There are a limitless number of jokes and one-liners. Some are the proverbial groaners, others are knee-slappers, and others take time to appreciate. Bob Hope was a master of the one-liner, such as, “It’s so cold here in Washington that politicians have their hands in their own pockets.” The first half sets the predicate and the second half hits us with a universally understood truism. Or, “Bigamy is the only crime where two rites make a wrong.”
We’re drawn to humor because we appreciate the need for relief from the numbing routines of daily life, and we love word play, such as, “The short fortune teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.”
Henny Youngman wrote many ingenious one-liners. One of his signature favorites was, “I’ve been in love with the same woman for 30 years. If my wife finds out, I’ll be in serious trouble.”
A contemporary comedian, Stewart Francis, brings a rich subtlety to his humor, with such lines as. “People say I’m a plagiarist — their word, not mine,” or, “In court I was found to be egotistical — I am appealing.” Then there’s Steven Wright who opined, “I think it’s wrong there there’s only one company that makes the game Monopoly.”
You’ll recall the sit-com “All in the Family,” and the memorable punchline that came when Archie’s friend Al gave him a mountain goat’s head, which he hung on the living room wall. Edith looked at it and said, “I don’t want that thing staring down at me,” to which Archie responded, “Edith, those are glass eyes.” Edith replies, “How could Al shoot a blind animal?” The reason that works is we know Edith is somewhat obtuse; in her world it’s a perfectly reasonable question.
The art of the deft comeback is like comedic drama. It was well known that George Bernard Shaw and Winston Churchill held opposing views. During the time when Churchill was deeply isolated, Shaw wrote a letter saying, “Enclosed are two tickets to opening night of my play, “Arms and the Man,” for you and a friend, if you have one.” Churchill replied stating, “I can’t make it on opening night but can the next night — if there is one.”
A classic “Seinfeld” line is when Jerry responds to the dreaded solicitation call. He says, “That’s a great sales pitch, but I’m busy now; why don’t you give me your home phone number and I’ll call you this evening? Oh, you don’t like unsolicited calls at home? Now you know how I feel,” and abruptly hangs up.
The groaner is a well-known kind of humor. The best lead us unsuspectingly through a mundane situation with an artful but quirky ending. “Every month a group of chess champions would meet in an upscale hotel bar which had a large, open fireplace, and they would boast about how great they were. The were loud, but the manager tolerated them because they tipped well. One evening, an annoyed customer asked the manager who these guys were. The manager said, they’re just a bunch of chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer.”
At times humor can begin with somewhat dark subject, but quickly ends with an unusual twist. A good example is Woody Allen, who said “It’s not that I’m afraid to die — I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
So, enjoy comedy and humor wherever you find it, and remember, no matter how much you push the envelope, it will still be stationary, and be sure to drink from the fountain of knowledge — don’t just gargle.
Philip Mella serves on the 4th Judicial District Nominating Commission and is a health care administrator with a passion for history, politics and the written word. He also served on the Woodland Park City Council for seven years. Email Philip at firstname.lastname@example.org.