I have always been interested in the intersection between funny and sad. I am always looking for something to laugh about at the funeral, so to speak, and probably one of those people other people say has a “dark” sense of humor. Having found a chuckle or two in everyday misfortunes, I was pretty sure I would be able to find something funny about getting old. I’ve touched on this before in my blogs, yuck yucks about deafness, or aches and pains and no-sex. So, to continue:
“What about shrinking?” M says.
Shrinking? Well, okay. We shrink as we age. So maybe thousands…er, hundreds…er, maybe tens of hopeful older people will finally pass the height restrictions to become jockeys? Except now they are too arthritic to climb on a horse? That’s funny, but not true. (And as far as I know, having diabetes is true but still not funny, unless you include the commercial with the guy who mows his lawn, walks his dog and bounces through his office to show how low his A1C is.)
There was something else funny, but I forgot. Oh, yes, forgetfulness, again. That never gets old, does it? How we are always trying to remember the name of some nineteen forties actress, or the company that made Double Bubble gum or who Nixon’s running mate was or the plane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. Wondering passes the time and takes our minds off our troubles and provides something to ask our friends when we meet, in case nothing else is going on in our lives. And it occasionally drives us to distraction. So then, when it comes to us, it bursts forth, like a brain orgasm, and we are so happy that even if we are sitting in the dentist’s waiting room, we shout, “Hedy Lamarr! Fleer’s! Spiro Agnew! Enola Gay!” like some deranged enumerators. And why did we have to know? To finish a sentence. Only old people have the leisure time to worry over a sentence that begins, “The actress who was in HER HIGHNESS AND THE BELLBOY was…”
Eh? Eh? Yes, deafness, mis-vision, those can be funny, sometimes. Like when my husband’s old boss, whose wife yelled a lot, found new liberation once he got hearing aids, because listening to her became optional, based on whether he took his hearing aids out or left them in.
What is NOT funny is old people jokes.
I did an informal poll of old people jokes on the internet. Forgetfulness and disabilities were the most popular. Among disabilities, deafness led the pack, but there were also plenty of yucks about stiffness, blindness, baldness, dentures, toothlessness, constipation, and incontinence. Sex (or the lack of it) was common, as were jokes about driving. Also, a declining sense of style. Old men in these jokes are always wearing white shoes and black socks.
And what an unfunny lot they were. First of all, most of them are based on stereotypes which just are not true, like the ones that make old people out to be clueless. Face it, it’s only funny if it strikes a nerve, and if it isn’t true, it doesn’t strike anything. And they are all the same five or six jokes repeated in a thousand different ways: “Mr. Green says to Mr. Jones” and “Two little old ladies are talking” and “Mrs. Brown tells Mrs. Gold” all turn out to have the same punchline. But most of all, they aren’t funny because they are being told ON old people instead of BY old people on themselves.
What makes us laugh at something about aging is the sense of joining together against a common enemy (memory loss, stiff knees, whatever it is) and conquering it, if just for a moment, by laughing together. It’s like any other in-joke – you have to be in the group to be entitled to laugh.
When someone tells the story of how she left the house without her dentures and had to go all the way back, and on the way she saw a neighbor, and the lengths she went to to avoid talking, it can only be funny if she is telling it on herself. If someone else tells it, it is bound to seem patronizing at best, mean spirited at worst.
The things I find funny are only the things I know are profoundly, sadly true in my own life, and that is probably the case for most of us. Learning to laugh and keep on laughing as old age gets serious is one thing no one else but we can do ourselves. Did I tell you the one about the writer who couldn’t come up with the words…?