Think before you ‘quip from the lip’
By AdvocateDaily.com Staff
Using humour in serious situations involves some risk but, with the right checks and balances, it can provide much-needed levity to legal and other proceedings, humourist and author Marcel Strigberger tells AdvocateDaily.com.
“We need humour in our everyday lives, and the courts and politics are especially devoid of some levity where needed,” he says. “I think John Cleese said it best, 'Be serious about your work but not solemn. Solemnity serves pomposity.'”
For example, the recent Senate confirmation hearings of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh received worldwide media attention and polarized people along the lines of gender and politics.
Strigberger challenged himself to come up with non-political observations about the hearings in a recent blog post.
“It’s a serious matter — sexual abuse allegations and risk of erosion of due process," he says. "My blog dealt with some whimsical observations such as the significance of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford drinking Coke and Judge Kavanaugh enjoying beer.”
“I remember once in practice I was at a pre-trial hearing with a group of other lawyers and it was quite tense as we gathered in front of the judge on a Monday morning,” he recalls.
“As we began the proceedings, the judge shuffled papers on his desk and then looked up at us. ‘I have one vital question for everyone here,’ he said. We all looked up at him, waiting to hear his take on the case.
“‘Did you all have a great weekend?’ he asked. It broke the tension, and we were able to move forward very quickly and settle,” he says.
"That’s the key thing about humour," Strigberger says. "It serves a serious purpose and it needn't be offensive." This is why he pursues it in his books, blog postings and speaking engagements.
“I think there’s a reluctance these days to engage in humour because of ambivalence as to its use as well as the prevalent fear of offending people,” he says. “When we’re kids, we laugh 400 times a day, but as adults, it’s drastically reduced to 15 times. We get mixed signals about humour and laughter. We’re often told to lighten up but yet to stop being a child or to grow up.”
That’s not to say people should make thoughtless light of serious situations in the moment, he says.
“I think the most important thing about humour is attitude,” Strigberger says of the urge to quip from the lip. “Before you say something, check your attitude. Why do you want to say or write that? Is your goal to mock or ridicule or to release tension or otherwise enhance the situation?"
Still, he says, humour involves some risk, but with the right checks and balances, it can receive positive results.
“When I was a practising lawyer, and other counsel wouldn’t get back to me I would send a letter which said ‘There are probably three reasons you haven’t returned my calls or letters — 1) I don’t always get back to you; 2) you’re extremely busy; or 3) you found out I’m the one who punctured the tires of your new Lexus.’
"They always got back to me after I sent that, generally apologizing,” Strigberger says. "One lawyer even called me and said it was reason number 3. I’ll never know how she found out."