Contributed by Ian M Johnstone

The English playwright, Richard Sheridan, wrote disparagingly of someone who “relied on his memory for jest and on his imagination for facts”.  When it comes to humour, there are three sorts of people, those with virtually no sense of humour, those who enjoy humour generated by someone else, and those who make their own and enjoy that of others as well.  Australians tend to make up their own jokes, often, daily, at home, at work, at the footie or the cricket.  Recently as we watched two humpback whales break the surface in unison in Platypus Bay off Fraser Island, someone observed that if they kept heading south they would be there just in time for the synchronised swimming in the Olympic Games.

Bill Wannan wrote in the preface to his Anthology of Australian Humour, Come in Spinner:

This dry, mocking, bitter (but not whining) laughter came not only from the Irish but in lesser degree from Cockney Londoners, with trace elements from the Welsh and Scots, from Lancashire and Cornwall.   Randolph Bedford summed it up as “the sardonic humour that Australia has invented out of its difficulties, and its droughts and its long distances’ and the indispensable necessity of keeping the upper lip stiff as ironbark.

Mary Fortune wrote in The Australian Journal in 1871:

A keen sense of the ridiculous is a troublesome aptitude to carry about with you, and it is grievously hard to wear the mask of a deaf and dumb person when, some absurdity being enacted or spoken, makes you want to fly out to the back premises for a genuine good laugh.

(Quoted by Campbell McComas in Australian Journal of Comedy, Vol. 3, No. , 1997,  p.157)

Michael Sharkey wrote in his Introduction in The Illustrated Treasury of Australian Humour, Oxford Uni Press, 1988:

There is a thin divide between the tragic and the comic, but I would suggest that comedy is predominantly concerned with survival, often at the expense of cherished beliefs or ‘doing the right thing’.  Comedy often seems to endorse the ‘wrong thing’ in its mocking treatment of sacred cows. (p. 14)

As long as people keep on being stupid and mean, the future of humour is guaranteed.  We must, however, remember the most effective cure for all our faults is gentle humour, full of playful possibilities, delivered briefly and indirectly, with elements of surprise and mere touches of good natured schadenfreude.  To abandon humour would be to abandon our humanity.  The Aussie tradition of joking is stronger, and more central to our way of life than we commonly understand, or can understand, because no one will take it seriously enough!