The American humorist Mark Twain said, “Yours was not, in the beginning, a criminal nature, but circumstances changed it. At the age of nine you stole sugar. At the age of 15 you stole money. At twenty you stole horses. At 25 you committed arson. At 30, hardened in crime, you became an editor” (1).
A joke (2) goes something like this: An editor and a writer go to the Middle East and become lost in the desert sands. Winds howling, sun beating down, mirages appear. They sink to their knees, by now quite close to death, when suddenly – an oasis, no mirage! Editor and writer crawl toward the water, hand over hand, and finally immerse their faces in the cool desert pond. The writer looks up, appalled, to see that the editor is standing over him and urinating into the water. “What are you DOING?”, cries the writer. “It’s okay,” the editor says. “I’m improving it.”
There probably has never been an author, reader, publisher, or owner of a periodical or publishing house who did not, at one time or another, disapprove, disparage, complain about, or criticize an editor. If you publish enough, you have your own stories to tell. Meanwhile, the editor, having professional but no personal investment in the writing has to listen to complaints from people who have taken offense, rather than just repairing the damage they created. Writers, meanwhile, look ridiculous, trying to defend the indefensible.
E.B. White: “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.” That’s the way I feel also. The Talmud says that “A man will have to give account on the Judgment Day for every good thing which he might have enjoyed and did not.” I sense that this is correct. According to a dictionary, a joke is something said or done to provoke laughter or to cause amusement, as a witticism, a short and amusing anecdote, a prankish act, or something that is ridiculous, particularly because it is inadequate (I will get to administrators later on). Anyway, what is the value of analyzing jokes? Probably not much, unless you are or intend to be a comedian. Nonetheless, jokes are common in our lives and many of us wonder how we could live without them; I cannot imagine being serious all the time. It has been said that “Men will confess to treason, murder, arson, false teeth, or a wig. How many of them will own up to a lack of humor?” The dullest, most serious, most boring people I know think they have a sense of humor; perhaps they do. They laugh at jokes (a good sign) but they do not make jokes. Some say they do not have time for humor but, as Oscar Wilde said: “Seriousness is the only refuge of the shallow.”, and, as Bertrand Russell said: “One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.”