It’s all in the family
February 3, 2012
By Pat Detmer
Several years ago I exchanged a series of letters with Patrick McManus, a humorist who has been writing very funny stuff for a long, long time. In one of the letters, I asked him why it was that magazines and newspapers were generally leery of publishing humorous essays. His response was that humor frightened most editors because it’s so subjective. (A moment of appreciative silence for fearless Newcastle News Editor Kathleen Merrill.)
It makes me wonder: Where does a sense of humor come from, anyway? Is it genetic? I can’t say that my parents were laugh-out-loud funny, but the legacy that they left indicates a predilection to the comic. My father was often transferred and promoted, so we sometimes moved to a new city before we even had a chance to memorize our latest address and phone number. My sisters and I were forced to create a self-sustaining, insular social model so that when we moved to the next strange place, at least we had each other. Maybe that kind of familiarity breeds either contempt or a sense of humor to combat it.
The first time I realized that I was considered amusing was when I was in the seventh grade. Our assignment was to give a five-minute speech on any subject. I wrote about the space between my teeth (no longer existent) and how it made it easier to spit out watermelon seeds, and I included a poem about my two little sisters being irritating and loveable at the same time.
It was not that big a deal to me, just another homework assignment. When I presented it, the waves of laughter shocked me. More shocking was the fact that the nuns made me do it again and again in front of every class in the school. It was my first tour, and what I loved the most was getting out of seventh grade assignments to allow for it.
All of these musings regarding the origin of humor came to mind when my sister Susie Detmer was chosen for a Seattle version of “Dancing With the Stars.” It’s a benefit to combat homelessness put on by the Plymouth Housing Group. Each amateur dancer’s interview was posted on their website, and I’ll guarantee you that my sister’s answer to this question didn’t look like anyone else’s:
Why are you dancing for Plymouth Housing Group? I should say I am dancing because Plymouth Housing Group is a terrific cause. While that is the case, truth be told I would dance for Bernie Madoff’s defense fund if it meant I could learn to dance with a pro.
You can reach Pat Detmer — who really is Laughing All The Way — at email@example.com.