Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A British Sense of Humor

When I was young I used to imagine God as being incredibly serious all the time (and, if I'm honest, a little bit scary too). As the years passed, that view has changed somewhat. I have become increasingly convinced that God must have a terrific sense of humor and loves to laugh as much as we do.

As a teenager, I became aware that I was a little bit different to most of my friends. I'm not sure if humor is handed down through our genetic heritage, or influenced by environmental factors, or if it's something God imparts through one or both of these, but I began to realize that I had what you could call a "British" sense of humor.

Perhaps it was my aunt's influence. Every Christmas she would send a big parcel of gifts from the UK to South Africa. Invariably, it included a video tape of UK programs, much of which was humor. At the time, South Africa was being boycotted by the UK media, which meant we relied heavily on the US for our television shows. My aunt supplemented this with a yearly supply of UK comedy including such classics as Not the Nine O'Clock News, Benny Hill, and Kenny Everett.

On top of this, I liked to listen to The Goon Show and Round the Horne on the radio. Later, I found all the Monty Python albums at my local supermarket (they must have smuggled them in). I loved the US and South African humor (and still do) but I felt this strange kinship with the British variety. My friends however, just did not get it.

I remember one afternoon, playing the latest tape for my friends. One particular sketch tickled me more than the others and I got a proper case of the giggles. I sat there, chuckling uncontrollably. Naturally, I assumed my friends would also appreciate the humor. I turned to look at them. Not a titter. They all sat there with this nonplussed expression on their faces, seemingly more amused by me than the TV show.

So began a somewhat lonely existence in the mirth department. Humor, like love, is meant to be shared, but I could not find anyone who enjoyed the Parrot Sketch as much as I did. On Sunday evenings I would sit alone by the radio listening to Round the Horne and The Goon Show, laughing at the jokes, painfully aware that my friends just did not get any of it.

Then, one day, something marvelous happened. I was sitting in the Religious Education class. The teacher asked us all to give a brief talk about our hopes and dreams. One kid was particularly nervous and spent about twenty seconds clearing his throat in a series of high-pitched coughs. The teacher made an odd comment. He said: "is that your theory?". It was only after the class had finished that I understood the comment. He was repeating a line from a Monty Python sketch.

That little incident made my day and gave me hope that I was not alone in my appreciation of British humor. In my final year I spotted a concert by the script-writer for the Goon Show. I mentioned this to another kid who said he was going as well. It turned out that he was something of a fan.

Later, when I met my wife-to-be, I wondered what she would think of this part of my personality. She was from an Afrikaans background and, although I knew she had a wonderful sense of humor, was worried that she would find my British tastes off-putting. At first, she did struggle to understand what I was laughing at. I persisted, however, and now she pretty much gets it. As for my kids: they love the Goons, especially my daughter. It's guaranteed that, if I am laughing at a line and I turn to look at her, she is laughing along with me.

Hopefully, God is laughing as well, because I think he must have the best sense of humor. After all, he made us to laugh and I am sure it is because he wanted us to enjoy the sensation of being left helpless by a fit of giggles. I think he is a fan of irony as well. Have you heard the joke about the Christian who prayed for a job in which he handled lots of money? He ended up working as a teller in a bank.

I prayed something similar when I started writing. I wanted God to place me in the publishing industry as a writer. Within a couple of years my prayer was answered, but not in the way I expected. I ended up working in patents, where a major part of the process is the publication of the patent. I ended up extremely close to the publication industry, but of patents. And I do work as a writer, but not of fiction. I write programs for a living.

This morning I signed my own publication contract in preparation for the release of my latest novel: Alpha Revelation. In between compiling a program that handles published patents, I read through my own publication contract. There's definitely a touch of irony in there.

God knows what is best for us and he doesn't always answer our prayers the way we had hoped. Sometimes, however, he puts us in a situation that shows us he is still there. And I'm pretty sure he's smiling when he does it.


  1. Congratulations on your contract, Paul! God does have a sense of humor. Patent writing?! Humor is the hardest thing to communicate in another culture. will we get it all when we get to heaven?

  2. I had a good chuckle myself Paul. First congrats on your contract! Second, I also enjoy straight-faced, wry humor.
    Yes, I have listened to every Goon show. I saw one Beeny Hill show about a funeral where the coffin bearers were having such an awful time of it. And it was hilarious. Unfortunately, I attended a distant great-aunt's funeral and saw the funny side of the sweating coffin bearers. I had a painful fit of internal giggles, where your shoulders shake. I could only hold my hanky to my face, hoping it looked like I was grief-stricken. (Still feeling guilty over that.)
    Why does seeing the funny side of serious situations strike us at the very worst times?

  3. Well done, Paul. Felicitations on your contract. May your book, Alpha Revelation, be a great success.

    I, too, love the British sense of humor, but generally find myself trying to explain it to friend-husband. It does lose something in translation.

  4. Paul, congrats on your book contract! I like British humour and grew up watching a lot of UK television. And, I often think God has a sense of humour :)

  5. Paul, I identified with you. I'm forever making wisecracks at comments that no one else sees as funny, and yes, I'm from the UK as well. (Many years ago!) What part of S.Africa did you live in? I see you are now in the UK.

    And huge congratulations on your contract. Way to go!

  6. What's that?
    A piston engine.
    Oh, how do you cook it.
    You don't cook it.
    What? You eat it raw?