The theory is that Aspies don’t do humour. But is that always the case? Is it even that simple? Read on
“That’s a joke by the way”
“Hey calm down, I was only teasing”
“You can’t take a joke can you!”
I’ve had all three of these in my life. Again it’s relative from case to case but for what it’s worth, here’s my experience of it. I’m not devoid of humour. I’ve always appreciated wordplay. Right back to that early stage of life where instead of jokes you have ‘riddles’. You know the kind of thing:
Q: What kind of bulb can’t you plant?
A: A lightbulb
Not long afterwards I graduated to joke books. Contrary to type I loved them – the family album even depicts me holding my copy of 1000 More Jokes For Kids on holiday in France – you can imagine the hell I gave the folks as we headed through choked autoroutes.
Some people on the spectrum just don’t do jokes at all. But even if we do wordplay (as I do), many of us have struggled with the issue of teasing.
When you’re an undiagnosed kid learning to cope with bullying, the friendly tease and the taunting tease can be very hard to tell apart. Unless it’s someone who has got to know you and become a friend over time.
They’re the ones who know the difference between the social gaffes you can laugh at and the one’s you’d rather forget – and we have plenty. Even today, I take teases better from those who have already made their appreciation of me clear and gotten to know my sensitivities and difficult history with time. But humour, even though some of us (myself included) do understand it, can be a complex thing in real-life situations. A few examples follow:
THE FAKE JOKE
Rich* went to the same quiz night as me. Normally my teammate Biffo* ran me home afterwards which saved a long wait for a bus in the dark but in other circles, I’d grown a little too used to being spoilt with lifts. Rich was about the only one who lived in the same town as me. But when I politely asked him if I could grab a lift home his response was again confusing. “No. No. Not ever. Hahahahahahahahaha.” That tagged on laugh again. “Sorry” Rich added “I’m not a very generous person.”
I accepted this. Rich was in a world of his own anyhow. Wouldn’t let me and Biffo on his team in spite of the fact that we knew them all and Biffo’s best mate was on the team, meaning we operated as a twosome most of the time. But note the laugh tagged on at the end to sugarcoat the pill. And confuse the Aspie into the bargain.
THE JOKE WITH A MESSAGE
“What time you coming in tomorrow?” The above statement doesn’t sound like a joke until you consider that ‘tomorrow’ was Saturday and attendance at work was not mandatory. But the fact that it came from two separate people indicated that as it was the peak period, as much help was needed as possible. No boss had gathered us to stress a particular urgency of coming in Saturday. Instead I was meant to assume that the rest of the department had sussed it non-verbally and that it would be less than professional not to. I complied and came along for a couple but when it became one particular supervisor’s opportunity to tease me excessively, I decided never to come in on Saturday again.
THE PRACTICAL JOKE
This is easy to laugh at when watched on television. When we ourselves are the victims it’s not so funny. Flash back to a summer scheme I was involved in back around 2002. We’ve gone away on residential and for this morning we’ve been told to be ready by ten past nine so we can start the activity. So I trot off down to the shower block to freshen up for the day as you do but emerge only to find my clothes have been taken and only a towel left to preserve my modesty. Mercifully it’s only a short walk back to the main building. I find everything has been placed on my bed except for my jeans. I kick up a fuss but Gabriel*, the only one from our party to have been in the building with me hotly denies any responsibility. I’ve got other trousers I can wear but the damage is done and the day held up.
Later I speak to a cleaner who tells me that said jeans are in the bin. I rescue them but on the final day I find opportunity to do a spiel about how it wasn’t so funny when you consider my comb was in the pocket and we’re nowhere near a shop for me to get another and that when playing practical jokes one should consider the consquences.
Some groups of lads seem to have an initiation procedure of excessive playful teasing. The Aspie provides plentiful opportunity for this but also has a heightened sensitivity to it so trying to make friends just through regularly attending a pub and getting in with “the lads” there can be a very discouraging thing. I for one take a bit of a josh and a tease a lot better from those I have got to know as mainly I already know they appreciate me as much as if not more than they feel the need to sort my life out with a little tease about my oddities.
THE INACCURATE JOKE
Down at the folk club the other week, our leader, sang a country gospel pastiche about a lady with plastic religious figurines on her dashboard. I enjoyed the humour of it but remarked that it was ironic that a humorous paean to a Catholic/Orthodox practice should be set to the kind of tune more associated with Southern Baptists who would oppose such a practice.
“Or the other possibility is that it’s just a joke” remarked another attendee.
Heck I knew it was a joke. I was just questioning whether the joke entirely worked.
“Life’s too short” is the tease merchant’s excuse. Too short to be boring about everything sure but it’s also too short to mess about. When we ask a serious question we expect a serious answer or if you do do a humorous one then get back to the point pronto. It seems to me that a lot of these joke merchants are the societal/conversational equivalent of the little boy who wants to have his dessert before he’s had the main meal. By serious I don’t mean sombre or preachy – just to save the jokes for afterwards unless you can keep them brief.
Seriously though, by all means have a little tease but just be careful when it comes to mixing it in with the serious if it’s to do with something important you’re trying to tell us about shortcomings in our conduct. We just find it confusing.
*Names have been changed