"Dad, he reckons powerlines are a reminder of man's ability to generate electricity." (Dale Kerrigan, The Castle)

I've been thinking some more about what's funny. Today, as usual, I dropped the Young Master off at kindy, and walked his sixteen-inch child's bike back down the hill towards home, steering it by the handlebars. Master's school unfortunately does not have a bike rack, but letting him wear his dress-up aviator's cap and ride his bike - sorry, fly his aeroplane - is still the most pleasant way of getting him there. Steering the riderless contraption home and then back again afterwards is a small price to pay for a ten minute journey spent singing Those Magnificent Men versus a thirty minute journey spent moaning, whining, cajoling, threatening and weeping. Nevertheless, I still sometimes garner expressions of friendly sympathy from passersby as I try to stop it running away from me down the hill, and today was such an occasion.

"If only it was expandable!" the Singaporean woman in question said. "Then you could let your son ride it to school, and expand it into a big bike so you can ride it home again."

"That would be useful," I agreed. "Or maybe I could just buy a rainbow wig and some oversized shoes."

She hesitated awkwardly, her friendly smile frozen on her face. So I laughed at my own joke, which kind of made me feel like a dick, but less of a dick than I would have felt just standing there listening to the crickets chirp, punctuated by a lone cough. "Oh!" she resumed. "Because then you'd look like a clown, and you'd match the very small-sized bike!"

"Yes!" I affirmed, and we both laughed together, but more out of relief than anything else.

This happens to me all the time. At home, a joke like that would have been rewarded with an instant laugh. (Actually, a roll of the eyes and a shake of the head is more likely, and yet still more gratifying.) When you move away from where you grew up - even if it's not all that far or all that different, but especially if it is - you do expect to have trouble communicating with those around you. What I didn't expect was how much I'd miss having my jokes understood, most of the time.

"What were his eyes like?"
"They were... melancholy." (Big Train, Police Artist Sketch)
Some things about humour are universal. It is easier to laugh at yourself than at other people. Or rather, it's easier to get other people to laugh at you, than at themselves, or third parties. Or rather, I should say, you are less likely to offend the people who are not laughing if you have made the joke at your own expense. There are no guarantees with this, however, and there are fewer guarantees when you have identified yourself as part of a larger group - people from region X, or thirty-something females; followers of this religion, or infertility patients who have recently experienced miscarriage, and it depends also on how you choose to structure your joke. But there is humour everywhere - yes, everywhere, written here by someone who made a number of jokes about her own miscarriages - if you know how to use it, and I think it is a great gift to be able to. In fact, if I sit down and list off the things I want for Master, as his parent, I would not start with "to be happy" or "to be comfortably well-off" or "to be well educated" but I would write "to be able to laugh. To be able to recognise a joke and make one. To be able to make others laugh with him.

"To be able to laugh together."

And if we were at "home" he would pick up the necessary tools through ordinary observation and maybe another thousand or so incessant questions about why so and so found such and such that darned hilarious. But we are not at home. We are in a place where, when I make witty remarks to locals about rainbow wigs and oversized shoes, I get awkward pauses followed by relieved laughter - if I'm lucky. Often it's just me and the crickets.

 "Look - no cars, no police, also no government. Just walk, okay!"
"Stop! Hands Up!" (Lim/policemen, Just Follow Law)

There is an opportunity here to increase and expand our ability to use humour. To see the funny side of more things, to understand more jokes, to laugh more often at a broader range of circumstances. But there is a danger also of letting our jocularity wither for lack of the right kind of feedback. Of inventing lists of nationalities that "don't have a sense of humour" or "wouldn't know a joke unless it hit them on the head", when nothing could be further from the truth.

So I'm looking for the answer. The universal rules. The right body language, perhaps, or facial expressions. Whatever tools I need to keep the laughter alive. And if you have any suggestions, please leave them!

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