

Wisecrack: any clever remark about a particular person or thing. Wisecracks are quick wordplays about a person. Samantha in Sex and the City was dating this little man; when she went shopping with him, she was put off by the fact that he shops from the boy's department. He turned it around a literally made her, and us, laugh about how tall she was.

Wit: humor, irony, sarcasm, satire, repartee. Wit is funny because of the sudden sharpness and quick perception. Wit can bite. Verbal wit is a type of humor known as Wordplay. Axis of Evil and other stand up comedians have that in abundance. This is something that I would advise you to try with caution otherwise it would backfire.

When I did more research on humor, I found out that there are other more complex categories. I have always heard the term "dry humor" and I needed to put it into perspective. I loved the synonym "deadpan" and that is basically a form of humor that does not involve any change in emotions or facial expressions and is accompanied by a monotonous tone of voice – Reminds me of our great comedian Adel Emam.

Slapstick is another form of comedy that is widely used in Egyptian movies and play; the audience laughs when the actor trips, falls, or tastes something that is off or too spicy to handle. I literally hate that type of humor; laughing at people who continuously embarrass themselves, make faces, talk funny, or act silly. I know Charlie Chaplin movies are loved by many but, even as a kid, they got on my nerves – big time!

One thing led to the other and I came across black comedy – synonymous with dark humor or morbid humor – this genre deals with taboos but is not obscene. If you remember a movie titled Farhan Molazem Adam starring Lebleba, Yasmine Abdel Aziz, and Fathy Abdel Wahab you will know what I am talking about. This is the type of comedy that makes you laugh and cry at the same time; you love the charcter yet hate their follies; you leave the cinema feeling heavy and angry instead of rejoiced and refreshed. Most of director Khaled Youssef's movies have a black comedy element to them like Heya Fawda and Heen Maysara. Black humor has taken over our recent literary works, movies, and songs.

As for sitcoms, I am still wrapping my head around Egyptian sitcoms. They are not bad at all, they are just different from what I am used to; Friends, Seinfeld, and Frasier are my favorites. Some episodes of Tamer & Shawkeya were fun but for the slapstick element to them and Ragel Set Settat was hillarious.


Henny Youngman says that a joke is a form of humor enjoyed by some and misunderstood by most. It is funny what makes people laugh and how what makes you laugh today could fail to put a smile on your face tomorrow. Bill Cosby used to say that through humor, a person could soften some of the worst blows that life delivered and once one had found laughter, no matter how painful the situation might be, one would be able to survive it. Laugh because laughter and humor is a great, easy, natural, and effective anti-depressant. It reduces stress. It boosts your immune system. It reduces the risk of heart disease. It burns calories. It makes you accessible. It masks fear or tension. It makes you prettier. It makes you live a longer happier healthier life. May your 2009 be full of love, laughter, and joy.

Bookmark and Share