The Danger of Laughter

I’ve been reminded recently that one of the most dangerous things in the world is laughter, especially when aimed at bureaucracies. I was reviewing some things about the Cold War, and found a brief description of Vaclav Havel’s early play The Garden Party. The dialogue makes no sense. It is a pile of cliches and double-speak and nonsense, all spoken by the protagonist and bureaucrats. The protagonist’s glory is that he has, at last, mastered how to navigate the bureaucracy of Czechoslovakia in the 1960s. The very absurdity and nonsense of the play is the point of the story.

The Soviets and other totalitarians fear laughter, even when it is not aimed at them. Laughter is an escape. The Grand Ayatollah Ruahola Khomei famously declared that “There is no joy in Islam.” At least not as he understood the faith. Living a life in full submission to the deity was far, far too serious a business for humor or laughter. (Aaaaand my mind went to the old cough drop commercial, replacing “Ricola™” with Ruahola. I’m a naughty blogger, yes I am.)

As you would expect, jokes flourished under the Soviets and inside the Warsaw Pact. And outside of the Warsaw Pact. People who can laugh at themselves tend to do better under stress, and have a more realistic view of the world.

You might be a Calvinist if . . . you believe that the 12 Apostles are Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, James the Brother of Jesus, Thaddeus, Peter, Augustin, Jerome, Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox.

For Stalin and others, the Cause or The System is far too important to laugh at it. For others, some things are too important not to laugh at them, or with them. I was amused to read that the Biden Administration hired a consultant to do research to find out what would be the most effective insult for political opponents. Their researcher worked very diligently, including holding focus group meetings to test the response to various terms. It took six months. Contrast this with the rapid speed with which said insult was turned into jokes. The Administration was Very Serious and believes very deeply in their cause. The opposition is not very serious, but also believes deeply in their cause. You can fill in Administration and opposition as you like – political, theological, historical, bureaucratic . . .

The Soviets and their puppet governments took laughter Very Seriously, which is part of why they fell apart. The rest of the world was serious about laughing at them, and at ourselves. Aggies tell Aggie jokes. Teachers tell teacher jokes. Christians tell church jokes, Jews tell rabbi jokes. Humor is healthy for the body politic. And dangerous, terribly dangerous for bureaucrats.

How many sopranos does it take to change a lightbulb? One. She holds the bulb and the world revolves around her.

The article below is a wonderful discussion of political humor in Soviet-controlled Europe, and has some really good jokes as well.


20 thoughts on “The Danger of Laughter

  1. Uh-oh, we just had a quick summary of Tay, and why it’s *that* disturbing when Tay gets serious.

  2. IMO The American Left doesn’t understand Humor. All they understand is Mockery.

    That’s why they hate humor directed at them.

    They see it as Mockery of themselves.

    To be fair, sometimes it is Mockery. 😉

    • Ronald Reagan could tell a joke, and take one. Donald Trump, not so much.

      • ???

        The cheeto-man who deliberately played up both the spray-on tan and the comb-over can’t take a joke? The guy who doubled down on his New York real estate developer hyperbole spiels?


        Trump tended to punch back at the mean-girl jokes, which is why folks got upset when he dished back what was served to him.

        Kind of like Justice Thomas recently outraged folks by saying that he’d be retiring from the court when he did his job as poorly as the reporter did his, which is an *excellent* burn that is also clever and unexpected.

        It’s different than Reagan, but… we are talking about the guy who had an “accidental hot mic” that just happened to catch him acting out the very “jokes” that were thrown at him. (My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.)

        All three would recognize the joy of even a well-crafted insult that you haven’t heard before, much less an actually *good* joke.

        Contrast with, say, Pootie-pie over in Russia, who is outraged that a comedian who told jokes about him is now running a neighboring country.

        • “The cheeto-man who deliberately played up both the spray-on tan and the comb-over can’t take a joke? The guy who doubled down on his New York real estate developer hyperbole spiels?”

          The President of the United States turned himself into a joke?!

          • Some point between Home Alone II and The Apprentice, Trump took Alice Cooper’s lesson about making a stage persona to heart and self-meme’d.

            It’s a very psychologically healthy option for someone who is going to be a public figure, and if you make it something funny as well, it’s even better.

          • Out of respect for our hostess, TXRed, I vow to avoid any further discussions of politics or religion at this party.

    • “Yankee Doodle” seems to no longer be understood. Take their psy-ops and psy-op them over the head with it, laughing all the way.

  3. Well, of course the world revolves around sopranos. Can you imagine how big the tenors’ egos would get if it revolved around them? Why, there’d be no room for anyone else in the concert hall!


    • Tenor egos come in three sizes: Akron, R101, and Hindenberg; each is a disaster in its own way. 😉

      With enough warmup, I can sing bass 2 through tenor 2. Bass 1 was “recruited to help” (really, provide the missing voices and power) for Carmina Burana. Took me a week to recover from singing that high above bass clef.

  4. I hated teaching three sections of Biology. By the time I reached the third section, I couldn’t remember which jokes I hadn’t told them!

    • The sections of history et al that I teach are far enough apart in precise topic that I don’t have to worry too much about students remembering jokes. Now, back-to-back siblings are a different story . . .

  5. And I’m reliably informed that lawyers tell the best lawyer jokes. As to my profession:
    How many programmers does it take to change a light bulb?
    None, it’s a hardware problem.

  6. Gotta be careful what kind of jokes you tell, though. They can’t be too funny. That could get you arrested. I hear that involuntary man’s laughter is good for a couple of years…

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