monalisaAt my advanced age, I have had a new experience: I have met a person who has no sense of humor.

I won’t describe the circumstances, because I need to protect this man’s privacy, but I can say that repeated exposure to this phenomenon can be unsettling.

I’m not talking about someone who doesn’t kid around or appreciate jokes. I’m talking about someone who has no sense of humor. He never smiles. Never. If I make a casual remark — such as, “What are you doing up so early?” — he either stares at me as though I had spoken in Arabic or he takes the question literally and gives me a literal, mundane answer.

Red Skelton 1He has had occasions in the context of our relationship to tell me about incidents in which a third party had joked with him or with co-workers. He described these incidents in a monotone and with a deadpan expression. Clearly he saw nothing funny about what he was describing.

I have reason to believe that a specific pathology is responsible for this man’s demeanor and, of course, I sympathize with him if that is true. I also have realized, however, that his inability or disinclination to laugh, or even smile, is as much a problem to me as it may be to him. When someone refuses to be amused, I realize how important it is to me to amuse him — or, more precisely, to show that I can.

carol-burnett-cI don’t think I’m alone with this. It seems to me that each of us spends a lot of time and energy each day trying to get a grin or a chuckle out of those around us. It’s a contest we’re all engaged in, and we never stop trying to outdo our competitors. Under usual circumstances, this enterprise has its ups and downs, because the wisecracker for whom every word is a laugh line is a rare bird, indeed. Most of us anticipate that some of our gags will work, and some will not. We accept the plaudits and eat the duds.

But the Gloomy Gus I have run into is a whole other matter. I’m afraid there aren’t enough priests, ministers and rabbis in all the corner bars on the planet to crack that grim facade.