If you look back on everything you learned in school, chances are you don’t use that much of it. Being able to read, write, do a little math and know who sailed the Ocean Blue in fourteen hundred and ninety two are all pretty handy, but everyone knows, what you mostly get in school is adjustment to reality.
Or realities. Like the realities that life is basically unfair, that you get called on when you don’t know the answer, that your name happens to sound a lot like the word for a woman’s supportive undergarment, that the required-reading book “Lord of the Flies” could have been based on any recess hour on your playground and that the prettiest girl in your class wants to be your friend — and nothing more. To survive that kind of reality check requires a thick skin — a useful tool in later life, and it often provides another practical gift of immeasurable worth: a sense of humor. The ability to find humor in a cold and hostile world is really an expression of hope, that no matter how unpleasant things get, you can bundle and stuff them in a folder labeled “ridiculous” and file them away for future reference.
And this is the content of the filing cabinets of just about every comedian who ever made you laugh, whether in study hall or on late night TV.
In a way, winter in New Hampshire is like school. You get stuck inside most of the time and you get very acquainted with your own limitations. People tend to become a little testy with one another. Even mature adults sometimes start to act a bit juvenile, but we get humor-bestowing benefits from this exposure to “realities” as well. That may account for the fact that here in the frozen Northeast, where winters last longer than a bad case of the shingles, we have no lack of humorists.
Of course, Adam Sandler, Sarah Silverman and SNL’s Seth Meyers all popped up out of the Bedford area in a roughly 10-year period from 1966 to 1973, but this is probably an anomaly. It might have more to do with radon in the Bedford aquifer than New Hampshire winters. On the other hand, the legendary ability of just about every native cow herder or tree tapper to entertain themselves at the expense of just about any passing flatlander is a tribute to some long winters spent preparing new ways to say, “You can’t get there from here.” Note the fact that beloved humorist Mark Twain (Southern by reputation, but Yankee at heart) vacationed in the rough near Monadnock to charge up his creative juices; and that modern political satirist P.J. O’Rourke has a similar view of the Mountain that Stands Alone from his studio in rustic Peterborough. Add to this such modern expositors of the Yankee humor trade as Moose of Humor Becky Rule and frequent “Last Laugher” B. Elwin Sherman (who appears in this issue) and it’s a formidable dossier on the power of rugged discomfort to tickle the funnybone.
And without bothering to actually look up the origins of the whole April Fools Day thing (that would be so tedious and scholarly), allow me to simply make up an explanation. April, at least in New England, is when all those ice-dammed, frost-heaved, shut-in days are over and we can get outside and try out some new material on people who haven’t been crammed in the same rooms with us for the past four months. April is the month of our comic relief.
This article appears in the April 2009 issue of New Hampshire Magazine