“Humor Is…the Right Way To Exist Among the Contradictions, Paradoxes, and Absurdities of Life”

“Humor is the antidote to overthinking. It’s a way of saying that life is paradoxical. Humor contains contradictions; it does not resolve them but revels in them. It says that the right way to exist among the contradictions, paradoxes, and absurdities of life is to cope with them through laughter.”

— Bob Mankoff, How About Never: Is Never Good For You?

Bob Mankoff is the cartoon editor of the New Yorker, and this memoir is a fascinating, funny read about how he became a cartoonist, and about the world of New Yorker cartoons. I love New Yorker cartoons — how about you? I also love paradoxes.

  • Mimi Gregor

    Humor is not just the antidote to over-thinking; it is a panacea that makes everything better. It can take my mind off myself if I am sick or achy. It can elevate my mood if I am depressed. It can defuse a potentially heated exchange of words. It can let someone down easy. And if I am already in a good mood, it makes it that much better. The best sort of humor (to my mind) is unexpected: someone who doesn’t usually crack a joke says something outrageously clever… or you come across a witty epigram in an otherwise serious book… or you are chatting with friends, and everyone is just in the zone, reeling off zingers until your sides are hurting from laughter. I think that humor ranks right up there with compassion in important qualities to have.

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  • Dianne Ochiltree

    Humor is the first and best response to pretty much anything life tosses our way.
    Thanks for the reminder!

  • penelope schmitt

    Yes! It is amazing how a sudden upwelling of laughter can come as a blessing at a wake or even in a terrible crisis. It gives that instant shift of perspective that we need to keep us from being crushed. It deflates the pompous, recaptures the past, and puts the terrible in the perspective of eternity.

    • Mimi Gregor

      Oddly enough, I find that I usually have happier memories of funerals that I have been to than of weddings. Perhaps it’s because humor is so unexpected then. People begin recounting the good –and usually funny! — events that they remember from the deceased’s life, and before you know it, everyone is laughing and exchanging stories of them. What a wonderful way to be remembered! On the other hand, weddings are usually very stiff and overdone, and everyone takes themselves so seriously. Not much fun there.

  • Maiasaura

    But then there are times when jokes are overdone…my sweetie uses humor to avoid *everything* serious, and it’s constant, and SO not funny anymore. It’s wearying, honestly. He thinks after 5 years that I am humorless, but I think humor has a place and time, and it’s not everyplace or all the time.

  • Gillian

    Laughter is indeed very healthy for both body and soul and has all the benefits cited by the commentors below. And I love a good laugh. However, I have to agree with Maiasaura that there are times when it can be overdone. Two examples come to mind:

    I was once at a social gathering where the conversation (so-called) was dominated by a wise-guy who kept telling one joke after another. For the first 10-15 minutes, this was entertaining and a good ice-breaker. After that, it was just boring – no conversation, just stupid (not very witty) jokes. Fortunately, I haven’t encountered that person since then.

    My brother, when he doesn’t have an intelligent response to a point in a discussion, will make a joke to avoid the point and put down the person making it, often shutting down the discussion in the process. It entertains the others present but to me it is just rude and shows a lack of thoughtfulness. If a conversation is about something you know nothing about, why can’t people just say that they haven’t considered the issue before and will have to think about it?

    Clever wit as part of a good conversation is a pleasure; silly jokes intended to avoid or derail a conversation are not funny.

    • Mimi Gregor

      Fortunately, sometimes people who tell “jokes” (which I don’t think are funny either. I find them tedious.) will sometimes give you an out. They will say those magic words: “Stop me if you’ve heard this one.” As soon as those words are out of their mouths, just yell “Stop! Now, tell me… what books have you read lately?” (Or, what movies have you seen… what’s your opinion on Obamacare…. Just as long as it’s real conversation and not just Shecky on a roll.)

  • Jeanne

    Mankoff is great. Loved his book and the 60 Minutes piece on him. Humor is so important and so good for our mental and physical health. I feel for Maiasaura below though. I also know people who use humor as a mask, an avoidance strategy, a way to be the center of attention, etc., and it gets old and annoying pretty fast. But this is not usually the case. I saw Stephen Hawking being interviewed by the comedian John Oliver a few weeks ago. I was stunned when I saw him smile (a bad crooked smile, but a smile nonetheless). What that means is that smiling (and laughing) are part of the involuntary muscle function, otherwise Hawking would not still be able to do it. This reassures me about mankind. It is as baked in as a beating heart or digestion to smile and laugh. Life can be difficult and confusing, so as my darling husband likes to say. “Might as well be amused!”