Rude Awakenings ~ Catherine Sevenau

Catherine Sevenau Catherine Sevenau is a writer and storyteller who is out to capture your skittery mind. She's penned three books, compiled numerous collections of family genealogy, and has been a regular columnist in the SUN since 2016. She can be reached at [email protected].


In search of funny

Posted on May 3, 2024 by Catherine Sevenau

Someone asked me about humor, and how do you learn to be funny. I said I don’t think you can learn to be funny. Either you are, or you aren’t. I told her I thought humor is often closely related to pain, that it arises as a reaction to suffering like a coping mechanism, that sometimes it’s the only thing that gets us through this crazy life.

One can have a sense of humor and still not be funny; they don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. A guy I know announced that his New Year’s resolution was to be funny. My internal response was: “Yeah, good luck with that… that’s like me taking up jogging—we’re both going to make it about ten seconds.

I’ve not met anyone with a normal happy childhood who’s really funny. I’m not even sure I’ve met anyone with a normal happy childhood, and if they told me they did, I’d think they were quite lucky, or lying. They’re pleasant, they’re kind, they have a sense of humor, but they’re not inherently funny. From what I’ve seen, most comics had challenging young lives, were raised under difficult circumstances, or suffered from trauma. I think comedy often erupts from a deeper, darker place, offering healing to a wounded psyche. And, not everyone with a crappy childhood is funny: some turn out mean, others turn out sick, some become the walking wounded, and more than a few become outright whack-jobs. Then they blame everything on their childhood.

Humor is subjective. I don’t get British humor; Monty Python doesn’t do it for me. I eye roll and yawn at movies that make others bust up, like Airplane, Dumb and Dumber, and Ace Ventura. I sit through them and go: really??? Racist or raunchy humor are also not my cup of tea. Corny doesn’t work for me either (unless you’re old and remind me of my father). I get that humor is in the eye of the beholder. I tilt to the dry and the absurd, to irony and satire. I loved Groundhog Day, Blazing Saddles, and Harold and Maude. Jon Stewart, Tina Fey, and Robin Williams crack me up. Bob Newhart cracks me up. I even crack me up, but I’m easy.

There are occasions I get hooked… where things happen and I lose my sense of humor. I attended an Angeles Arrien lecture during a time when my younger son had a bug up his butt and wasn’t talking to me. She was speaking about clarity, objectivity, discernment, and humor, all qualities embedded in the archetype of wisdom. I’d done a lot of personal growth work and had seen more about myself than I cared to see, but one thing that still pained me was my relationship with my son, and there was not one iota of humor in there. I knew it was bringing to the surface all my mother stuff about being ignored and not cared about and didn’t have anything to do with him, but it still had me by the throat. No matter how I attempted to work it out or tried to let it go, the more entangled I got—like Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby.

At the end of her talk, she took questions from the room. I stood up in front of a couple hundred people and said, “I’m stuck here. I have a son who’s not spoken to me for the last three years, and it’s killing me. And you know what, I just don’t find it very f****n’ funny.” The whole room cracked up. Angeles looked at me with kindness and said, “Like that. Look, I get it. But until you get some distance from this, some humor, you will stay stuck.” Her response settled me some, but it took me a couple more years to get there. Today, my son and I are on good terms, but I still find it difficult to go in there and find the humor from that time.

A fine crack within me separates my laughter and pain, my humor and hurt. With time, events on one side of the crack seep over to the other, and with perspective, the ability to filter the pain or hurt through humor makes life bearable. Unless I haven’t eaten, then all bets are off.

I’m funny—not because I’m inherently disturbed, though that may be—but because if I didn’t laugh, I’d cry. When I was a child I burst into tears if anyone looked at me cross-eyed. I was crushed by the slightest criticism and cried when my sisters made fun of me. I sobbed through Disney movies, and Bambi nearly did me in. The female tongues in my family flick with meanness, and as I was over-sensitive and dorky to begin with, I had to toughen up to survive. I can still be a dork, which oddly enough has generated some of my best stories and most hysterical moments. I don’t know what happens, it’s like I become possessed, confused, or indignant, and then the moment gets hold of me and cannonballs downhill from there. Family or friends standing by slither away, pretending they’ve never seen me before. My response (after I’ve felt bad if I’ve hurt someone’s feelings) is usually: ah, heck with ’em if they can’t take a joke.

Despite the world around me, I think life is funny, like it’s a kind of large cosmic joke, like, you know, woe! And I only know one joke, about a string that walks into a bar, but I screw it up every time I tell it.

To me, this is funny; I so wish I’d written it:
“With all the sadness and trauma going on in the world at the moment, it is worth reflecting on the death of a very important person, which almost went unnoticed last week. Larry LaPrise, the man who wrote “The Hokey Pokey,” died peacefully at age 93. The most traumatic part for his family was getting him into the coffin. They put his left leg in… and then the trouble started.”


Catherine Sevenau is a writer and storyteller, out to capture your skittery mind. She’s penned three books, compiled numerous collections of family genealogy, and has been a regular columnist in the SUN since 2016. She can be reached at [email protected]

Sonoma Sun | Sonoma, CA