Let us suppose a speaker is delivering a speech on stage when a member of the audience hurls a shoe at him. He can take it as an insult or be wary of repetition; he may become apprehensive about falling in the estimation of others. No doubt all these would be negative reactions, but given the circumstances, one would not be over-critical. To be fair, one would give the speaker some time to come to terms with what happened. Now what if, following the attack (let us assume the shoe missed him, whizzed past his ear, and fell on the floor behind him), the speaker briefly pauses, collects himself, and remarks.
‘It worries me to think that the gentleman who took the trouble to hurl this missile at me must presently be in only one shoe. Apart from being uncomfortable, it must be terribly embarrassing for him as well. Now that he must be feeling considerably lighter and more relaxed, I would like to invite him to retrieve his possession.’
We are to imagine that the speaker turns around now and gives the shoe a pitiful glance. ‘How forlorn the shoe is looking without its better half!’ The speaker concludes, ‘I am confident it will appreciate the gesture as much as we will.’
Has the entire incident changed in tone because of the speaker’s attitude? What could have become a very grim situation has turned into an entertaining one. Will it not raise laughter among the listeners? Has not his sense of humour worked as an alchemist turning lead to gold?
It has been said that angels fly because they take themselves lightly. I should think that angels have a whopping sense of humour!
A person slips and falls down a staircase; an onlooker laughs. Is this true humour, which is unmindful of another’s hurt or injury? No, it is not. In the best sense of the term, humour and humaneness go hand in hand. It is like a wheel and its axle: just like the wheel will not move a car in the absence of its axle, humour will not take off so long as it is soulless. One can have slapstick and one can have farce, but humour belongs to a more refined level.