Disability and Humor

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about humor. For instance, what is humor?  Is humor different from being funny or something that’s considered funny? In my searches, I found that they are in the same family but more like cousins rather than siblings. Funny is defined as: attempting to amuse, causing amusement or laughter, amusing or comical. Humor is defined as: The quality of being amusing or comic (close to funny, right?), or a mood or state of mind. So that’s where the two differ.

Let me back up a bit and explain a little about why I have been riding down this road of thought. Due to everything going on in the world right now, mental health and happiness has been a reoccurring topic of conversation between a few of my friends and I. I started to notice that my friends had sometimes wildly different ideas of what was funny. They also had a different expectation of what I might think was appropriate for them to find amusing or humorous. It made me wonder: was this because of how well they knew me as a person or because of how they now saw me as a disabled person? I began to wonder if I come across as newly fragile or seemingly extra sensitive?

As far as I can tell, my sense of humor really hasn’t changed since my disability showed up and scrambled what was my life at that time. As a matter of fact, the one person that knows me at my best and worst is my husband. He would say that my sense of humor has gotten sharper maybe, but definitely not more sensitive. During the 27 years we have known each other, we have shared a sort of dark or off-color humor about most things. You know when you laugh out loud at something that other people might not find as funny as we do.

As we both got older and shared in the infinite and unbridled joy that is parenthood, the realization blossomed that kids, particularly your own are hilarious!  Now until you are a parent, it’s commonly misconceived that children are only humorous when they say cute things or do assorted stuff that is naive or innocent. The real truth is, nothing is funnier than the physical comedy that little kids put on display daily, especially when misadventure and minor painful misfortune befall them after being told in no uncertain terms NOT to do something.

The youngest kiddo in this family is Connor. In his 6 years, he has been an endless source of comic “I told you not to” relief. Since he could walk, some of his greatest hits include but are not limited to: locking himself in the coat closet and out of the house several times. He has gotten his head stuck in the bannister rails at least once a month for three months. Finally, he has gotten his leg stuck in the headboard.

Connor has earned the honor of learning several distinct taste profiles including freshly cut lemons, Tapatio hot sauce, white or clear vinegar and my personal favorite, Worcestershire sauce. The faces, oh the faces a child can make especially on the pucker scale are epic. With the assistance of his sister, Kirsten, who is five years his senior, he has developed a great appreciation for art. He has painted his face with crayons, lipstick (in no less than six colors) flour, sharpie markers, blue and purple food dye. Kirsten took the time to educate me that  purple is the color of royalty. I have taken to renaming this dynamic duo individually “the boy” and “the girl.”

Then, there are the funny and sometimes embarrassing things the little comedians like to say in mixed company. Both of my younger children have asked women why they have mustaches just like their dad while we are standing in the Target line. They don’t mean any harm but are just inquisitive. When I first got sick and started losing my reach, my daughter made the observation that I had T-rex arms. Sure, it hurt a little but it was funny to me too. When I cut my hair down significantly to make it more manageable, the baby said I looked like daddy. My hair was really short and he was amazed at my transformation. The look on his face and the sense of wonder was quite humorous. Yes, it was even funny to me! See what I mean about the sharp, funny/maybe not funny hue on which I view life? 

Now, I present you with a list of examples of the sense of humor that my husband and I share. I know you’ve laughed at more than a few of these too  (at least on the inside).

  • When someone gets pulled over when playing in traffic
  • When someone on their cellphone walks into any stationary object.
  • When a car alarm goes off as someone is walking near it, and scares the socks off of them. (No, I didn’t hit the button!)
  • When someone walks into a clean glass door.
  • When someone tries to give a high five that’s not returned.
  • When someone’s ice cream scoop falls off the cone.
  • When elderly people or toddlers cuss just a little.
  • When people without rhythm try dancing (my husband and son especially)

Maybe disabled people look at life from different angles. Maybe the humor for us lies in the nuance of everyone else making the mistake of thinking our emotions, thoughts and abilities to perceive reality has been rendered disabled by our circumstances. I guess the joke’s on them.

About Merlisha Henderson: Merlisha lives in Arizona with her family. As a wife, mother and disability advocate in her community, she stays active and independent, working toward bringing equality and access to all. Click here to learn more about Merlisha.