August 25, 2010


I love James Thurber. “My Life and Hard Times” is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. In fact, Heart Land is set in Ohio as a subtle tribute to the author. 

I’ve read Thurber’s book several times and still can’t get through the pages without doubling over with laughter. Knowing what comes next does nothing to dull my appreciation. If anything, it enhances it. My mind says, “Oh, oh, I know what’s going to happen,” and before I turn the page, I’m giggling in anticipation.

If I had to guess why I think this book is funny, I’d say Thurber had an eye for the absurdities in human nature and the craftsmanship to distill them on to the written page. I agree with him that as specie, we have too many flaws not be a bit of a cosmic joke. I never laugh at lions and tigers and bears and I’d never smile at a crocodile. But laugh at me and my fellow human beings? You bet.    

I love Monty Python for the same reason I love Thurber. They too were brilliant at catching the foibles in human nature.     

One of the best examples occurs in the film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail:” a black knight stands in the middle of the road, blocking the hero. The two men fight and the black knight loses. First he loses one arm, then two, but he refuses to budge. The hero decides to cut off both limbs to convince his opponent the battle is over; but the black knight fails to recognize defeat. Finally his head is severed from his body. As the hero steps over it and rides away, the head sits in the center of the road contending the fight is still on.  

If the scene sounds grisly, it isn’t. The audience is too busy laughing. We’re laughing because we’ve all argued with someone who refuses to give ground regardless of overwhelming evidence. Maybe we recognize a bit of ourselves in the black knight. 

Like advice or criticism, humor can instruct. For me, humor is the best teacher. I can laugh at myself without being so wounded I refuse to learn.