Lucille Ball of “I Love Lucy” fame is one of America’s most beloved comediennes. This short essay that she wrote I discovered in an old edition of the Baltimore Sun.
Humour shouldn’t hurt
by Lucille Ball
One evening at a dinner party, I noticed a girl who seemed the soul of wit. Bright flippancy fell from her lips, and the group around her was laughing gaily.
Though I am a comedienne on TV, I rarely think of bright things to say that are not in the script. So I said to a friend, “Gosh, Sue is witty,? She must have plenty of friends.”
“I don’t think she has very many,” my friend said thoughtfully. “All the women I know are afraid of her. They listen to the barbed things she says about other people and decide she’s a pretty dangerous person to know. ”
Most of us admire wit– but not when it is cutting. When we hear bright but unkind remarks about someone else, we begin to get the uneasy feeling that if our own backs were turned, we would be the victim of that clever tongue. Wit can be like champagne. It goes to a person’s head before he realises it and gets drunk on his own cleverness.
Just because people laugh at your quips doesn’t always mean that they really love them – or you. Wit confuses people and gets them wondering if and why you’re being sarcastic.
People often become wary of the overly bright soul, holding forth with one bad remark after another. Even as they laugh, they may resent him. Clever squelches are amusing to read about, but pity the poor person who feels squelched. He doesn’t appreciate his squelcher no matter how witty.
“Lucy” herself is not particularly sharp or witty, and yet thousands of letters a week to show me that listeners love her and think she would be fun to know. Personally, I don’t think Lucy would be nearly as popular if she were caustic.
I don’t mean that people should repress their bubbly spirits. Everyone enjoys being with the person who is fun, and if he is blessed with a lovely sense of humour, that’s a gift from the gods.
But there is a difference between spontaneous humour and caustic wit. With the first, you make those around you feel good. With the second, you make them squirm. Humour that depends on making other people feel ridiculous or small or stupid is used not only to be funny but to hurt. And can it be really funny – except to people who enjoy cruelty?
Many people, in an effort to make an impression, try so hard to be witty that they achieve the opposite effect. They alienate instead of charm. It’s the person who feels he has to be witty and top everyone with a wisecrack who becomes wearing.
If you have ever been with anyone who is kept up a steady patter of barbed jokes you’ll know what a bore it can be. I was with a man like that at a dinner party not long ago, and after an hour of his running fire of bright sayings I felt as though I were on the rack.
If you have sometimes felt frustrated because you can never be as witty as you like to be, forget it. Rejoice in the fact that you can’t think of your most devastating wisecrack till the next day. The opportune time for a wisecrack is often when the moment looked opportune is over. For a witty remark is often like an angry letter. A second thought will tell you not to mail it.
And a second thought may save you from that bright, scalding witticism you just thought of.
Simon is a Sydney based digital designer. He is the Director of a boutique digital design studio, Bailey Street Design located in the vibrant inner west suburb of Newtown. Simon studied graphic design at Shillington College and specialises in web design for small and medium size businesses. Simon and his team (Toby the studio dog) are passionate about visual communication in the digital environment
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