Welcome to this issue of "Dr. T's Timely Tips" by Dr. Tony Alessandra. Please send your feedback to info@alessandra.com!

The Genius of Humor

You do have a good sense of humor, don't you? I thought so, because most people think they do. People may realize that they cannot do math, or cannot spell, or have no aptitude for musical instruments, but not too many of us will admit to deficiencies in the humor category.

Let's explore the genius of humor, an extremely underrated quality. Why don't we take humor more seriously? To an extent, this is understandable, but it prevents us from consciously recognizing the importance of humor in our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. We want people to be funny to some extent, whether they are our politicians, our teachers, our writers, our film stars, or our family members. We also want to be funny ourselves. However, for the most part, we are not ready to acknowledge humor as a category of genius on the scale of mathematics, music, science, or art.

Today, we generally equate seriousness with intelligence, or at least with importance. When you are in a crucial business meeting, or making a major sales presentation, it is not a good idea to act childish or tell many jokes, not even if they are funny. Actually, you may have noticed how there is almost a procedure for getting humor out of the way in meetings or speeches. Somewhere near the beginning, early on, you can tell a joke, or maybe even two: "A duck walks into Home Depot and says, 'Put everything on my bill!'" Then when that is over with, you can get down to the serious business at hand. A person who keeps being funny can be seen as destabilizing or even subversive. That is not good in our day and age. We do not have court jesters anymore and they will not be coming back any time soon.

Henry Louis Mencken, the 20th century essayist and critic, confronted the prejudice against humor very directly. He wrote, "What is the origin of the prejudice against humor? Why is it so dangerous, if you would keep the people's respect, to make people laugh? Is it because humor and sound sense are essentially antagonistic? Has humanity found by experience that the man who sees the fun of life is unfitted to deal sanely with its problems? I think not. However, why, then, that widespread error? None other, I am convinced, than the fact that the average man is far too stupid to make a joke."

Humor is not just a way to break the ice at parties. It is a basic need for both the giver and the receiver. It is, or should be, a basic element of your interactions with other people. Humor is an instrument you should use, and you should learn to use it well. That does not mean you should memorize joke books. It does mean that you should see the necessity for a light and humorous touch.

I am a lifelong admirer of Lucille Ball, and I consider the Lucy Show a work of authentic comic genius. These days, when I watch re-runs of the show from the perspective of many years of marriage and fatherhood, it seems funnier than ever, One of the things that strikes me is how the show reveals the comic reality that domestic life can make us take so seriously. For instance, if you have ever actually had the boss and his wife over for dinner, you know it is not a laughing matter and, if the roast burns, it is not an easy thing to forgive. However, I think Lucy's humorous take on these things is much closer to the truth than the way we experience them when we are so stressed out. Her touch is light, forgiving, affectionate and very funny!

Mark Twain made a distinction between humor and wit. He described wit as a bright feather launched into the air, and it is quickly blown away. However, in many situations, that light touch is exactly what is needed. When the tension is high, you can be a hero just by making the right kind of amusing remark. Keep that in mind the next time you feel like screaming aloud!

Studies have shown that three year olds laugh hundreds of time each day. After three, the laughing curve turns downward throughout life and, in some people, the muscles of the face are so weakened through years of glowering that laughter is literally impossible in old age. I urge you to do everything you can to bring laughter into the world, for yourself and for those around you. Nothing is more healing and healthful. Nothing is more courageous. Moreover, nothing is a greater expression of genius.

Here's to more personal insight,


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Mark Twain: A Genius of Humor

Like Hemingway, Mark Twain loved to boast of his hunting and fishing exploits. Returning to New York by train one day after a three-week fishing trip deep in the heart of Maine (long after the state's fishing season had closed), Twain retired to the lounge car in search of a suitable stranger to whom he might relate his fishing adventures.

Having struck up a friendly conversation with a prospective admirer, Twain soon found to his dismay that his boasts of a great catch elicited a grim reaction. Still Twain pressed on...

"By the way, who are you, sir?" he finally inquired.

"I'm the state game warden," the stranger growled. "Who are you?"

Twain nearly swallowed his cigar. "Well, to be perfectly truthful, warden," he answered, thinking of his catch, iced down in the baggage car, "I'm the biggest damn liar in the whole United States!"