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My father was a stern man who worked his entire life in the family business or for himself. His soft side was not often evident while raising five children. As he grew older, and we left the nest, his disposition was more relaxed. He hugged often and grinned more. His jokes became funny with less edge and more wit. His keen observations were known to knock us off our keel and keep us laughing for hours.
Is life funnier as we age, or it is our perspective that changes, and therefore offers us the opportunity to see more of the comedic side of things?
If anyone’s going to tell a joke about getting older, it might as well be someone older telling it. That was the premise when comedian Jo Firestone decided to help a community of aging adults stand up and laugh out loud at their lives, their outlooks, and their journeys.
It was three weeks before the pandemic shut down life in New York City. Jo was evaluating her career. She had extra time on her hands and wondered what would come next. She offered to teach a comedy workshop at a senior center near where she lived.
Once COVID struck, Jo met every week with her group of seniors over Zoom, instructing them on the nuances of timing and storytelling. It became obvious the next step for the group was to perform in front of family and friends as soon as it was safe to practice in person. Next followed the filming of the documentary, Good Timing, about their experiences and their performance which was filled with many unexpected moments.
“I’ve always really enjoyed how a lot of senior citizens are less self-conscious than people my age or younger,” thirty-five-year-old Firestone says, in an interview with the Daily Beast, about her “free-wheeling students,” who shared many intimate details in their material.
As we get older, we let go of embarrassment over proclaiming the truth in our lives. This freedom is what builds our funny bone as we age.
My 60-year-old husband follows a social media account called Dad Jokes. He shares them with his father-in-law and a few older uncles and aunts. What do you call two monkeys who share an Amazon account? Prime mates.
Does age matter in determining what is funny? A study published by Psychology and Aging
consisted of fourteen video clips shown to 84 adults. Each adults ranked the level of appropriateness and humor in all the videos. Researchers found older adults do not like “aggressive humor,” anything deemed as mean. They tend to reach toward jokes which demonstrate a certain wisdom from a life long-lived. The lead scientist, Jennifer Tehan Stanley, assistant professor at the University of Akron, said, “Humor preferences may reflect coping mechanisms that older adults need to face the challenges that come with aging, such as loss.”
While age might determine various levels of appreciation for humor, what role does gender play in stereotyping who gets to be called funny?
Who is Funnier, Women or Men?
The Society for Personality and Social Psychology evaluated a myriad of studies performed on asking just this question. A group of three researchers at the University of North Carolina Greensboro systematically reviewed a collection of studies to assess the differences. Most findings were sex-blind and included 28 analyses in multiple countries. The key to inclusion was whether participants knew the origin of comedy, whether it was from a cartoon or in writing. “Such procedures raised our confidence that we were measuring true humor ability with little influence of the stereotype.”
What did they find? Overall, men’s humor was rated higher than women. The supposed whys of their findings were insightful. Women at a young age are more likely to suppress their humor, given the more pervasive view of men as funny. They also looked at how humor attracts mates. Women tend to look for humor as a sign of intelligence in their mate. And over the long history, men tend to perform in competition with other men and therefore have not only honed their comedic timing but are viewed as dominant in the field.
While the average outcomes in their study demonstrate men are funnier, we all know women who have taken the comedy world by storm: from Lucille Ball to Whoopi Goldberg to Tina Fey and Maya Rudolph. Mae West, the actress and entertainer well-known for her one-liners, once said, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”
The same goes for telling Dad jokes.
Annette Januzzi Wick is a writer, speaker, and author of I’ll Have Some of Yours, a journey of cookies and caregiving. (Three Arch Press) and is a recipient of a 2020 NSNC award. A frequent contributor to Cincinnati.com, her work has appeared in Cincinnati Magazine, nextavenue.com, Still Point Arts, 3rd Act Magazine, and others. Visit annettejwick.com to learn more.