Thursday 29 Sep 2016

Taking the Initiative
David Simmonds

My wife and I were in Toronto last week preparing for my upcoming surgery. While we were there, a relative, who is gay, told us the following anecdote.

He and his partner had an inordinately difficult time going to gay square dances. It was impossible, as partners rotated during a song, to know whether you had executed a correct move and ended up with a ‘lady’ partner or blown the manoeuvre and ended up with a ‘gentleman’. The dilemma was further complicated by the fact that two women would dance as partners, so that merely transfering from a stand in female to a real female held out no prospect that you were on the right path.

Now I find that funny. You may not. That's the nice thing about humour: there's never a consensus about it.

We've all been told that laughter is the best medicine, and taken in movies like "Patch Adams" and books like "Anatomy of an Illness". So as I went through the dreary round of hospital tests, I kept the square dancing picture in my mind. I was determined to bring humour to the table. I would advise my surgeon, for example, that I hear she is a cut above the rest. Or tell the operating room staff that the one four letter word I don’t want to hear is “oops.” Or announce that I’d like to listen to the Scarecrow’s ‘if only’ song from the Wizard of Oz while the operation goes forward. 

But then I realized I would hardly be in a position to call the humour shots. And the hospital, being in the business, must know a lot more about humour therapy than me. What if there was already a humour therapy program in place? What kind of humour would it bring to the table? And what if it wasn’t my type of humour?

I had a vision of some would be or has been borscht belt comedian - encouraged by the hospital - sidling up to my beside, unlit cigarette in hand, and beginning to tell jokes: “... so this chicken walks into a bar and says to the bartender..” and on and on till we hit the punchline "... so the bartender says to the chicken 'of course the drinks are big: we don't serve poultry amounts'." Now my usual reaction to being captive to a jokester of dubious quality is to brace myself to emit a feigned, Joe Clarkeian “ha, ha, ha.” But he's got me supine: I have nowhere to run. So a humorous encounter gone wrong could set me back weeks. And I shudder to think what would happen if I were required to watch an Eddie Murphy standup routine video. Would the hospital score me as a hopeless case because I didn’t laugh at what was officially funny? It did occur me that among all those preadmission checklists you have to complete, they should add a 'pick your own' acceptable humour list. It might save our health care system a ton of grief.

The internet was no help, of course. However, I was delighted to find out there is a Canadian Assocation of Therapeutic Clowns, with a code of ethics, by-laws and membership criteria. I also discovered there is an International Society for Humour Studies. In case you’re interested, the Society’s 2011 conference will be held in Boston from July 5-9. Next year, it will be held in Krakow, Poland; at which the Chair will be the famous Wladyslaw Chlopicki, of Jagiellonian University. I also added a new word to my vocabulary - gelatophobia. It means “the fear of being laughed at.” And I learned of the Society’s annual “Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest,” with cash prizes totaling $3,336.40, including a top prize of $1,359. Must be some compound interest at work there. 

So I decided the best thing to do would be to refresh my own internal humour supply. I've already got good mileage out of the gay square dance picture. I think I'll spend a little time with Peter Sellers and Stephen Leacock in the next couple of days. They ought to get me through the worst chicken jokes the hospital system can throw at me.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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