Reflecting on the mystery of humour
By Everard Cunion, April 2011
What is it about humour that causes us (well, some of us, anyway) to be unable to recall our favourite jokes? And when we do remember the funniest ones, we are incapacitated with laughter and so cannot get the punch line out. (I guess that’s one for V.S. Ramachandran to work on, if he hasn’t cracked it already.)
Which reminds me of a group trip I was on in the mid 1980s to Fatty Arbuckle’s, an American restaurant in Bournemouth… The drinks list had all the legendary U.S. alcoholic beverages, including of course the screwdriver. The one that caught my eye, however, was the slow comfortable screw. (It might even have been a long slow comfortable screw. It was a while ago.) We had a good laugh about it and no doubt we dared each other to ask for one. There were some attractive waitresses in the place, as well as the inevitable dragon in charge, so the possibilities for amusement were open-ended.
After the meal it came time to order drinks. Naturally, the dragon took the orders. There were about 20 of us there and I was roughly in the middle. Bear in mind that I have the proverbial memory of a goldfish. By then I had long forgotten the drinks list and, anyway, I do not drink alcohol. People were nudging me and it became very quiet. “She wants to know if you’re ordering a drink.”
I sat with facing away from where the waitresses entered the space we occupied. (That is one detail I remember clearly. Why?) I turned in my seat to face the dragon, incongruous in her frilly waitress uniform, and I said, amid the silence, “Oh, I’ll have a coffee please.”
After two beats there was uproar. It was as though I had said the funniest thing any of them had ever heard! I started to look down and around me to see if somebody had stuck a funny label on my clothing or chair. It made no sense. Just when it seemed they had laughed enough so as to be able to get on with the remaining drinks orders, one fellow, with tears streaming down his face, slapped the table and gasped, “I’ll have a c-c-c-haaaaaaa!” and he slapped the table again before rocking back in his chair, eyes closed, mouth wide open, and the uproar went on.