By Brian McIntyre, EdD, LCP


With everything that is going on in the world a sense of humor seems to be a difficult thing to maintain and that’s putting it mildly. We have a global pandemic, racial unrest here and abroad, nuclear threats, hurricanes, earthquakes, drought, massive fires burning out of control, climate change, and “murder” hornets. (This is the short list!) Humor might even seem out of place somehow. So rather than undertake an erudite or pedantic, referenced review of humor, I am going to take another approach.

This will be a free association, which is actually funny depending upon how you define “free association.” Most associations are not free since they want you to pay to join them. In another sense it could mean to say whatever comes to mind—a stream of thought or say what comes to your mind if I say something first to which you may then react. It is interesting that if you undertake this type of free association with a psychoanalyst it is certainly not free.

Hence, a question is raised: Is any association really free? Associations of any kind will usually cost something and it’s not always money. What’s funny about that? Plenty! Something common place or not even interesting (like an association) can give you something to joke about. Even if nobody cares about it, it may help you get through the day. So why am I doing this? Well, this is for a blog post, depending upon how you define “post.” (We don’t have to go there.)

Well if nothing seems funny at the moment, perhaps we should give up on the humor thing. It should be outlawed. Why run the risk of trying to be funny if it will be badly received or even criticized? But if we give up on humor we give up on its hopeful by-product of laughter. Losing the chance to laugh would be quite a loss indeed. Yet, you could offend somebody by trying to be funny but then some people look to get offended—it’s a skill set for them.

Let me be the first to say that you have to have some common sense about when to try to be funny, as well as what is or isn’t funny, and certainly what is never funny. I worked for someone once who always used to say that “humor is an angry person looking for a victim.” My advice is not to let yourself be that angry person and certainly not the victim if you can avoid it! (This kind of humor is pretty common however and being the target of the perpetrator will usually cost something. If that person is a professional comedian, the tickets will run anywhere from $25 to 350, not counting the bar tab.)

So, what is the importance of humor? It provides relief at times. There is some evidence that it is good for our moods, our general health, our stress levels, and even our immune systems. There is also some evidence that it sharpens us in numerous ways that help us to function interpersonally and possibly engage others at a more approachable level. Given these factors, perhaps it should not be outlawed after all. But it is important to remember that whoever defines what’s funny gets to control the related conversation and/or humor to suit their own ends. That may not be funny! I guess that in order to see the point you will have to use your sense of humor.

So, humor me.

About the Author

Dr. Brian McIntyre is an Associate Professor of Clinical Family Medicine.