Our reading this morning included this joke:
Q: Why did the pill ask for a blanket?
A: It was a cold tablet.
My student speaks English as a second language. "That makes no sense," she said. I explained that the joke was based on the multiple meanings of "cold." Even once she understood that, she didn't see the humor in it.
Finding common areas of humor is essential to forging any kind of friendship, I think. My closest friends are people who laugh at the same things I do, and a disagreement between strangers about whether something is funny or offensive can get ugly in a hurry.
So here are five things I think are funny for everyone, whether or not they speak English.
1. Roadrunner cartoons. Wile E. Coyote's grandiose schemes end in disaster every time, but he keeps trying. The grandiosity is funny; the disasters are funny; the resilience is funny. And most Roadrunner cartoons have no dialogue at all.
2. The stateroom scene from A Night at the Opera. Groucho agrees to shelter two stowaways (Harpo and Chico) in a cabin that's barely big enough for one. In a sequence of about two and a half minutes, they manage to jam about 15 people into the cabin. Groucho offers a constant stream of one-liners, but the scene is just as funny with the sound off.
3. The Swedish Chef. I don't know what makes the Swedish Chef so funny; I just know that he cracks me up every time. He speaks a pidgin English that could be anything, so he's funny in any language. Watch him try to make turtle soup here.
4. Super Dave Osborne. Super Dave Osborne is the genius creation of comedian Bob Einstein; he bills himself as the Greatest Superstar Daredevil Entertainer of All Time, but the stunts never work the way they're supposed to. Super Dave is funny for many of the same reasons Wile E. Coyote is funny.
5. Monty Python's "Mr. Creosote" sketch. Don't click that link if you're eating. Mr. Creosote is an apocalyptically fat man who spews vomit all over a fancy French restaurant, before and after eating everything on the menu. John Cleese is the hapless maitre d' who does his best to pretend everything is normal. This should not be funny, but even now I can't watch it without laughing so hard I almost hurl myself.
What makes you laugh that doesn't need language? Post your suggestions below.