by Quincy Godwin
They say what goes up must come down – my jokes disagree.
They never land.
But even when the sun was blotted from the sky by the cloud of my unlanded jokes – soaring high over the heads of everyone who didn’t watch season 6 of It’s Always Sunny or doesn’t know who Joe Pesci is – my laughter still carried and my confidence in my delivery was never damaged.
Because every once in a while I got a couple of chuckles from the homies.
That was in America, though, where knowledge of trivia and references became necessities to salvage our minds from the boring lack of real problems to talk about. Then I left the States and the very few people that actually knew what the heck I was going on about were no longer there to guffaw for the Flawless Guffaw-less. (my nickname.)
At first I didn’t care. This didn’t stop me at all from assuming that everyone everywhere would understand everything I said in perfect context and that I’d be Emperor of Funnytown and also the rest of the world.
Besides some stiff competition from Donald Trump, I knew I was the perfect candidate, but unfortunately for the citizens of Funnytown that didn’t happen. In Tanzania and India no one laughed at my American jokes because:
A: They were very American
B: The tone of speech got lost somewhere in the lingual no-man’s-land, so people didn’t know if I was being funny or having an aneurism.
C: I’m not actually funny (unless you consider my physical attributes, in which case I’m about as funny as a sad clown.)
I also didn’t understand any of the jokes told to me. I’d be in a conversation with a friend and their jokes always seemed like a prom that nobody came to because there was never a punch line.
This time it was their joke that didn’t land, cluttering the sky even more.
So I went on telling jokes in a foreign country to blank faces and crickets. But as that inevitably lost its appeal, I also lost my voice. Nobody got me. Once again I was misunderstood – the voice that I too recently found in high school was gone again. I saw that laughing with people was something I need – a form of communication that no words spoken can take the place of. It’s a subconscious exchange of information like ‘I like you,’ and ‘you’re cool to hang out with,’ and it’s a necessary practice for fulfilling relationships and even individual contentment.
Without laughter the world is blank, a forgotten coloring book left to the moths. We must color it in. Unfortunately I had only the colors of red, white, and blue to fill it out – colors that look great to some, but lacking and out of place to most. So through hard work I completed my palette by understanding universal humor, and here I’ll let you peek at my paint stash.
This is how to laugh round the world.
1. Be dumb.
Good laughter is actually pretty difficult to come by in America. Unless you’re dumb, that is.
Sure, people chuckle politely at colloquial garnishes and exhale sharply through their noses at the irony of the latest Facebook meme their mom just shared or at lucidly self-aware blog wit. (nudge)
But they don’t laugh.
There’s just too many rules and people taking themselves too seriously to dance around for real laughter in the real world. The only way you can achieve the real bone-shaking, cheek-burning, gut-clenching, silent convulsions is on an apartment living room floor at 11:00 p.m. by biting a raw onion like an apple or in the backseat of a beat-down Sedan flying down the highway over a well-timed fart. Dumb laughter.
And I may not know a lot of things, but I know how to dumb.
I had made it too complicated. It’s not about making jokes at all – laughter isn’t that narcissistic. Laughter is recess from the classroom, a chance to bond with those around you by just going with what you feel. It cuts through all the ropes in your head that you dangle from, that bind you – and lets you fall free into an oblivion of simple understanding.
In Tanzania it’s so easy to be dumb, especially for an American. There’s no margin for action that isn’t practical – and, boy, are we impractical.
Wasting precious energy by going for a run? That’s dumb.
Being on time for things? Dumb.
I can be dumb there without even trying!
Once, in boredom, I began skipping rocks in a nearby lake. Out of nowhere a very angry man approached me, chewing me out in Swahili. My Tanzanian friend was quick to jump up and apologize for me. The man grimaced and stalked away before an avalanche of apologies gushed from my mouth like projectile vomit.
“What were you thinking!” my friend laughed. Tears were collecting in his eyes like dramatic irony in the situation.
“What… I – huh?” I was trying to organize myself when a boulder emerged near the shore of the dark green water, which only confused me more because according to my previous experience with The Entire Physical World, rocks don’t float.
My friend grabbed my arm and hustled me away swiftly – shaking with laughter the entire way. Eventually he suppressed his fits long enough to point out a sign that literally said, ‘No Throwing Stones’
“That’s a nationally protected Hippopotomas lake, you idiot!” he managed through seizures of laughter. My head drooped a bit under the weight of the pieces falling into place, “Oh… oh… ohhhh…”
As he laughed I just sort of stood there, not knowing what to make of the situation. Then slowly I felt it bubble up under my skin, into my throat. Another wave hit me and I couldn’t help but be swept away by it. We both stood on the hill laughing till our bodies ached. I am an idiot, I thought.
Which transitions me smoothly to my next point.
2. Laugh at yourself.
So you think you’re dumb, huh? I wanna hear you say it, “I’M DUMB!” Scream it to the world – “I’m dumb and it’s clutch!”
Now that I proclaim that I’m an idiot at least half a dozen times a day my quality of life has improved significantly. Honestly, I can’t see myself ever not being an idiot, either. It’s just too fun.
If you’re not laughing at yourself you’re missing one of the greatest comedies ever written.
In my experience these are the three funniest things in the universe:
-Roasting the boss behind his back
-Children saying the darndest things
-My own misfortunes
Oh, and that thing where you connect your sleeves, put one hand under your shirt, and pump. Forgot about that one.
It’s important to accept our own faults and to find humor in unfortunate coincidences that find us. Why would you let it beat you up if you could obtain knowledge and laughter, the two greatest currencies ever bought or spent, from it? It’s your payment for living life.
3. Let them laugh.
In Delhi I made the observation that city-life is tough. So many people living amongst one another makes them hard like the sidewalk they walk down. We go through the metro station, past each other again and again with all our defenses up. What’s the point?
You get the bad parts of people over and over, the fearful parts, the apprehensive parts – completely bypassing all the things that make them great. Their smiles, their humor, their tone of voice when they speak of their passions – all hiding like words in a pen.
So I asked: What would happen if I let those out? If I put down my defenses and let myself be free, what would happen? Would my flight inspire their own?
I experimented with this thought and I found something incredible. From the seed of a smile blooms a smile. From the ripple of a laugh, several more crash on the shore.
All I did was risk showing the light within myself to people, and found that they would do the same if I just gave them a reason to. Suddenly I had a superpower – I could make people present their best selves to me just by going first.
Here’s a secret: People want to laugh, LET THEM!
Number 2 and 3 were put to the test in Cochin by the antics of a black bird.
My audience was ripe:
If you’re as ghostly and giant as I in India, you can bet that everyone and their grandmother will be watching your every move, (especially the grandmothers.) So in Fort Kochi when a crow dropped a slimy fishtail smack on my forehead with a sickly splat and then immediately peed on me while I was walking through the park, everyone in the area caught a broomstick in their spokes and turned to see the grand show of my reaction.
I could practically smell the popcorn as the spectators took their seats – or was that crow pee?
In that moment I realized the important difference between humility and humiliation. I also realized that everyone was going to laugh whether I was with them or in front of them. So I decided I’d be with them.
Quickly, I peeled the soggy fishtail off of my dome like a misplaced strip of paper mache and pretended to take a bite out of it.
“Thanks for lunch!” I shouted up into the tree before I threw my head back and laughed until I nearly became even more saturated with urine.
Yeah, it sounds really dumb, but that’s the goal. (See point 1)
People met my eyes with looks of sympathy, I met theirs with nonchalant shrugs of laughter. One of the aforementioned grandmothers who saw this folly approached me in a ‘you-poor-thing’ sort of way, with laughter in her eyes and a clean wash cloth in her hand.
Everybody in the park laughed along with me and I think I had about 50 new friends by the end of the day, each of which I hung out with later, creating indefinite branches of experience that I never would’ve had had a bird not treated me as a garbage disposal and a toilet in the same instant. Those people remembered how I made them laugh, how I made them feel.
I don’t know why it’s such a secret that the effect we have on people is the most valuable thing we own. A feeling you give someone is something that’s never ever, ever forgotten, so give good ones.
4. Not to be funny, but…
Don’t be. Just let it happen. To give you the truth of it, most of the time that I laugh and see laughter is the result of laughter, not the result of something funny – life just brings up laughter like bubbles in a glass of pepsi.
I’ve laughed the hardest I’ve ever laughed when life just seems too good to me. When I was standing under a waterfall on Mt. Kilimanjaro; when I was flying down a curvy jungle road in the mountains on a bike; when I was cheering on a lion as it pounced on a gazelle in the Ngorongoro crater; when I was standing on the highest peak in the Ghats and seeing the world sprawled out below me. I swear I almost cracked a rib when I watched the kids use a slip-n-slide and ride a camel for the first time – the joy in their eyes made all the beams and bolts that assemble me lose friction and slide apart.
It’s the precious moments that’ll never happen again that shake us up the most. It’s spontaneous as an avalanche – a sudden gasp of direction, a glance at color in the everyday gray. It’s locking eyes with the nearest person in a blurry moment of high passion and experiencing a fleeting connection strong as the Golden Gate Bridge.
When we laugh with someone, I don’t know how it happens, but it’s as if we’re plugging ourselves straight into their brain, undiluted. That’s why it’s so important. We’re getting the direct output of who they really are deep inside. The brick walls of our brows smear into singularity while the empty spaces between are filled with the limitlessness of converging souls, leaning on one another, leaving no space for acoustics to amplify the echoes of anxieties and misunderstandings.
For just a moment you’ll feel yourself bursting from the back – your skin will be trampled underfoot by dancing blood, rioting at the end of a millennia of uselessness. Veins will hit the air like baseball bats. Eyes will shimmer like a river against blacked out pines in the setting sun and life will know meaning…
then it will end as quickly as it happened.
You don’t know who you’re asking but you are begging – do it again, like a dizzy child on a swing.
A few funny moments…
1. I drilled a particular Lynyrd Skynyrd song into the orphanage conscience by having it be the grand finale of my nightly concerts for the kids. If you’ve read my other blog posts you probably already know which.
When it was time to go to bed, the children would chant for one more song, and I would do my best Van Zant voice, “What song is it you wanna hear?!”
Collected from the broken homes in the villages of rural Tanzania, sitting on a muddy orphanage floor – in this moment these kids were instantly squished up against a stage barricade on some farm in Indiana in the early 80’s extending their arms and voices out desperately for their favorite band. Every child in the building, without fail, would scream at the top of their lungs, “FREEBIRD! FREEEEE BIRD!!!”
I did it every night for months, never got old.
2. The Danish language
Guy on the left: Which country?
Guy: Ohmygodohmygod. Oh. My. God. I LOVE EMINEM! Here’s some sunglasses – Dude, quick, take a picture of us!
*Gives me the sunglasses off his face while pulling out another pair of sunglasses*
*Just before picture snaps*
Me: Oh… Dude, are you sure?
Guy: *while putting on sunglasses* Don’t worry, Chicken Curry.
3. A Discovery
Dala dala’s are the main form of transport in Arusha. They are small buses with 2 operators – a driver and a ticket collector that yells things.
The entire time I was in Tanzania I was looking for a ticket collector named Bill that yelled ‘y’all’ a lot, for… reasons.
Near the end of my time there I was afraid that I’d never find him. I mean, what are the odds, right? Kinda silly for me to even be looking for him. I had become hopeless, then one morning in Dar es Salaam, I heard a distant, “Y’all!” flying down the highway…
“No… it can’t be…”
I flagged it down and as I was going whoknowswhere I asked the guy for his name.
I couldn’t believe it… There he was…
Dala dala Bill, y’all