On thursday I happened to check on my facebook and saw that somebody had shared the story of a Brazilian couple who turned out to be half-brother/sister. On its face it’s quite a sad story; both adopted, the couple met, fell in love, and started a family, only to later find out that they share a mother. In any case, never being shy to riff on somebody’s pain, I made a throwaway gag (admittedly, one that I thought was quite clever) and it seems to have been warmly received; as I write this (24 hours later) it has received more than 1,600 likes.
While it is gratifying to know that this many people though I made a funny (and decided to actually click something to demonstrate it; never under-estimate the laziness of the common or garden internet user) it does worry me that I suddenly became so invested in that number growing. I realised last night that my life really should be about more than making crappy little jokes on the internet. But then…why should it? I’ve always bobbled through life fairly cheerfully, and making my jokes and puns and other assorted efforts at humour is something that essentially makes me..me. And that’s been the case since I was very small, when I realised I could make my parents or classmates laugh. A lot of my self-image is tied into my sense of humour – I can be lonely, I can have no money, I can be having a totally shitty week/month/year/decade, but hey, I’ll always be able to laugh at myself – so I don’t know if it’s that unreasonable to be interested in the reaction to that humour at times.
Like most people who make a lot of jokes, I’ve always used humour as a sort of self-defense mechanism (henceforth known as “The Chandler Strategem”). If I can make jokes about myself, then I’m sort of innoculated against other people poking fun at my expense, and given some of my problems at school, that proved to be quite helpful. It’s a pretty hard habit to get out of, apparently, because I’m still doing it more than 25 years after starting. The odd thing is, though, is that it’s become such a part of me that even though I’m older and more confident in myself now, I can’t imagine not being somebody who makes a lot of silly gags. And I really don’t want to change myself in that way, anyway. I like making jokes, even if I’m almost literally the only person who laughs at them (really, this happens a lot. I’ll be driving home and something will pop into my head and I’ll start giggling. Other road users tend to shy away from the crazy person laughing to himself in his car too; a positive side-effect).
As I’ve said though, it is nice to hear somebody say “that’s a good joke”, or words to that effect. It’s also nice to have your own “oeuvre” (a fancy French word, which in this context means “stuff”) acknowledged as actually having originated with you. I’ve lost count of the amount of times that I’ve made a joke on twitter and then I find it used by somebody else a few minutes later- and most infuriatingly of all, *that* version is the one that gets retweeted. It’s an odd side effect of the internet echo chamber, really. Everybody is saying something but very few people are actually listening.
I choose to think that it’s my British standard of fair play that gets me annoyed, rather than any fragile ego I may or may not have. So don’t even think of levelling that accusation at me.