I Believe That Humor Can Unite Us All
When I was an AmeriCorps volunteer serving in a charter school in West Chicago, I took some of my students on a field trip to a neighborhood garden where they could earn some community service hours watering and weeding. My background and my students’ backgrounds were like night and day. I had grown up as a generic middle-class white and had gone to good schools that prepared me for a good college. My students were African American and Latino and had grown up in Chicago Public Schools, a system known for its lack of discipline and high dropout rates.
We took a stereo to blast some music while we toiled under the midday sun. On a break, one of my fellow volunteers and I started sliding from side to side, a lame representation of our best dance moves. One of my students was aghast.
“Ms. Evans!” he finally said. “Is that how you go in the club?” His face was all seriousness.
“No,” I reassured him. “THIS is how I go in the club!” and began flailing my arms in all directions. At this piece of whimsical self-deprecation, I, who previously thought I had nothing in common with my students, found myself connected to them through humor.
I believe that humor can unite us all through a single strand of laughter, and this strand goes beyond the water-cooler conversation of what was on 30 Rock the night before. Comedy requires two elements: a joke-teller and an audience. One cannot function without the other, and a mutual connection must exist between the two for the joke to have any meaning or effect.
I believe that humor reaches across cultures and languages. One of my favorite memories from my year as an exchange student in Germany is watching The Muppets Take Manhattan with my host family. My host mother collapsed in laughter as we watched the scene where the rats cook in the diner kitchen. It was the first time I realized that laughter is universal. Here I was, an American in Germany, not 60 years after our countries had been locked against each another in a war that shook the entire world, laughing with a bunch of people whose language I barely understood, at a bunch of rat puppets using butter to skate on a skillet.
Finally, I believe that humor is a powerful weapon against corrupt politicians and societal ills. When Mark Twain commented on racism, hypocrisy and the basic evils of human nature, he did it with humor. Today, humor provides a screen that allows comedians like Jon Stewart to ask questions that serious reporters would never voice. It challenges the powerful, not with guns or bombs or elections, but with simple mockery.