Stephen F. Austin State University

Laughs, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness (May 2012)

Laughs, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
By Van Craddock

Have you noticed that people don't laugh as much as they used to?

Goodness knows we could use some humor during this election year. Jokes are therapeutic … so long as you don't elect any to office.

As a general rule, the freedom of any people can be judged by the volume of their laughter. Take the old Soviet Union (please!). Nobody ever accused the Soviets of having a sense of humor.

On the other hand, Americans long have been known for their humor, understanding that a hearty laugh stirs the blood and clears the cobwebs. But not lately. In this post 9/11 era of terrorist alerts, Middle Eastern wars, Mad Cow scares, erratic stock market and (lest we forget) political campaigns, we seem to have misplaced our National Funny Bone.

Recognizing the need for more laughter, I humbly propose that the federal government create a new cabinet-level position to be called the secretary of humor. In days of old there was a similar position, the court jester. The jester would tell jokes and do pratfalls and generally try to keep the king in a good mood. That way, his highness wouldn't decide on the spur of the moment to declare a war or start beheading folks.

The secretary of humor would function much as a court jester did. Whenever the cabinet got bogged down in a serious discussion about budget deficits or toxic waste, the secretary of humor would say, "You know, Mr. President that reminds me of a joke I heard the other day." The secretary would tell a joke and the president and the cabinet members would laugh. They'd cheer up and, in turn, pass the story along to aides and members of Congress.

Pretty soon, everybody - even the taxpayers - would be in a better mood. The Gross National Product wouldn't seem so gross, employers would start hiring and wages would rise. The entire country would perk up.

Will Rogers is the closest thing the United States ever had to a secretary of humor - or a court jester. Although not on the federal payroll, the Oklahoma humorist tickled the national funny bone in 400 newspapers during the 1920s and 1930s.

With his observations such as "Taxation is about all there is to government" and "If you eliminate the names of Lincoln, Washington, Roosevelt, Jackson and Wilson, both parties' political conventions would get out three days earlier," Rogers' comments always rang true.

Once, when introduced to President Calvin Coolidge, Rogers stuck out his hand and said, "Beg pardon, I didn't catch the name."

In addition to a secretary of humor, we could create an annual humor holiday. This would be a day set aside for levity where Americans could stay home from work and tell jokes to one another. We'd pattern it after the Great American Smokeout and call it the Great American Jokeout.

What makes people laugh, of course, is purely a matter of choice. Red Skelton always made me laugh. Remember Skelton's old television character Freddie the Freeloader, the hobo who never spoke? All of Freddie's routines were done in pantomime. They wouldn't be very funny on radio, but on TV they were a riot.

It was a gentle humor and, this was the best part, they were laughs that didn't hurt anybody. After all, that's what genuine humor is. It points out the weakness of humanity but doesn't show contempt. It leaves no sting.

Somewhere along the way, someone decided humor needed to be relevant and edgy and, alas, blue. Social humor, we call it. So now we have foul-mouthed stand-up comedians telling jokes about sex and ethnic groups and anybody considered to be un-cool at the moment.

We're in danger of losing our national sense of humor, and that's no laughing matter.