Monday, March 26, 2012

Children’s Version of Golden Rule: Do One to Others as they do One to You.

Play with Words
The Washington Post hosts a “Style Invitational,” inviting readers to take any word from the dictionary and alter it by adding, subtracting or changing one letter, and then supply a new definition.

Here are some winning entries:
sarcasm becomes sarchasm
The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the recipient who doesn’t get it

inoculate becomes inoculatte
The taking of coffee intravenously when you are running late

ibido becomes glibido
All talk and no action

From a friend, Bruce Peck:
confide becomes confido
To tell a secret to your dog

decompose becomes decomprose
A rotten style of writing

disconsolate becomes disconsolatte
The sad feeling you get when you run out of coffee

echo becomes echow
A repeated request for food

Another word-play story:
My neighbor found out her dog could hardly hear, so she took it to the vet. He found the problem was hair in its ears and cleaned both ears, and the dog could hear fine. The vet told the lady if she wanted to keep this from reoccurring she should get some “Nair” hair remover and rub it in its ears once a month. The lady went to the drug store to get some. At the register, the druggist tells her, “If you’re going to use Nair under your arms don’t use deodorant for a few days.” The lady says, “I’m not using it under my arms.” The druggist says, “If you’re using it on your legs, don’t shave for a couple of days.” The lady says, “I’m not using it on my legs either, and if you must know I’m using it on my schnauzer.” The druggist looked at her in amusement and cautioned, “Stay off your bicycle for a week.”

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Discuss ideas from these blogs with
other men and women. Explore ways to encourage each other to be funny and to
laugh uncontrollably.
After I shared my research on humor
and gender, Patrick Henry, director of the Ecumenical Institute at St. John’s
University in Collegeville, Minnesota, mentioned his experience of being one of
five men in an audience of 200 women at a conference on women and theology. He
admitted not knowing when to laugh. He shared this with a woman at the
conference who worked primarily with male clergy. She loved the experience. It
was one of the few times she knew when to laugh.

Make a humor date.
Have you ever done that on purpose? You might have fun making a list of
activities for such an occasion. Here are some ideas:

• Go to a magic store and ask the
clerk to demonstrate the products
• Invite a favorite comedian or
funny friend to lunch
• Look for humor at an art museum
• Go for a drive or a walk in
search of humor
• See how many funny stories you
can collect from people you encounter
• Make people laugh
• Go shopping for things that make
each other laugh
• Create your own humor scavenger
• Volunteer together at a daycare
• Invite funny friends to go on a
double date
• List your favorite funny movies;
then rent one

Once you have your list, put the items in a hat and draw one
out. Or schedule a humor date and then create it.
A friend of mine has created a
Valentine tradition. Throughout the year she collects Valentine gifts. At the
party we take turns throwing a pair of dice. When you get a double, you choose
a gift or you can steal one of the gifts already taken. The chocolate gifts are
usually “stolen” most often. A time limit or a certain number of turns
determines the end of the game.
Find out what makes others laugh.
Make it a point to give them something that reflects their humor and not just
yours. We often give away our humor instead of finding out what makes others laugh
and giving them theirs. This is also a great way to discover new sources of
humor. We’ve all heard of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you want them to
do unto you. Have you ever heard of the Platinum Rule? Do unto others as they
want to be done unto. Give others what they want instead of what you want to
give or what you think they should want.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Appreciating Gender Differences

Men and woman look at things
differently, experience humor differently. So, how can we appreciate gender
differences in humor? Is there any hope?
Furthermore, how can humor be an
opportunity to foster a greater understanding between the sexes? Are there
differences that we do not want to appreciate, differences that, in fact, may
be harmful to healthy relationships?
Humor can be a means to become
closer to people, a tool for creating healthy relationships. As a form of
communication, humor can be used constructively to build self-esteem or can be
used to undermine it. It can serve as the road to reconciliation and an
appreciation of the differences between men and women or it can provide
ammunition for the battle of the sexes.
Humor can be a bonding experience,
a sharing of experience, creating a sense of belonging, a sense of partnership.
As a form of self-presentation and expression of cleverness, humor can be a
valuable form of entertainment for the entertainer and the entertainee, a means for laughing, playing, and having fun
together. It also can serve as an expression of love, a building block in the
foundation for fun-loving, passionate, committed relationships.
In the words of the Russian
novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky: “If you wish to glimpse inside a human soul and
get to know someone, don’t bother analyzing their ways of being silent, of
talking, of weeping, or seeing how much they are moved by noble ideas; you’ll
get better results if you just watch them laugh. If they laugh well, they’re
good people” (adapted to inclusive language).
Actor Joanne Woodward has another
take on the importance of humor in relationships: “Sexiness wears thin after a
while and beauty fades, but to be married to a man who makes you laugh every
day, ah, now that’s a real treat.” Woodward has been married for forty-six
years to my favorite blue-eyed actor, social activist and entrepreneur, Paul

“While attending a marriage seminar
on communication, my husband and I listened to the instructor declare, ‘It is
essential that husbands and wives know the things that are important to each
other.’ He addressed the men. ‘Can you describe your wife’s goals, her dreams?
Do you know her favorite song, her favorite flower?’ My husband leaned over,
touched my arm tenderly and whispered, ‘Pillsbury All-Purpose, isn’t it?’”

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

During my time in Studium (2002 to
2003), a residential scholars’ program of the Sisters of Saint Benedict, I
discovered I was living in a laugh laboratory. Where else could I find a better
reflection of women’s humor than in a women’s monastery? My experience at
monastery meals confirms the research; amusing stories of daily living are
shared and everyone participates. Sometimes two or three people tell an
anecdote together. You often hear words of encouragement: “Sister, tell the one
about . . .” Here are two of my favorites:

When the sister known for her
social justice work was speeding across Montana, a patrolman pulled her over.
He asked, “Didn’t you see me on the side of the road?” She said, “Yes.” The
officer asked why she didn’t slow down. She innocently and honestly replied, “I
thought it would be hypocritical.”
Reprinted with permission

While assigning research topics, a
sister theology professor announced, “Sexual intercourse hasn’t been chosen;
anyone interested in this topic, please see me in my office.” Reprinted with permission

Finally, although women are seldom
included in standard anthologies of American humor, there are numerous
anthologies of women’s humor available. We have a richer written heritage than
we may realize. Besides the books mentioned above, other favorites include: They Used to Call Me Snow White But I
Drifted, In Stitches, Pulling Our Strings, Women’s Comic Visions, Women’s Comic
Fiction, and Redressing the Balance.

How many have heard of best-selling
writer, Marietta Holley? Holley wrote more than twenty books from 1873 to 1914.
She was enormously popular and entertained as many people as Mark Twain.
Through the wit and gentle satire of her main character, Samantha, wife of
Josiah Allen, she challenged the status quo of social and political realities,
especially concerning women’s rights. For example, “Samantha cannot understand
why men are trying so hard to protect women from the effort it takes to walk to
the polling booth and slip a piece of paper in a box. She has noticed that
these same protective instincts do not apply to churning butter, baking bread,
and washing clothes, which she observes take considerably more effort.”

Monday, March 5, 2012

Humor and Gender Continued

Beyond the differences in joke preferences between the sexes, Dr. Nancy Walker, a professor of women’s studies and author of A Very Serious Thing, suggests that women don’t particularly like jokes. In her study of women’s literature, she found that women tend to be storytellers rather than joke tellers. For women, humor functions as a means of communication rather than as a means of self-presentation, a sharing of experience rather than a demonstration of cleverness. Women more often prefer the spontaneous humor of everyday life, amusing stories, and anecdotes. They are more participatory. Walker identified the following common characteristics of women’s written humor: it embodies a we/they attitude, reveals a collective consciousness, and makes clear that a group other than ourselves has made the rules by which we must live.
The late Erma Bombeck’s writing exemplifies these characteristics. When women’s lives were centered in the home, that was the primary source of humor for them. Erma Bombeck capitalized on it, and women loved her column. Men, whose lives were centered outside the home, didn’t get Bombeck’s humor. Males who have assumed more responsibility in the home now have a finer appreciation for her writing.
“The harder a woman works, the more things go wrong,” Bombeck said about the perils of being a mother and a homemaker. According to Nancy Walker, Bombeck’s humor created a sense of community for women, building women’s confidence and identifying a social system that “makes women solely responsible for the functioning of the household and sets impossibly high standards for their performance.”
Bombeck simply used humor to point out some of the same cultural incongruities and inequities that scholars were trying to expose. For example, in Honey Hush: An Anthology of African American Women’s Humor, editor Daryl Cumber Dance presents dozens of examples of the characteristics Walker identifies: the we/ they attitude, the collective consciousness, and the notion that a group other than African American women has made the rules by which they must live. She writes,

Humor hasn’t been for us so much the cute, the whimsical, and the delightfully funny. Humor for us has rather been a means of surviving as we struggled. We haven’t been laughing so much because things tickle us. We laugh, as the old blues line declares, to keep from crying. We laugh to keep from dying. We laugh to keep from killing. We laugh to hide our pain, to walk gently around the wound too painful to actually touch. We laugh to shield our shame. We use our humor to speak the unspeak- able, to mask the attack, to get a tricky subject on the table, to warn of lines not to be crossed, to strike out at enemies and the hateful acts of friends and family, to camouflage sensitivity, to tease, to compliment, to berate, to brag, to flirt, to speculate, to gossip, to educate, to correct the lies people tell on us, to bring about change.
How many people know what it’s like to be the only person in a relationship?
—Linda Moakes, comedian

Friday, March 2, 2012

Sexuality, Society, and Feminism

In an article on humor in Sexuality, Society, and Feminism,
Michael Mulkay examined the representation of women in men’s sexual humor by
analyzing dirty jokes collected by folklore researchers and comic routines in
British pubs observed by ethnographers. He identified four basic themes in this
male sexual humor:

1) The primacy of intercourse—all men want is sex.
2) The availability of women—all women are sexually
available to all men even when they pretend not to be.
3) The objectification of women—women exist to meet men’s
needs, and are, or should be, passive.
4) The subordination of women’s discourse—women must be

These themes articulate why this
type of sexual humor is offensive and hurtful to women personally and also
detrimental to healthy relationships between men and women. I want to be
careful not to over-generalize from the two studies listed above, which reflect
a fairly small segment of English-speaking males. However, the fact is that
there is an over-abundance of jokes that reflect these themes. I will not
provide examples here, and I assume you don’t need to be convinced of the harm
this kind of humor can do to relationships.
Nevertheless, we have to remember
that some sexual humor can be healthy and appropriate. In the United States
there seems to be a tendency to label humor either dirty or clean, with
anything sexual belonging to the dirty category, thus perpetuating the
unfortunate notion that sex is dirty. I am not opposed to humor with sexual
innuendos, as long as it doesn’t use the themes outlined above. Mulkay’s
identification of these themes can be useful in distinguishing between sexual
humor that is harmful and that which is healthy.

There were three engineers discussing
the design of the human body. The mechanical engineer insisted that it must
have been a mechanical engineer who designed it since without the skeletal
structure we would be like jellyfish. The electrical engineer claimed that an
electrical engineer designed the body, given the importance of the brain and
the nervous system. The civil engineer said, “No, no, no! It had to be a civil
engineer. Who else would put a waste-water treatment facility in the middle of
a recreational area?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Isn’t it curious that while women
laugh more than men, and are even socialized to laugh, they are often told,
subtly and sometimes not so subtly, that they have no sense of humor?
Another way that men and women
differ is in their opinions about what’s funny. The British Association for the
Advancement of Science conducted an experiment over the Internet. The results
of this search for “the world’s funniest joke” in which 350,000 people
submitted and/or rated jokes were published in a book, Laughlab. According to the director, Dr. Richard Wiseman, an
unintended result of the experiment was a more accurate understanding of the
jokes preferred by each sex. Males favored jokes involving aggression, sexual
innuendo and the put-down of women. Women preferred jokes involving word play.
“These findings reflect fundamental differences in the way in which males and
females use humour,” Wiseman asserted. “Males use humour to appear superior to
others, whilst women are more linguistically skilled and prefer word-puns.”
Humor that uses aggression, sexual
innuendo and the putdown of women—especially humor that uses all three—is not
conducive to healthy relationships and, in fact, is harmful.

A difference in taste in jokes is a great
strain on the affections.
—George Eliot, author

A study in the Washington
Post says that women have better verbal skills than men. I just want to say
to the authors of that study: “Duh.”
—Conan O'Brien, late night
talk show host

Word play:
• A Freudian slip is
when you say one thing and mean your mother.
• When you dream in
color, it’s a pigment of your imagination.

Monday, February 27, 2012

men, women, and humor

While it is no surprise to most
people that men and women are different from each other in a number of vitally
important ways, the differences in how men and women view and express humor are
not always well understood. Just as there are societal expectations about
numerous other gender differences, there are also subtle variations in how men
and women participate in humor.
One key difference: men have more
permission to be funny than women have. Society expects men to perform. Being
funny and clever is one type of performance. However, men also tend to laugh
less, perhaps because male socialization teaches them that they must always be
in control. According to Susan Horowitz in
Queens of Comedy, “The most resistant audiences—for both male and female
comics—are male, mainly because they equate laughter with losing control.”
On the other hand, women have more
permission (perhaps even pressure) to laugh. It makes them a better audience.
Horowitz quotes comic Jerry Seinfeld, “They’re more open. I’ve always felt an
audience dominated by women is great for me because they don’t have any
withholds on getting silly and doing things for fun. A woman’s sense of humor
is much more free, open and loving—it doesn’t have to make sense. If it’s fun,
Indeed, women, even while they have
been socialized to contain their own sense of humor, are led to believe they
should laugh even if they don’t think something is funny. They’re told it’s
good to laugh at men’s jokes, good to show a lighter side and support men’s
humor. And that may not be all bad. Dr. Madan Kataria, founder of the Laughter
Club movement and author of Laughter for
No Reason, states that even inauthentic or fake laughing delivers the same
health benefits as the real deal. This may be one reason women live longer than

In Honey Hush, Daryl Cumber Dance describes how “proper ladies” are
supposed to laugh. “Hold your hand over your mouth . . . hold it straight and a
little to the side, like you’re going to whisper something to someone next to
you.” Now women seem to be reclaiming their authenticity, consciously choosing
when they will laugh and how. Perhaps that’s one reason feminists are accused
of not having a sense of humor.

A man asked the reference librarian where he could find the
book, The Male: The Superior Sex.
Immediately the librarian responded, “Oh, that would be over in fiction.”

A couple of weeks ago a comedian complained to me it isn’t
fair that women can tell jokes about men and get away with it, but men can’t
tell jokes about women without being criticized. I wanted to tell him about the
various theories on laughter as a weapon of the underdog—but it had too many
words and no pictures. I told him that if all males would relinquish their
power, eradicate rape from the face of the earth and give women twice as much
money as men for the same job, then he could tell as many jokes about women as
he wanted. Until then, tough luck.
From Mary Hirsh, “ Heard Any Good Jokes Lately?” Minnesota Women’s Press

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I Saved a Marriage Once

I saved a marriage once. In my humor workshops, I invite participants to take something away that they can use in their lives. One recently married workshop attendee was upset when her hilarious pranks didn’t seem to be funny to her husband. In fact, he was emphatically unappreciative of her efforts at humor. When I spoke about how we tend to give away our own humor instead of finding out what makes others laugh, suddenly the light bulb went on for her. She immediately understood why her prankster tricks weren’t working with her husband. Not only did he not appreciate that kind of humor, she wasn’t at all clear what actually made him laugh. The woman left the workshop intent on finding out. When we met again, she told me her humor relationship with her husband had improved immeasurably. She had discovered he was a punster. Now she enjoys finding puns that make him laugh.
Experiences like this keep me going in this business!
However, there also have been marriages that I could not save. For example, Cameron hired me as her humor coach because she wanted to lighten up. In truth, her husband, Keith, wanted her to lighten up. Committed as she was to being the best partner she could be, she came to me to learn how. For several weeks, she spent time getting to know his humor, creating opportunities to bring humor to their relationship as well as to the rest of her life. She had great success bringing humor to her relationship with her five-year-old son and to her work as a physician in a small town clinic.
During one of our conversations, she happened to mention her concerns about Keith’s gambling. Having spent four years in the Professional Education Department at Hazelden, I understood how addictions could destroy relationships. I urged her to protect herself and her son and referred her to professionals who could help with that issue. As it turned out, my suspicions that Keith’s gambling were at the root of the family’s problems were confirmed. The family had been devastated financially by Keith’s gambling and that he was unwilling to seek professional help. Cameron continues to lighten up and develop her humor outside that relationship.
Both of these examples illustrate an important lesson about humor and healthy relationships: humor is a tool, a means to an end, not the end itself. True intimacy requires a respectful, trusting relationship. Without the commitment to re-establish trust, Cameron’s effort to lighten up within her relationship with Keith was doomed. Humor doesn’t promote intimacy where there is distrust, disrespect or denial. Healthy humor is based on relational trust.


Write a fun personal ad. If you are already with a partner, write one for each other. Write what you think your partner wants in a mate. Compare ads.

Senior Personal Want Ads:
WINNING SMILE: Active grandmother with original teeth seeking a dedicated flosser to share rare steaks, corn on the cob, and caramel candy.

MINT CONDITION: Male, 1922, high mileage, good condition, some hair, many new parts including hip, knee, cornea, valves. Isn't in running condition, but walks well.

I’m tired of all this business about beauty being only skin deep. That’s deep enough. What do you want—an adorable pancreas?
—Jean Kerr, writer