On a whirlwind trip to Europe after graduation from college, a friend of mine introduced me to a Spanish kid named Tico. I asked why his friends called him Tico, and he said – completely deadpan – that he started using a nickname after the third time he got beaten up for his real name, which was Escolástico.

The kids around me had heard the Escolástico routine before, but they still laughed their heads off at his delivery because it was one of a vast repertoire he regaled his friends with on a daily basis. Tico exuded humor. He talked in rapid-fire Spanish which I could barely make out, but lack of comprehension wasn’t an obstacle to his funnyman routine. Just looking at the kid made you laugh.

Have you ever noticed that there’s a joker in just about every crowd? He or she is the one who looks around, assesses the situation, focuses on the one funny thing about it and then lets loose. People like that get everyone else to “see” the humor under the surface of human situations.

Our friendly neighborhood humorists not only add spice to life, they actually make it livable at times.

Sergeant Joe Friday

In contrast, one of the most humorless characters in American television was “Sergeant Joe Friday”, the main character in the TV series Dragnet (1951-59). He was played by an actor named Jack Webb. Friday and his partner, Officer Bill Gannon (Harry Morgan, whom you might remember as Colonel Potter on the old M*A*S*H series) were an unstoppable crime-fighting duo.

People of a certain age will conjure up an image of Sergeant Friday as if they had just spoken to him an hour ago. His signatures were a no-nonsense demeanor and his trademark phrase, “Just the facts, ma’am.”

His distinctive voice also began every episode with the line, “The story you are about to hear is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.”

Intelligent humor

The dour Sergeant Joe Friday is an American classic but he is not fixed in the public consciousness as a funnyman, which is probably why his teaming up with one of America’s greatest funnymen, Johnny Carson, in the clip below is so hilarious.

Carson is the Escolástico of the duo, which, when set against Sergeant Friday’s stone-faced cop persona, makes for an incredibly funny parody of a crime reporting situation. This is a routine that took intelligence to craft and extreme talent to execute, as you’ll see when you watch it.

Intelligent humor is built on paradox. The more ironic or contradictory the combination of factors in the skit, the funnier it is. The human mind responds with laughter to the juxtaposition of opposites, at least those that are as smart and well-played as the “Copper Clapper Caper”. Enjoy!

The performance   (duration 2:56)

Soul Work

Quality, intelligent humor opens us to the gratuitous side of existence. It is a window to a better world that lies just under the surface of our everyday life, and we need to look into those depths often.

Are you surrounded by unimaginative and boring people? I certainly hope not. But if you are not lucky enough to have actual humorists in your life, you should seek them out. Only clean and intelligent humor qualifies. Let all the raunchy comedy club stuff fall by the wayside.

For all its faults and dangers, the modern miracle of the Internet gives us a portal to some of the best comedy ever produced, both classic and current. It may take some looking to draw out the best humor from the depths of the Internet, but start with your favorite funny memories of jokes, songs, routines, and hilarious personalities. It’s very likely that someone has posted a clip of them on YouTube!

It’s also good to make wholesome humor a part of your daily diet. Mine the rich veins of comedy from your favorite humorists on a regular basis, especially in times of desolation. As a matter of fact, since we humans easily get bored even by quality actors, make sure you have at least three or four funny people you can look to when you need a pick-up.

The more the merrier, as they say.