Monday, November 20, 2006

People who can't or won't laugh

When conversing with someone, there's an unspoken give and take. If they tell you some bad news, you express sorrow. If they give you some good news, you express happiness for them. If they make a light-hearted remark, you laugh or smile as a sign that you follow their upbeat swing in the conversation. But there is a small number of people in this world who are simply incapable of expressing these emotions, most notably, the friendly, good natured laugh.

If someone says something silly or wacky, for me, it is not a conscious decision, but as a member of the conversation, I react accordingly and laugh. Even if I don't find what was said particularly funny, it's a natural reaction to accept the attempt at humour with good grace and make the person feel secure. Again, this is not a lie, but rather an innate function which allows us to successfully converse with others. But some people just can't do this. I am yet to determine if they have no sense of humour or are simply severely lacking in social skills.

A recent example occurred when I was talking to another another Australian about the Vegemite scare (that it is no longer available commercially in the US...EEEEK!) and an American girl overheard and asked what Vegemite was. I gave her a brief explanation if it's consistency, saltiness and accompanied it with a distorted "blechhh" face that Americans usually make when they eat it. My comical exaggeration of a Vegemite experience was met with a blank stare. I'm not saying it was a definitive moment in improv comedy, but any normal person would let off a small chuckle at the sight of someone being wacky. But no, she looked at me earnestly as though I were delivering a review or her investment portfolio. I was in such dismay that she was unable to rise to a light-hearted conversation that I was so bold as to MAKE THE FACE AGAIN (now I feel like George Costanza going back to the movie theatre to say "That's gotta hoit!" again) while summarising the effects of Vegemite, and again was met with a blank face.

A recreation of the face made to demonstrate many Americans' response to Vegemite.

I shared this and other examples of this "no laughing" phenomenon with others and one person knew what I was talking about and said they thought this sort of thing was plain rude. Do you, dear reader, agree? The one that kills me is that I know someone like this, but they oddly declare themselves on all internet profiles to be fun, crazy and wacky, however I am yet to see evidence of this. The same sort of blank responses. I'm not saying everything out of my mouth is frothing with hilarity, but I'm generally considered to be a good laugh, so I am not taking the blame for the social shortcomings of others.

There was one girl I was hanging out with a bit when I first moved to LA. I met up with her a couple of times, but they were like bad dates. She just didn't laugh during conversation! I did see her a few times at some bars a while after I realised I didn't really enjoy her company and hadn't pursued the friendship, mostly because she never laughed. I caught her laughing once or twice at something she was seeing or hearing, but nothing that was said TO her, and she seemed completely insane. It was like she was laughing right after someone had told here their cat died. She had a look in her eyes as if to say "It's wrong to be laughing, but I can't help it!" Did she have a "no laughing" policy that she was betraying? When I was 14, I saw some ugly pictures of myself laughing and I was devastated since I figured that as I laughed most of the time, I must look ugly most of the time. I briefly decided I shouldn't laugh as much because I looked so ugly, but I couldn't stop it! I love to laugh no matter how it looks. The point is, does someone like this girl have some sort of reason not to laugh so that when she does, she has a guilty, maniacal look in her eyes?

I think not laughing or so much as emitting a single burst "Ha." or a smile in response to an attempt at humour, is just as rude as grinning when someone says they just lost their job, or scowling when someone says they found $50 on the street. There are automatic responses throughout conversation, and those who can't comply need to remove themselves from society!

...okay that was a little harsh, but it was a dramatic conclusion. (pause....waiting for laugh)

Keith from the 'The Office' is a perfect example of someone, even while dressed up as Ali G and demonstrating a sense of humour, is incapable of laughter.
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