The Old Grumpies: What makes people laugh?

At our recent meeting the chairman, who at the last one had banned laughing on the grounds that he had read it was bad for you, had to help himself to a large portion of humble pie.

Apparently, new research has shown that on balance its therapeutic benefits far outweigh any harmful effects.

The problem was that he announced this to a sparsely attended meeting, many apologies having been given on the grounds that they only come for a laugh and a chance to recycle some very old jokes.

Undeterred, the chairman proceeded to outline the apparent benefits which included a reduction in your blood pressure, your stress hormone level, improving your cardiac health and stomach muscles, boosting your T cells and a release of your endorphins.

The resident clever clogs said: “It was Hobbes who said that laughter is a sudden glory arising from some conception of a modicum of eminence in ourselves, by comparison with the infirmity of others, or with our own, formerly.”

He appeared somewhat disappointed when someone asked if it was the Hobbes who played cricket for Surrey and even more disappointed when the next question was: “Do you think Burnley will get promoted?”

After about 20 minutes we nearly agreed that Burnley just might make it, but when someone said he would laugh if they didn’t, there was a suspicion that he might be a Blackburn supporter. However it did trigger a discussion which lasted most of the meeting on what it is that make people laugh.

“My wife says I make her laugh,” said one member and everyone knew from past experience that it couldn’t be anything he would say, and it was probably when he got undressed.

What followed seemed to be a review of what could be described as classic comedy moments, such as: Dad’s Army German Captain: “Vot is your name? Mainwaring “Don’t tell him Pike.” Two Ronnies - Four candles please. And Morecambe Previn: “Those are not the right notes for Grieg’s Piano Concerto.” And Wise Eric “Those are the right notes but not necessarily in the right order.”

The conclusion was quickly drawn that humour is a subjective thing depending on mood, surroundings, prejudice and in most cases who is telling the story.

“It’s the way I tell ‘em,” said Frank Carson and he was right. At our meeting many a good joke is ruined by the teller’s poor delivery or even forgetting the punch line, but a master of timing often enhances a poor joke and we describe them as born comedians. We have a couple of those.

What happened next was that a member said he would tell us his favourite joke and we could analyse it if we wanted.

This was it: “A town vicar was invited to take the anniversary service at a country church and thought it would be appropriate to tell the story of the shepherd who lost one of his hundred sheep and proceeded to make great efforts to find it.

He then asked the congregation “Why did the shepherd make such a big effort to find his lost sheep? A little lad put his hand up and said, “ ‘appen it were tup.” Most people laughed when they realised that the joke was not as vulgar as they had expected and could picture the expression on the vicar’s face after hearing the little lad’s reply. The joke of course depends on the listener knowing what a tup is and where its duties lie.

A member then asked: “What do you do when you tell a joke with double meaning and the listener doesn’t get either of them?”

Say goodbye was the consensus, but them our legal member spoilt it all by giving us a list of all the things that it could be an offence to make jokes about.

There was very little left when he had finished although someone came up with the suggestion that you should start by saying: “I heard a fellow telling this joke the other day”, tell it and if they laugh that’s fine but if they say it was awful and offensive say you agree, and that those sort of people should be ashamed of themselves.

Some other favourite jokes were told which certainly proved that people have different senses of humour and what tickles one doesn’t always tickle another.

The meeting then almost started touching on what might be described as a discussion on the psychology of why we laugh and even Freud was mentioned.

This, of course, reminded us of the famous quote from Ken Dodd who said: “It’s alright for Freud to go on about the psychology of laughter, but he never had to do The Glasgow Empire on a Saturday night.”

Luckily, neither do we, and perhaps there will be more members at the next meeting now that the ban has been lifted.

We might get creased up, dissolve, be doubled up, roll in the aisles or even split our sides with laughter.

Let’s hope no one dies from laughing.