Author Erma Bombeck said, “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.”
Looking back on that quote, I suspect Bombeck would have greatly enjoyed social media. She may have laughed at the many people who wittily walk up to that thin line and the few brave souls who attempt to cross it.
It’s hard to see that thin line. That’s why we call it “thin.”
Sometimes you have to be on the other side to realize you’ve crossed the line. By then it’s too late. You’re either reaping the admiration of fellow wannabe comedians who dared not cross the line or your digging out of the deepest of public social media shaming holes.
I have those moments when, reflecting on some current event, I think, “Wow, this tweet would be a very funny reaction to...” fill-in-the-blank
It happened again last week. While watching a TV documentary on a disgraced music star, I thought, “Time to chime in with my funny hot take on this idiot.
Thankfully, my frustratingly brilliant wife was sitting next to me and said, “Don’t tweet that. It’s gonna get you in trouble."
To be clear, when I say she’s “frustratingly” brilliant, it’s more of a frustration for me than it is for her. Yes, she has to carry the burden of being so smart, but I have to bear the constant reminder that she’s smarter than me.
The burden is worth it in times like these, when I’ve walked up to the line, teetering on the edge. She knows when to pull me back and when to push me over.
Again, it’s hard to see that line. You need someone with better vision to see it for you. You need someone to be your filter.
You need someone who cares about your well-being, someone who appreciates your humorous side, but who will stop you from throwing a potentially upsetting, albeit funny, one-liner into the volatile world of social media megalomania.
You need someone you trust. When I’m preparing a speech, and I want to work in humor, I’ll test out the joke on my wife before anyone else. She can gauge humor, and is unafraid to tell me when I’m not funny.
No offense to my Mom, but she thinks everything I say is clever. If she were the one watching out for me, I’d be in an Instagram dungeon. Sorry, Mom.
These thin lines are different for everyone, so the next time you tiptoe up to Bombeck’s thin line, be sure someone has your back.
You don’t have to give up being funny. Plus, having a good friend or partner laugh at your humor in real life is both fleeting and satisfying.
After all, the sound of my wife’s laughter is much more rewarding than a million little red hearts.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.