On שמחה – Simchah, Humor and Playfulness
The legendary comedian, Milton Berle was once a guest on the Muppet Show. At the beginning of the show he got into an argument with Statler & Waldorf, the heckling old-timers in the balcony:
Waldorf interrupted Uncle Milty, “You know what, I just figured out your style. You work like Gregory Peck.”
Berle responded, “Gregory Peck is not a comedian.”
“Well…,” Statler lets the punchline just hang there.
“Now just a minute, please,” the now agitated Milt says, “I have been a successful comedian half my life.”
And to that, the Muppet shoots back “How come we got this half?!” Click here to watch the video clip.
שמחה (Simchah) Humor, Playfulness is an expression of understanding of a situation, a calculation of implications, and, at its best a powerful tool to create a bond with the people in the room. While there are limits to good taste (usually measured by setting as well the depth of trust and connection between all parties involved), the playfulness of a good humor is often an expression of a needed lightness required for human flourishing. Mel Brooks said that, “Humor is just another defense against the universe.”
A young scholar of Chelm was stunned one morning when his wife gave birth. He ran to the rabbi.
“Rabbi,” he blurted out, “an extraordinary thing has happened! Please explain it to me. My wife has just given birth although we have been married only three months! How can this be? Everyone knows it takes nine months for a baby to be born!”
The rabbi, a world-renowned sage, put on his silver-rimmed glasses and furrowed his brow as if to think.
“My son,” he said, “I can see you haven’t the slightest idea about such matters, nor can make the simplest calculation. Let me ask you: Have you lived with your wife three months?”
“She has lived with you three months?”
“Yes,” the young man said again.
“Together–have you lived three months?”
“What’s the total then–three months plus three plus three,” asked the rabbi?
“Nine months, Rabbi!”
“So Nu, what’s the problem?”
מחשבה/Machshava (Think about it): Woody Allen says that ‘comedy is tragedy plus time’. Is he correct? This week, when you find a light occasion to laugh, try to notice who or what is the object of the difficulty or pain.
מעשה/Ma’aseh (Try it): This week, tell a planned joke. Pay close attention to the questions of audience (Would everyone listening really be comfortable with this?) and setting (Is this the right time and place for levity?).
After you tell a joke, or when you notice yourself laughing, try to also notice what it physically feels like (does your face flush, do you lose your breath a little, does a break from the business of your day feel a little lighter?).