“Smile, darn ya, smile!” — Jack Meskill & Charles O’Flynn

November 13, 2009

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.





5 Responses to ““Smile, darn ya, smile!” — Jack Meskill & Charles O’Flynn”

  1. Montag Says:

    Does he have any sense of the New or novelty?
    Is he ever surprised?
    I would think not; surprise if one of the sources of laughter and humor.

    Is he creative?
    He may not be amused, but is he ever amazed?

    • charlespaolino Says:

      None of the above. In an odd way, one might describe him as even-tempered. His mood never changes;he doesn’t seem to react to anything except in a mechanical way. He is not creative; my interaction with him is in an area that would make that apparent.

  2. Montag Says:

    I do not mean to beat a dead horse, as the saying goes, but I had never before thought of Sense of Humor as being related or similar to experience of the New, of Amazement, of Laughter, or Creativity.
    However, it seems likely that it may be.

    It sounds like a tale told by Oliver Sacks.

    I am going to see if I can find more about it.

  3. charlespaolino Says:

    Now that you mention it, I have read all of Dr Sacks’ books, and I don’t recall him addressing this phenomenon. There is a discussion of it at this link: http://www.aath.org/articles/art_sultanoff01.html
    I haven’t had time to read it all yet.

  4. Montag Says:

    Thank you. I shall have a look at it.

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