Monday, May 08, 2006

Still The Greatest Medicine

Some forms of creativity, no less important, are immaterial as well as transient. One of the most important is to make people laugh. We live in a vale of tears, which beginss with the crying of a babe and does not become any less doleful as we age. Humor, which lifts our spirits for a spell, is one of the most valuable of human solaces, and the gift of inciting it rare and inestimable. Whoever makes a new joke, which circulates, translates, globalizes itself, and lives on through generations, perhaps millennia, is a creative genius, and a benefactor of humankind almost without compare. But the name of the man or woman remains unknown. I say "or woman" because women, whose lives are harder, need jokes more than men and make them more often. The first joke in recorded history (about 2750 BC) was made by a woman, Sarah, wife of Abraham, and the joker and her laughter are recorded in the book of Genesis, 18:12.15, Sarah being rebuked by the Lord for her frivolity. There was an old-fashioned stand-up comic called Frankie Howerd, whose art is imperfectly recorded in scraps of old movies and in video footage. I once found myself sitting near him at a tedious public dinner and said: "You have a creative face, Mr. Howerd." "You are flattering me." "No, sir. You comics, who create laughter from what nature has given you, are among the most valuable people on earth. Statesmen may come, and generals may go, and both exercise tremendous power. But the true benefactors of the human race are people like you, who enable us to drown our inevitable sorrows in laughter." He was moved by this, and I suddenly noticed large tears coursing down his old cheeks, furrowed by decades of anxiety about raising chuckles (or, as he used to put it, "titters") in drafty music halls. That creative face of his took on a new dimension of tragicomedy, and he wiped his tears and whispered: "That's the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me." Then he told me, and acted out, the notorious joke about the one-armed flutists, and the incident dissolved in laughter."

From "Creators".