Inappropriate Laughter

As printed in Proteus, the Journal of the Delaware Valley Mensa  (Jan 2013)
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       When I was taking regular salsa dance lessons, I thought I would try a different class from my usual one. I had seen this other instructor around, but did not know him well. All but one of the students were strangers to me. Upon reflection, I should have realized that this would not be the best audience for my genre of humor. 

       This was the usual class setup, where students formed couples, and either the men or the women would rotate to change partners. Even if there is a male-to-female imbalance in this format, the frequent rotation ensures that everyone gets a chance to practice whatever is being taught and, since everyone gets to practice with everyone, no one needs to bring a partner. It is a great way to learn, made even better when the instructor is in the rotation to help students one-on-one.

       The teacher was male, and the women were rotating. Minutes into the class, one woman suddenly had to leave. After a few more rotations, another woman rushed out for some unknown reason. That was a little strange, and the instructor wondered aloud what might be going on. I said, "It must be your breath."

       Right about here time stopped. Everyone was looking at me in total silence. Total silence. In a dance studio. The one girl I knew, who happened to be standing next to me, leaned over and whispered, “That was so mean!”


       So, recap: am surrounded by people who:

       A) don’t know my sense of humor,

       B) don’t know that my middle school art teacher used that line at the end of class (when the kids rushed out, he’d say, “Gee, is it my breath?”), and, most importantly,

       C) don’t know that I would never in a million years publicly call out an instructor, loudly, during his own class, for having bad breath, even if he did. And, honestly, who would do such a thing?

       I can tell you who. A tremendous b*tch.

       And that is precisely what the students saw before them. Not a generally friendly person who likes to make people laugh, but a truly awful human being who had just mercilessly insulted their poor, unsuspecting instructor, unprovoked. All mouths hung open except his, possibly due to his freshly heightened anxiety about his breath.

       My face began to contort, first into disbelief. Could these people actually think I meant that seriously? Yup. Wasn’t it obvious that I was kidding? Nope. Next came a look of pleading, because I knew that no one would believe what I was about to say. It came out in a voice that sounded a bit too high and freakish, even to me. “That was a joke!” Sure it was, you horrible, horrible b*tch. It wasn’t difficult to guess what they were thinking. Also, wow, there sure are lots of ways in which a human face can express disapproval. Finally, my face, throat, and abdominals all joined forces to betray me, and I started to giggle. Efforts to stop were futile; my body’s mutinous course had been set, and the vessel was underway.

       This phenomenon intrigues me. Some of my favorite comedy show moments have occurred when the actors started cracking up. Will they recover? Will it spread? Will it happen again? I ask these questions every time, and the anticipation doubles my interest in the scene. Such a situation can only be topped when the giggles strike a news anchor during a serious segment. How delicious to watch! It is always unexpected, and always inappropriate. One can only hope that the viewing audience will be sympathetic due to personal experience with trying, and failing, to stop laughing when, or where, laughing is a really bad idea. Let’s say I can sympathize really, really hard.

       So, recap: have offended entire class, announced that I was joking, and exploded into giggles at what looks to be the instructor’s expense. I am honestly surprised that no one came up and slapped me. I must have appeared to be laughing at my own joke but, in reality, I was laughing because no one got the joke. Who knows why that should be so, very funny to me? Certainly not the instructor, who looked to be as unamused as the rest of the class. Tough crowd.

       He resumed his class with grace but, despite my laughter, I felt terrible. I had tried to tell them, and they didn’t believe me! I wanted to explain so many times, but the last thing anyone seemed to need was more commentary from me, especially in my condition. Rendered mute due to circumstance, I snickered in quiet, guilty, sporadic fits triggered each time the instructor turned his head to speak. I longed to tell him he didn’t have to, but it was not to be.

       Several years have passed, and I don’t see this instructor much in the area. On the very rare occasion when I do, he is cordial, though I feel an ever-so-slight frostiness in his presence. I suspect it’s winterfresh peppermint.


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