Stone cold fact: not everyone has a sense of humor. That doesn’t that those without one don’t laugh — they do; but people without a sense of humor always laugh AT others and never WITH them like the bullies they tend to be. The bottom line prerequisite for having a sense of humor — without this ability, a sense of humor isn’t possible — is the ability to laugh at oneself. If one cannot see oneself as the butt of the ultimate cosmic joke — life — it means you hold yourself above the fray. Your sense of self is so fragile that the most minor challenge can send your confidence plunging precipitously. In a sense, when you laugh at yourself, you tell others “Wait a minute, if you want to make a joke at my expense, let me show you how to really do it!”
The classical literary character Cyrano De Bergerac is a gifted swordsman and an even more gifted wit. His one problem is his very large nose. Down deep, it does bother him — his nose. He fears it makes him unworthy of love. But that doesn’t mean he won’t point at it himself and explain exactly why it makes him unworthy. In one of the story’s many great moments, Cyrano — whose nose has just been insulted by a young soldier (“Your nose sir,” the Soldier says, thinking he’s being brutally clever, “Is rather large!”) — demonstrates for the Young Soldier all the better, funnier insults about Cyrano’s nose that he could have gone with instead. It’s a tour de force moment for the character and a tour de force moment for what it means to have a sense of humor.
It really is as simple as this: if you have no sense of humor (like Donald Trump), you cannot joke. Literally — you can say you were joking about something — you can even sound like you might have been joking but all of that is kabuki. But, the truth is, you have zero idea how to joke about anything and thus you weren’t.
Donald Trump fears that if anyone laughs at him for the least little thing, they’ll laugh at him for all the big things too. And there’s a lot of big stuff in Trump’s life that everyone could easily laugh at.
Good Trumpanista Kevin McCarthy also bears the mark of the humorless. Weak, little beta creature Kevin said at a fundraising event the other day that, should the GOP not be in prison en masse and were they to take back the House and Kevin got to be Speaker himself, Kevin said, “I want you to watch Nancy Pelosi hand me that gavel. It will be hard not to hit her with it!” Now, in fairness to Kevin, his hard core conservative audience (in Nashville) did guffaw at the thought. But whether or not you’re joking has zero to do with how an audience takes the joke — or even if they get it at all. Joking is all about intent. Whether the joke at the tip of your tongue was pre-written or improvised right there on the spot, whether you stick it like a dagger or toss it off like a cold-blooded aside, all jokes get told. None of them, really, ever tell themselves.
But, if you can’t tell a joke — because you can’t joke — because you have no sense of humor — then anything you say that you try to dismiss as “joking”? You’re lying on top of it all. You have no capacity to read a room and judge whether or not your bit of cleverness will play in it. The thing that’s about to thud from your mouth isn’t clever at all — even if you pronounce the words like you were clever. That’s mimicry. The substance of what you’re about to say is pure bullying. In the case of Kevin McCarthy, it was a very real, very viable physical threat.
The onus here isn’t on Kevin (or Donald) to be the arbiters of whether or not they were joking. The same goes for whether or not they’re racists. No one gets to say whether or not THEY themselves are racist. How the hell would we know? We’re too close to the subject. Too invested. That’s why it’s always up to the racist’s victims to decide whether or not the racist is racist. Donald or Kevin saying they’re joking is equally dubious. How could they possibly know?
Think of all the times right wingers have tried to put together their own comedy show (their version of SNL or The Daily Show or John Oliver) and come up empty. Oh, sure — they can fill the time just fine. But, not a whit of it’s ever witty. Not a drop is ever funny to anyone who isn’t a card-carrying bully.
No, the onus (as always) is on our news media. And they will most assuredly fail us because they can’t un-convince themselves that both sides do it. That’s why every single news outlet who covered the story went with Kevin McCarthy’s telling (“McCarthy joked about. hitting the current Speaker“) instead of the more accurate “Kevin McCarthy THREATENED the Speaker Of The House”. Since Kevin can’t joke, the joke wasn’t a joke. That means we should take it in the spirit in which it was spoken — as a criminal act.