A Short Story on the Website of
the Red Dirt Writers Society

Respect Had a Quarrel with Humor
by Ryan McKinley (Nov 2012)

Humor put down his pen and paper and stood up to greet Respect as he walked into the waiting room. As they shook hands, a mild buzzing shot out from the meeting of their palms, causing Respect to quickly jerk his hand away in surprise.

“You fall for it every time,” Humor said, laughing as he pulled the metallic buzzer off his finger and placed it into his pocket.

“Only because I want to believe that you’ve grown up since our last crossing of paths,” Respect replied, sitting down across the room from Humor’s chair and looking at his watch. “Is she running late?”

“I don’t know,” Humor said and then picked up his paper and began to write anew.

“She’ll be out in just a moment,” the receptionist offered.

“Thank you,” Respect said to the young woman seated behind the counter. Turning his attention back to Humor, he asked, “What are you working on?”

“Limericks,” Humor answered. “I’m trying to find a word that rhymes with tumor that also means reputation. Any suggestions?”

“Let me think about it,” Respect said, fingering through a stack of outdated magazines on the table next to his chair. “Though I’m sure you’ll find exactly the right word. You’ve always had a talent for finding the right word.”

“Thank you,” Humor said, genuinely flattered. They sat quietly for a few moments before the receptionist invited them into the main office. As they entered the small room they each greeted their counselor and then sat down across from each other.

“Before we begin, I’d like to hear from each of you as to why you think that we are here today?” Balance said, smoothing down her skirt as she sat down behind her desk.

“Please,” Respect said, gesturing to Humor. “You may go first.”

“Okay then. I really am not sure. I guess someone didn’t find something very funny, does that sound right?” he guessed.

“So you are not certain?” Balance said, writing down on her tablet. “Respect, how about you?”

“I think Humor hit it on the head. His latest internet offering was offensive to so many people. He needs to be reeled in,” Respect said.“In all honesty, I have no idea what either of you are talking about,” Humor defended. “I am in charge of millions of posts, pictures, comments, newspapers, magazines, stand-up routines and jokes every single day. I was just told that if I didn’t meet with Balance and Respect today that I’d have my internet access taken away.”

Taking care to avoid being seen, Respect closed his eyelids and rolled eyes.

“I saw that,” Humor said. “Even with your eyes closed, I saw you roll them.”

“You are here today,” Balance explained, “because Respect requested the meeting. Humor, apparently you’ve crossed a line.”

“And that is?” Humor asked.

“You really don’t know?” Respect prodded. “Does this refresh your memory?” He reached into his suit jacket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. On it was a low quality image he had printed from a satire news site that depicted a group of nuns sitting around a table in a park and eating lunch. Each nun bore a crudely drawn pair of devil horns and a tiny mustache. Captioned on the bottom of the photo, in sloppy red letters, was the phrase, “Nazi Nun Speed Dating—Where Fascism meets Fashion!” Shaking his head, he handed the paper to Balance, who looked at the image for a moment before handing it to Humor.

“Yup, that was me,” Humor said, chuckling to himself.

“How can you laugh?” Respect questioned. “It isn’t even funny! It is insulting and it doesn’t make sense. Nazis? Devil horns? Not to mention the other thing…”

“It’s more of an irony than an outright joke,” Humor started to explain.

“Unbelievable,” Respect said.

Balance saw the need to take back control of the session and interjected. “In order for our short time together to be productive, I want to help each of you see that your separate contributions are important. Respect is a basic principle of civilized discourse,” she explained. “But there is definitely a little room for some mirth in all of this, wouldn’t you both agree?”

“Mirth, yes,” Respect said. “But I don’t see how that,” pointing to the paper in Humor’s hand, “is mirthful. It is so distasteful as to be sacrilegious.”

“Please don’t tell me you are trying to bring Religion into this argument,” Humor moaned.

“Religion couldn’t make it today,” Balance said. “It’s a Sunday and she was too busy to meet with us. But Respect has a point. Humor, how far is too far?”

“There is no ‘too far’,” Humor answered. “You can’t put anyone up on a pedestal and say they are above some prodding. If it were up to him, Respect wouldn’t allow me to have any fun with anyone.”

“I don’t agree,” Respect said. “I’ve enjoyed many of your contributions.”

“Like what?” Humor questioned.

“Well, I find your physical comedy to be quite entertaining. People slipping on banana peels, folks being scared by harmless pranks, that sort of thing.”

“Child’s play,” Humor demurred.

“They catch people off guard. That is always funny, seeing that reaction. And no one is really harmed by those antics,” Respect said.

“What about the old baseball-bat-to-the-crotch bits? You have told me before that you don’t like that, but it is pretty much the same as a surprising pratfall.”

“Not true,” Respect defended. “A hit to one’s genitals is very disrespectful and dangerous. What if that person is irreparably harmed in their…region? The powers of procreation are not to be trifled with nor regarded lightly.”

“See?” Humor whined, turning to Balance. “He’s inconsistent. ‘This is okay, but this is holy.’ How is a bruised bottom any less funny than a broken sack of…”

“I get it!” Balance quickly interrupted. “From what I’m hearing, there is a line that should not be crossed. Does that sound right, Respect?”


“Humor? Do you see this?” Balance asked.

“Can’t say I do.”

Balance turned to Respect. “Can you be more specific? How can Humor know that he’s getting too close to ‘the line’?”

“How do I put this?” Respect began. “The pratfalls and the gags, those are people experiencing the foibles of being human. No one is perfect, and we all encounter conflict or hardship despite our status. Pope or pauper, we all bang our knee on the counter from time to time. It is Humor that helps us realize that we each are not above adversity or common conflict.” Turning to Humor, Respect added, “I truly admire your influence in those situations.”

“That is quite a compliment,” Balance noted. Humor nodded his head before Respect continued.

“But too often these days, we are looking for ways to debase each other and use the guise of Humor to justify our cruelty. For instance, those women in that photograph engage in selfless acts of service on behalf of many in Society that are otherwise overlooked. In that photo, on that day, those nuns were simply enjoying a meal. And how did Humor repay them? By calling them Fascists, ridiculing their clothing and implying that they worship the devil. They didn’t deserve that.” Humor looked down into his lap and fidgeted with the paper in his hands. Slowly, he folded the paper in half, then in half again.

“So the difference,” Respect continued, “is a matter of judgment, for sure.”

“How do you judge it?” Balance asked.

“That’s easy,” Respect answered. “How do you want to be treated? Isn’t that the simplest way to gauge it all?”

“That sounds a lot like Religion creeping into the discussion, again,” Humor deflected.

“Not really,” Balance answered. “I think that’s a fair standard.”

“Of course you would,” Humor said.

“Then how do you decide what is ‘too far’?” Balance asked Humor.

“You are right when you say that there are lines I’ve crossed, but I know when I am crossing them. Crossing lines is what makes some things funny.” Humor turned to Respect and adds, “You said that the human condition requires us to know that we aren’t above adversity or conflict? What about those people that don’t realize they are human? The ones that think they are above reproach or better than other folk? Throw me into their life by way of a little Photoshopped picture of them with the world’s largest booger on their nose, and suddenly even the most arrogant of public figures remembers, ‘Oh, yeah, I have to put my pants on one leg at a time.’ With me in the picture, Humanity knows that we are all born of Woman and we all end this trip in a pine box. If you look at it that way, I’m helping people prepare for that ultimate meet-and-greet with Death.”

“How so?” Balance asked.

“Well, if someone goes around their entire life believing they are better than everyone else, they wouldn’t be ready to stand before their Maker.”

“Now who’s bringing Religion into it?” Respect said quietly.

“You’ve both mentioned Religion now,” Balance noted. “Should we reschedule our session for a time when she can be here?”

“No!” they both answered in unison.

“I’ll admit this,” Respect continued, avoiding the Ganesh in the room. “I don’t find everything funny that fits under the blanket of Humor but if you apply a measure of analysis, you’ll find that most of those things I don’t find funny seem to share a common thread like profanity, scatological jokes…”

“I’ll admit that profanity has just ruined comedy,” Humor agreed. “It’s too easy but you can’t be serious about fart jokes. Those little jewels cross the gap of culture and history. True story—Cleopatra loved her some fart jokes.”

“Okay, you can have flatulence,” Respect said. “I’ll even give your burping and puking but some things aren’t inherently comedic and lower the collective I.Q. of Humanity—like cruelty. Cruel isn’t funny, and your take on the sisters in the park was an unprovoked Cruelty.”

“A lot of people find Humor in Cruelty,” Humor said. “Lots.”

“But that doesn’t make it humorous,” Respect explained. “Take Cruelty away from the Well of Humor and you still have so much from which you can draw.”

A bell began to softly chime. Balance reached across her desk, picked up a small clock and silenced its alarm.

“That means our time is just about up,” she said. “I think we’ve made some real progress today, wouldn’t you say.” Both men looked to the ground and shook their heads. “Well, I disagree. I believe you both have to regard each other with a bit more…”

“Go ahead,” Humor said, a grimace stretching his mouth down around his chin. “Finish your sentence.”

“Yes,” Respect agreed, smiling “You were saying?”

“I was going to say Respect, but…”

“I knew it!” Humor burst, rising from his chair. “You were on his side the whole time!”

“That isn’t true,” she defended. “I can see the point from both of your sides but in this case, Respect seems to be the best answer.”

“Respect isn’t funny!” Humor blared.

Balance could see the session taking a very rapid turn for the worst. “For today, can we just agree to try to see things from one another’s perspective?” she suggested, attempting to secure a positive outcome from their conversation.

“I can agree to that,” Respect said, extending his hand to Humor. Humor set down the paper he’d been holding and reached into his pocket. “Without the buzzer,” Respect added.

“Fine,” Humor conceded, and then gripped hands. “I’ll try to ease up on the Cruelty from now on.”

“And I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt before I second guess your sense of funny,” Respect said.

Balance emitted an audible sigh. “That is exactly what I’d hoped to accomplish today. You both have my number if anything comes up again?”

“Yup,” Humor said. “I wrote it on the bathroom wall at the football stadium,” he said and laughed out loud. Respect looked to Balance and shrugged his shoulders. Balance sighed again as she opened up the door for her clients on their way out.

As the two men walked back to the waiting room, Respect turned to his counterpart and said, “Rumor.”

“Pardon?” Humor said.

“A word that rhymes with ‘tumor’ and means reputation. Will that work for your limerick,” Respect said. Humor’s eyes opened wide as he retrieved the pen and paper from his pocket and added the word to his earlier writings.

“It works perfectly! Thank you!” he gushed, folding the paper up and replacing it in his pocket.

“Well, let’s hear it,” Respect said, holding the door open at the other side of the waiting room.

“Are you sure? You might not like it.”

“I admire your abilities,” Respect said. “And I can think of no better time for me to test out my new perspective on Humor.”

“Okay,” Humor said. “But I warned you.”

Respect had a quarrel with Humor,
He said that his jokes were a tumor.
Humor said,” Jokes are cathartic.”
Respect replied, “Idiotic.”
Proving Respect is a dullard as rumored.

“I knew I should have gone fishing instead,” Respect said, and left the room.

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