As a voracious reader going back to my school days at Saints (Stanley Greaves had introduced me to the British Council Library to my delight), I remember once being struck by a comment from then US President John Kennedy which went something like this: “Mankind has two things he can draw on to deal with life’s many problems: one is God and the other one is sense of humour. God, however, is beyond our understanding, so ultimately we have to rely on humour to deal with our trauma.” I cannot remember the context of the remark – I have searched avidly time and again, in various corners, and can find no record of it anywhere – but I have often remembered it when I encounter a striking piece of humour and, looking back, I can see that my early interest in humour, going back to my school days, was also behind my early interest in calypso when I first heard that music. The musical gems from singers such as Spoiler and Pretender and Kitch, and later Dougla and Lord Funny and Gabby, were treasures for me for their comedic genius, and were a powerful influence on my own work and, indeed, on my view of life. I came to see that JFK was right in seeing a sense of humour as a saviour for mankind, and as I came here with the Tradewinds in the hard socialism years in Guyana, I saw time and again how Guyanese were turning to humour as a balm for the vexing situations confronting them. I was seeing the travail first hand, and up close, and to my question about how they were dealing with it, I would often hear, “Boy, you have to laugh; that is how you deal with it.” The JFK wisdom, delivered in America, was being reinforced for me in my homeland.
That view of the value of sense of humour was in play last week in my So It Go column dealing with the decline of the calypso art form, which I described as a loss – that particular coping mechanism was fading away. A few days after that column appeared, almost as if in response to it, a friend sent me an online piece with a range of comedic material on various subjects.
One of them was a photograph of a golf course where the normal four-inch cup on the green where the ball goes had been enlarged to a cup almost two feet in diameter and with the caption, “Golf for Beginners”.
Another piece was a drawing of an elderly couple, standing at the Pearly Gates, and with the clearly unhappy husband screaming at St Peter: “Whatever the hell happened to ‘until death do us part?’”
One very clever spot showed a stunning Maserati sports car, parked in a driveway, with the licence plate reading, “WAS HIS”.
In another one, a short sentence said: “You know you’re getting old when you feel bad in the morning without having any fun the night before.” And there was also a drawing of two old golfers. One says, “My eyes aren’t what they used to be; did you see where my ball went? “ To which his friend replies.“Yes, but I can’t remember.”
That piece of online humour, well written and varied, was a reminder once again of the JFK remark. Those were precisely the kind of things I was referring to when I wrote last week that “if calypso dies, we have definitely lost”.
I doubt that JFK had kaiso in mind when he said those words, but for me, who had grown up hearing this exhilarating view of life that the calypsonians, particularly in Trinidad, but also here, were bringing to us, his statement resonated strongly. Furthermore, I would argue that in this world that grows more vexatious daily, Caribbean people need art forms like calypso now more than ever. How can we in Guyana, for example, get through our City Hall debacle, or the almost daily swings on the oil issue, or the idiot drivers on our roads, without laughing? As a veteran carpenter said to me last week, “Mister Dave, if you don’t laugh you would cry.” Certainly, there are now other avenues to bring levity – particularly the internet one – but there is truly no match for the sheer juiciness (no other word fits) of the best humourous calypsos we have been blessed with over the years that focus specifically on the life that confronts us here. JFK may not have known about our amazing art form, with its intricate dialect expressions, but he was on target with many things, including the role humour plays in mankind’s ability to cope. Long live calypso.

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