“The rule is, jam tomorrow, and jam yesterday – but never jam today.” Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson)
“It must come to ‘jam today’” Alice objected.
“No it can’t” said the Queen. “It’s jam every other day: today isn’t any other day, you know”.
Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson)
The various word plays and well-constructed nonsense in Alice in Wonderland is always amusing. Hilarious in fact. Thank our lucky stars we have funny people in this world that keep us laughing. They feed our sense of humour – a trait essential for traveling happily in this world. It can often act like a suit of armour, protecting us from the vagaries of life. Events, both tragic and positive, often catch us off guard. It’s best to let the dust settle, delay your immediate reaction, take measure and, if possible, look at the funny side… Laugh!
It’s easy to step back and evaluate a lot of human activity, and look at things that many people hold dear – after careful thought you will come to the conclusion that lots of it is pretty trivial. My god, look at (most) sports! So many people think it is a serious endeavour when it involves mostly a bunch of overpaid, never-grown-up men and women chasing a ball around. It’s laughable! Many other things, that people view as important, should also be considered pretty low on anyone’s priority scale – a scale that should measure and determine which activities lead to understanding, empathy and wisdom.
Getting back to laughter, I’m not suggesting we should laugh at all events… some things are too morbid; death is one example. But there seems to be some kind of connection between depressing situations and humour. I’m saying this after studying many of our greatest comedians and humourists. Some of their best jokes make fun of some terrible life situations. And, interestingly, a large proportion of them seem to have severe bouts of depression – their world-view is skewed towards the negative. The recent death of one our most creative and brilliant comedians, Robin Williams, is an example of a person who was a genius of comedy yet who, at the same time, couldn’t cope with the world.
The author of Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, was a peculiar and controversial man. He was a lifelong bachelor, suffered from migraine headaches, stammered and was quite shy. He kept to himself. He also used opium which may have been a way of coping with his loneliness – it may also explain some aspects of his writing. Opium, it is noted, can distort one’s sense of space and time. In the Alice story there are some scenes that definitely some parts that feature distortions bordering on hallucinations. My interest is in the connection between humour and depressed people, and Carroll seems to be yet another example. Out of the depths of their pain comes a remarkable clarity in seeing things that make us laugh. The list of great comedians dying young, by their own hand or bad habits, is substantial… besides Robin Williams, there was Lenny Bruce, John Belushi, Chris Farley, and more… They all made us laugh, with that laughter gave us brief respite from our own problems. Unfortunately, however not their own troubles.
I think that some of the funniest people on earth are politicians. The only thing that politicians have that is different from great comedians is that they can actually be relatively well-adjusted folk. It is inevitable however that in the end they will succumb to depression. They will often campaign very seriously, displaying tremendous sincerity, on a policy platform of progressive, well-defined initiatives (to be enacted upon their election). Then, once elected, they do nothing related to their promises… or, even worse, they do the opposite. It happens time and again, and it makes you laugh, at first. I’m reminded of Groucho Marx’s line, “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others”. Some politicians are born liars or they suffer from temporary amnesia (conveniently). Most simply state “I didn’t know the previous government had left us in this much of a mess…” or “my hands are tied” for some unforeseen manufactured reason. As I mentioned, one often laughs as an immediate reaction, often in disbelief, but eventually we simply feel let down.
Of course, not all politicians are insincere. There have been great leaders in history - leaders that stand out above the rest and stay on the right side of history. Abraham Lincoln was one such person. He faced profound problems during his presidency and was required to make some incredibly hard decisions. It turns out that for the most part they were good decisions. He is often considered among the greatest of all American presidents. But even Lincoln was not without his detractors. He too was accused of saying one thing, then doing another. He was not immune to some “low blows” as well…he was also often ridiculed for having a less than handsome face. On one occasion, drawing upon his humour and wit, he answered all of those critics in one deft remark. To those who said he was a both a liar and ugly too:
“If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?”
Now that’s humour! Well-timed and on the mark.