Blessay 16: Unfunny People

Agelast = person with no sense of humour
Misogelast = a hater of humour
Hypergelast = one who is always laughing.

Until I’d read Rabelais and George Meredith I had been unaware of these terms to describe the mental states of probably quite odd people. I have come across people in these categories. Their ‘difficulty’ with humour and acknowledging a comedic side was almost akin to them having no interest in music (though I would sooner have people around me who were stone deaf to the power of music, so long as they could laugh at themselves and share the humour of the group.)

If you are a combination of Agelast and Misogelast then you are living in a misanthropic hell, for others round you, and probably enjoy your grumpy world. As for the Hyperglast, is he or she in some deluded private heaven or suffers from a nervous disorder?

Here are two real enemies of humour I’ve met where any other good qualities they had, or tried to have, didn’t make up the difference. These encounters happened in the mid to late seventies when I was a student and later as a graduate.

My neighbour, a woman, in her late thirties, was bothered by the noise that my large typewriter (an old 1930’s model) made. She said she could hear it through the wall as she was meditating. The walls of the rooms, in that old Victorian property, were substantially thick. Yet I agreed to meet up and discuss the ‘problem.’ On entering her flat she stood, unlit cigarette in hand, posing impervious, yet ripe to be angry, against the fire-place. A one bar electric fire barely heated the room. She made no move to greet me. Simply expected me to walk the long trail to her. I did, struggling with my very heavy typewriter (she wanted to see the noisy offender.) It was placed at her feet. This caused her to move to one side and reveal a newspaper cutting cellotaped to the shelf over the fireplace. It wafted a little. I edged nearer. The clipping was an article on Uganda and a photograph of a diseased ridden child. She stared at the huge offending typewriter keys. She lit her cigarette. “I see what you mean about size.Is there no way you can muffle the sound?’ she asked. ‘Only if I typed in bed with the duvet over me. But then there’d be no room for my girlfriend!’ That didn’t go down well. She blew out smoke and suggested. ‘Have you thought of a new portable manual? They are quieter.’ That was true I thought. ‘This was cheaper. Bought it in a junk shop. Of course an electric would be better. I love the way the carriage moves back by itself, quite sexy.’ ‘An electric?’ she coughed. My humorous strategy wasn’t working. ‘Could we agree on a typing time when I’m out, or cooking?’ she asked. We agreed. This produced strained smiles.’ Thank you. You know of course that after work my mind is on other…important work.’ She looked at the African child clipping, then back at me. ‘Good evening, Mr.Price.’I almost strained myself lifting up the machine. She didn’t open the door for me.

It was the week-end and the matron was away. I was a volunteer working at a residential care home for the elderly. My role was so provide activities that were mentally stimulating. The Valium dosed residents were consigned to large upright chairs, intense over-heating (even on Summer days) and subjected to daytime television. The matron encouraged me to organise afternoons of painting, drawing, story telling, communal singing or an ‘old memories hour.’ But the assistant-matron disapproved. It was the laughter that startled her. A chuckle, guffaw or a shriek (so minimal as to come at the end of the session,just prior to the Valium wearing off and the next dosage) disturbed her. She employed a care assistant to spy on me. For her laughter and high spirits led to disorder.

Her name was June. She had short dark hair. Always wore a grey two piece suit with grey high heels. Large dark glasses were locked to her unsmiling oval face. She looked like a woman who was born, and nurtured, in the padding of a timeless power suit. ‘I think we should call it a day, don’t you? They’re being over stimulated and will not digest their tea!’ June’s head shook making her large grey ear-rings quiver. ‘They’re always having bloody tea. Is that the only stimulant they deserve?’ Before I could protest further two more of her aides were removing residents into the dining room next door.

On the days the cheerful matron was in, June simmered in the shadows of the office. I never once heard her laugh, saw her smile or say anything positive. Of course she was an efficient controller of the weak, who received a cold pleasure from her good works. I never saw her strike out at anyone (at least when I and the matron were present) but mentally she did it, blow after blow, with her sadistic looking presence. Maybe inwardly she was always laughing at the plight of those she could only partly control.

‘For if agelasts tend to see sacrilege in every joke, it’s because every joke is a sacrilege..There is an irreconcilable incompatibility between the comical and the sacred, and we can only ask where the sacred begins and ends.’

The Curtains – Milan Kundera

My two agelasts had a view of the sacred that bordered on a repulsive ‘holier than thou’ view of things. Except they themselves where never holy, nor was I. They were creepy and unfunny; supporting some skewed worthy cause, where jokes were forbidden as they hurt their pride. And my Liverpool bred defence mechanism was humour. Humour engendered from a city hurt quite a lot in the past. Keeping me alert to ‘offend’ such unfunny people.

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