Pondering pre-schooler humor

big-smileSome weeks ago, our 4-year-old learned to ask questions about emotions, asking, “Are you happy?” and “Are you mad?”He’s always been a pretty empathetic kid, stopping and asking what’s wrong when another child starts crying at play group. Once he learned to ask Miri and me “are you happy?” he of course took it upon himself to ask these questions several dozen times a day.

One night, when I was washing my hands, he asked in a high voice, “Are you mad?” and I said no, I wasn’t mad. Then he asked, “Are you happy?” And I said that I was a little tired but not really happy or mad.

“Are you mad?” he repeated, with his usual bright smile he used to charm people in to talking to him.

And then I said, “I’m just Daddy,” I said.

His smile broadened and his eyes darted left and right as he was pondering what to say. He paused for a second and then said, “You’re Snoopy.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.

He leaned forward, his huge, toothy smile turning to a laugh and said again, “You’re Snoopy.”

“I’m Snoopy?”

He laughed again and lowered his voice and made his lips into a circle like a gun barrel through which he could shoot this joke. “You’re Snoopy!” he said again and burst in to deep laughter, recovering for a second to say again, “You’re Snoopy.”

I tried not to laugh, but I chuckled as I asked, “I’m not happy so I’m Snoopy?”

“You’re Snoopy!” he said again, this time leaning against a wall because he was laughing so hard.

I started laughing myself, saying “Darn it, kid, that is pretty funny.”

He took his hands off the wall and leaned forward again, not like he was doubled over laughing, more like he was angling his whole body to launch the joke directly at my belly to make me belly-laugh. “You’re Snoopy!”

And I kept laughing.

Humor is one of those things that means such vastly different things to so many people. Most jokes don’t translate from one culture to the other. When I was in Ukraine, I was told dozens of “ancedotes” that most centered around a stubborn and stupid person going through a series of misadventures and then at the end saying something that showed he was still stubborn and stupid. And they weren’t remotely funny, to me, anyway.

Pre-schoolers are a culture in of themselves. Gabriel is still too young to understand a joke as simple as “What’s this fly doing in my soup? The backstroke,” or even “Knock knock /  who’s there/ boo/ boo who / don’t cry, it’s only a joke.”

And yet, if he and his friends find a word funny they can laugh over it hysterically until you have to start laughing. Or even just seeing someone put on their glasses upside down can be the topic of great hilarity. And, the humor is centered on something we might find funny — chaos in a sequence that ought to be in order. The “Snoopy” thing isn’t quite a pun, but the word is close to “Daddy,” and “happy,” I suppose.

It does make me question what it that it takes to make me think a joke it is worthwhile to laugh at. But one thing’s for certain — nothing’s funnier than a toddler or pre-schooler giggling while he thinks he’s “getting away” with something like making an adult laugh.


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