There's got to be a good punchline in there somewhere

Have you laughed long and hard lately? I'm thinking about the kind of laughter where you smile with your entire face and wipe moist eyes while your head rolls around in disbelief at how funny something is.

It's laughing that's so delightfully contagious it makes people nearby chuckle too.

Laughing is good for us; it's a form exercise in a way. And as we age we don't do enough of it. Kids laugh dozens of time each day. Some older adults go weeks without a giggle. Not a good thing.

Okay, is this funny? "Question: "Why are dogs such bad dancers?" Answer: "They have two left feet."

I kind of like that one, but I did have to think about it for a few seconds before I smiled. And I'm not alone in that regard.

A recent study, published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society suggests joke comprehension decreases with age.

As we get older we have more difficulty understanding a punchline. We're less likely to understand that something's funny.

We "just don't get it." That was the phrase my 13-year old granddaughter used after relaying a joke to me that did not seem very funny at all.

I laughed of course, but it was not terribly genuine and she is extremely perceptive.

If I remembered that joke she told me I would share it right here, right now and let you decide, but that's another problem as we age, we forgot punchlines.

Which, I suppose is just as well if they aren't funny in the first place.

I like jokes that are written down so I can re-check them before I tell them.

I have a 70-something friend who knows that and e-mails me my best stuff. (My granddaughter would say, "Grandma, you have no 'best stuff.'")

Here goes. "In Japan, they've replaced impersonal Microsoft error messages with Haiku poetry." For example, say I'm looking for specific information to use in a column and not finding it, the message on my computer screen might say, "The Web site you seek cannot be located, but countless more exist" or "Serious error. All information has completely disappeared. Screen. Mind. Both are blank."

That last one (almost, not quite) makes me laugh out loud, which worries me a little because it's not even that funny. I wonder if I'm over-identifying, maybe it's too close to my own personal truth.

Speaking of identifying, maybe I'll abandon any attempt at joke-telling and focus on telling stories related to aging.

How about this one? Reporters were interviewing a 104-year old woman and asked "What's the best thing about living to this age? And she replied, "No peer pressure." (There's a centenarian who definitely "gets it.")

Are we having fun yet? Don't answer that. I'm at the point where I need a punchline. My husband wanders by and I happen to mention "I'm writing a column on humor." And, without skipping a beat, without even a pause, he responds, "Well, that's definitely a risk, isn't it."

You know, I love this guy, but he's way too direct.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in the College of Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension Service. She can be reached at

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