From the September 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard
"All you Socialist fellows are alike. You all lack a sense of humour.”
This remark is thrown at Socialists time and time again, so let us examine the question of a sense of humour.
Psychologists and doctors tell us that laughter is a safety valve. Nature’s way of protecting our mental set-up from shock. We laugh at the fat man who slips on a banana skin because, were we to regard the accident coolly and thoughtfully we should no doubt suffer some of the mental anguish if not the physical pain of his fall.
But the realm of humour is greater than this. Take stock of the jokes of comedians who help to make our life more bearable in an almost unbearable servitude. They help us to laugh at ourselves. The more ridiculous a joke makes us look, the more we laugh—the tramp with a hole in the seat of his pants—parasitic mothers-in-law—the worker asking the boss for a rise —the raw recruit in the army and all these “funny" stories in which human beings have failed to reconcile their sex-lives with the economics and twisted morals of this social system.
The trouble with a Socialist, we are told repeatedly, is that he will take everything so damned seriously. For some inexplicable reason, some mental quirk, he finds it difficult and a little stupid to laugh at poverty, squalor and sexual maladjustment. The poker-faced individual will keep harping on economics. He spoils every joke by pointing out the unpleasant truth in it. Laughter was given to protect us from shock and the Socialist will keep showing up the shocking things that we escape seeing through humour. A regular boor and a bore is the Socialist. Even the antics of Labour politicians hardly raise a smile on his face and they are current topics of radio humour these days. Wisecracks on pre-fab houses start him off about “ ’omes fit for ’eroes to live in,” and industrial slums and the speed of the housing programme. They seem to have hit the mark, these critics. There does seem to be a lack of humour somewhere. Perhaps the reason could lie in the fact that these things are not so funny after all. Perhaps if all the canned humour ceased on the radio and in comic strips; perhaps if people in general turned a little less to humour for escape; perhaps when life gets unbearable even beyond a joke, people might come to see these things as needing a remedy. But then, they might also become so shocked and disgusted with their lot that they would throw the whole social system overboard and institute Socialism.
And that would never do. That would be no joke. Or would it?