Blog 38: Knock! Knock! Who’s There? (pt 2)

To my way of thinking, there are two sides to the development of a sense of humour.  They are interdependent, of course, but for the purpose of this exercise we can say that there is the side that can make jokes and quips and one-liners, which we have already talked about, and the other side, which learns to interpret them.  Before dementia, Bill was like the rest of us and would laugh at TV programs like Yes, Minister and Fawlty Towers and would always be ready to chuckle at a good joke.  But, as I pointed out in the last BLOG, as Bill’s language abilities decreased, so, too, did his ability to appreciate any sort of comedy that relied for a laugh on the interpretation of that language. Take the following joke, for example.  I have called it The Farmer and Bessie.

The Farmer and Bessie

Scene:  Courtroom.  Farmer in the dock being questioned.

Prosecutor:  Now, is it true that, at this present time, six weeks later, you are saying that you are not

all right.  Yet, at the time of the crash, while at the crash scene, you told the Officer in

attendance, that you were  all right.

Farmer:       Well, it was like this.  I had put my favourite cow, Bessie, into the trailer to take her to the

show when …..

Prosecutor:  I’m not interested in your story.  Just answer the question.  At the scene of the accident,

didn’t you tell the policeman that you were all right?

Farmer:       Well, it was like this.  I had put my favourite cow, Bessie, in the trailer ….

Prosecutor:  No!  Don’t tell me the story.  Just answer  Yes  or  No.

By this time, the Judge was becoming curious, wanting to know what the farmer had to say.

Judge:           Let him tell his story.

Farmer:        Well, it was like this.  I had put my favourite cow, Bessie, in the trailer to take her to the

                      show.  When we got to the intersection, this whoppin’ big semi came racin’ through and

swiped us.  Bessie went one way into the ditch and I went the other way into the other

ditch on the other side of the road.  The copper came along and heard Bessie moaning and

groaning.  He knew she wasn’t well.  He took a good look at her, cocked his pistol and

shot her, bang, straight between the eyes.

Then, pistol still in hand, he came across to me and said:   And how are you?


When I first heard that joke, the whole room roared with laughter.  Everybody “got it”.  But Bill wouldn’t have had a hope.  Just look at the brainwork that people have to do to get themselves to that point of laughter at the end.  Firstly, they have to be able to picture the courtroom scene.  Then they have to “hear” each statement and translate each of them, as well, into pictures.  Then they have to picture the accident scene, then the policeman shooting Bessie and, gun in hand, walking across to the farmer. Finally, they have to predict that, because he was frightened of being shot himself, the farmer answered:  I’m fine, thank you!  I’m fine!  I’m fine! 

It’s a very complex process that the brain has to go through to appreciate a joke like that.  Remember how, in BLOG 11, we talked about the fact that Bill could no longer think in the abstract, could only think in the concrete?  That loss alone would ensure that he did not make the connection between the farmer’s fear of being shot and the question: And how are you?  But, remember, too, how, in BLOG 20, we discussed our belief that Bill could not imagine the future?  That loss, too, would work against him making the connection.  The most pertinent reason, however, why Bill would not have been able to “get it”, lay in the fact that the speech receptor part of Bill’s brain was scarcely working at all and would not have received any of the messages that the words were conveying.  In other words, Bill was unable to create the pictures in his brain that he needed to create if he were to enjoy a joke like that.

So, from mid 2009, which is about the time that I noted that Bill could not think in the abstract, Bill had lost pretty much all of his ability to appreciate comedy.  All, that is, except for Funniest Home Videos.  Because of the simplicity of the program’s content, Bill was able to laugh at that show, week after week, until the beginning of 2011.  People falling over, dogs walking on their hind legs and babies blowing raspberries, all caused Bill to chortle.  It didn’t matter that Bill couldn’t understand a word that was being said, he could see the action and, in a slapstick sort of way, the action was funny.


Then, in mid 2011, Bill stopped laughing at the show.

“Oh, that’s awful!” he would say.  “He’s hurt himself.”

 ”Oh, no!  This is no good.”

 And I knew that “the beast” had taken that last vestige of Bill’s sense of humour and that there would be very little laughter from then on.

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