Haven’t heard that one, hmmm? Perhaps because so much of the already-existing humor involving older folks is a lot more entertaining than this run-of-the-mill joke opener. In fact, you can enjoy older adult humor in daily newspaper comic strips—Brian Crane’s PICKLES (http://www.gocomics.com/pickles) is my all-time favorite! Think of the working comedians who are themselves older adults. Comedic elder characters are a staple in TV sitcom series and films.
There’s no question about the value of humor in the older adult brain. As humor-induced endorphins flood our brains, memory, verbal and cognitive acuity, self-awareness and imagination all increase. Laughter can lubricate even the most difficult situations. Smiles are contagious.
All the essential ingredients for humor can be present in our later lifestyles. Incongruity, surprise, irony, satire, self-deprecation—all are available to older adults. And add this inescapable fact to the mix: We who are older have had more life experiences from which to construct humor. More to laugh about, perhaps?
I was raised in a family where twinkly-eyed grandparents would regularly rev up the Hilarity Index. Tall tales and other hyperbole infused their conversations. These straight-faced grand-comedians taught us some of the intricacies of timing, the Rule of Three, setting up a punchline–always finding reasons to laugh. They weren’t always trying to be funny, but their outlook on life—forged during hard times and polished by their faith in God’s providence—was sturdily positive. There seemed to be a spiritual core to what they offered: In spite of life’s circumstances, those elders could find reason to celebrate God’s presence in their lives. They knew how to laugh, chortle, hoot, cackle and chuckle, and they taught the rest of us well.
Let me be careful here: There are elders whose sense of humor has been severely limited by difficult life circumstances. Not much of their lives has engendered laughter. And it’s possible that some of what passes for humor could be offensive or hurtful to them. (A good/bad example: Comics whose repertoire is narrowly framed only by immature vulgarity.)
One secret I’ve learned over many years of mingling with and visiting all sorts of older adults: My gentle invitation to laugh can be a wonderful gift! Not necessarily hilarious jokes or guffaw-producing gags. Small witticisms, one-liners, quips—these are quietly funny. Carefully engaged sight gags can pull laughter out of them. Puns still work—as the lowest form of humor, of course. Just the conversations, delivered with a wink and a smile, can offer the benefits of laughter and joy.
Caregivers can affirm the ways in which older adults offer their own gifts of humor. Their droll stories. Their oft-repeated witticisms or aphorisms. Their sparkly-eyed verbal tricks. And yes, their puns! I’ve found that most older adults, when only slightly encouraged, can find their sense of humor, dust it off and lather up our conversations with the delightful suds of joyful jesting. Most old folks like showing their funny side!
You get my drift, right? Humor is a gift from God that doesn’t stop giving. At any age. Take that gift—with gratitude—and see what you can make of it. With older adults. As an older adult!
And soon enough, you’ll be able to finish the would-be joke that begat this entry….
P.S. My possible punchlines: “Step aside, Barkeep, and let us show you how make a real Old Fashioned!” Or, “Plenty of room at this bar—only a priest, a rabbi and a minister here.” Or “You think this question isn’t funny? What if one of the two was a talking dog?”) And yours…?
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