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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Let's all get back to humor

By David Shapiro

I was asked to speak to the annual dinner of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, but couldn't work up much enthusiasm for a serious talk about living with the devastating effects of MS.

Instead, I told jokes about my misadventures in a wheelchair, getting my best applause when I said the most important thing I've learned from living with MS is that you must never lose your sense of humor — or then you'll really be disabled.

I was pleased by the response, but realized later that I haven't taken my own advice as much as I should.

"You don't laugh nearly as much as you used to," someone close to me said.

I thought about it and concluded that it's not just me. After a decade of nagging economic, political and social woes, many of us in Hawai'i have lost our sense of humor. That only makes our troubles all the worse.

You can see the signs of our collective bad mood everywhere. Honolulu's once-thriving comedy scene has withered. Good local humor on Hawai'i television and radio is increasingly difficult to find, as is truly funny local writing.

The wit that occasionally enlivened political debate is long gone, replaced by an endless stream of sanctimonious bombast that turns off voters to the point of nonparticipation.

If you want to witness the absence of humor in action, see a City Council meeting. Listen to the tiresome mantra of "core services." Watch how members relish getting elbow-deep in separating the liquids from the solids of sewer policy, but disdain programs such as Sunset on the Beach that dare to show residents and visitors a good time and elevate the spirit of the community.

I've always enjoyed hearing from readers who disagree with my opinions. Many used to slice me up with hilariously sharp retorts, which often led to stimulating exchanges that ended in some measure of mutual respect.

These days, the closest I get to wit is when a disgruntled reader calls me a "volcanic ass" — as if I haven't heard that one a thousand times before.

I decided to address the issue of lost humor head-on by bombarding myself with funny input all weekend.

I raised Jennifer Weiner's comic novel "Good in Bed" from the bottom of my reading list to the top. It was a "chick" story that men probably shouldn't be allowed to read, but it was immensely funny and had a nice fairy-tale ending.

I watched an old "Austin City Limits" that featured a classic off-center performance by musician-poet-raconteur Tom Waits. It brought the same smile to my face as when I first saw it 25 years ago.

I went to see "A Mighty Wind," a bitingly hilarious mockumentary on the 1960s folk music scene. It did the double duty of providing many laughs while revealing the inherent silliness of a cultural phenomenon I once took far too seriously.

I tried something different on Mother's Day and took my wife to see Frank DeLima, a true comic genius of our generation who still keeps locals and visitors in stitches with his politically incorrect takes on Hawai'i's idiosyncrasies.

My weekend of mirth didn't solve Hawai'i's sour economy, ugly politics or social ills, but it did a world of good for my own disposition.

And it left me with a gut feeling that if we all paid more attention to cultivating humor in our lives, it would help breed the creativity and good will we need to get on top of our problems.

David Shapiro can be reached at dave@volcanicash.net.