My guess is that very few people have ever wondered this about me, let alone asked it.
But I am so glad she did. With a moment's pause, I answered as though it was something I'd been reflecting on for some time, even though I haven't given a lot of thought to this part of my personality. My off the cuff answer, once I gave it, felt so right, the way those games where you say the first thing that pops into your head are supposed to reveal a truer, deeper part of yourself.
I told her, "No. I think I became funny because I needed to keep up. It worked as a defense mechanism, being self deprecating. And since I knew I was not going to be the biggest, or the fastest, I tried to be the funniest. As I got older, being the youngest and smallest boy in my class meant I needed to have a big personality, and being funny was the key to that."
Since about 24 hours have passed since I was asked the question, I've had some time to consider what stands out to me most within my history as a "funny person."
I remember in elementary school, being in class and claiming I could do a foxtrot, which was mentioned in a story we read. The teacher invited me to the front of the room to demonstrate and I then got on all fours and skittered to my seat.
I remember joining the Academic Games team in 8th grade. While I am not sure if our team was recruited, or if we tried out, or if we ever won, we had so much fun. It was basically competitive improv, but we had no training, no sense of the rules of improvisation, and no idea what the judges expected of us. We just knew we wanted the audience to laugh. Our greatest success came during a performance where we pretended to be a terrified family on a rollercoaster.
I remember high school, knowing that the trick to making the girls I had crushes on give a second glance hinged on my ability to make just the right quip at just the right time... but that laughter at the lunch table was more easily forgotten than who could dunk a basketball.
Now, I make people at laugh at lunch for entirely different reasons. I bring humor to the relationships I form with the new people I meet because by now, not cracking the jokes that pop into my head would be too much of a challenge. It has become the adjective that inevitably appears in my annual end of the year "Write a Letter to a Future Student" assignment.
Being funny only partially makes me qualified to co-sponsor Improv Club, where, this year, we have one young man who is deliriously funny. Except only those of us in club know it, because in his classes he is aloof, sometimes downright bashful. Today he made me laugh so hard that my face hurt. I am honored to help him hone his craft, to witness students find a side of themselves that they (nor anyone else) would otherwise know about. Funny must be shared, be passed on to future generations.
That is especially true in my own home. My wife is also funny, much in the way that my dad is: generally more reserved, but able to make the perfect joke nearly every time-- drawing crescendos of laughter efficiently and effortlessly. My style, especially in the classroom, is more of a hammy, "throw everything at the wall and see what sticks," approach. This year, teaching 7th grade, has been an education for me. I assumed my sense of humor would translate seamlessly to the middle school, and with some students that's true. But many more kids than I expected play the "too cool to laugh at the teacher's joke" card. Sometimes the deck seems full of them.
But one kid I can reliably make laugh every time is my son. His type of humor is still under construction. He tried a few made up jokes on me in the car yesterday... the following was one of them:
"Why did the wise old man like fruit? Because his favorite food was fruit snacks! Isn't that funny?"
Yes, son, yes it is.
He is quite good at impressions, but his specialty is prank humor. He loves to be sneaky, to hide and jump out with a "Boo!" Last year when he was looking at the "Notes" feature on my phone and discovered the emoji keyboard, he left the room for a moment. When he came back and I reached out my hand to take the phone back, his grin indicated that he was proud of his work. The newest note contained only one word and one tiny image:
Dad [thumbs down emoji]
I laughed so hard. I showed my wife. I did not contemplate, "What was the ultimate origin of this moment?" Until the question at lunch yesterday...
"Have you always been humorous?"
"Nope. But I'm so glad that I didn't stop once I started."