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What I Really Know About Telling Jokes: The Power of Shared Laughter

The AARP Bulletin's "What I Really Know" column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit short personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. Below, reader Joyce Buller of Jeanerette, La., shares what she really knows about telling jokes.

Joke telling was a good reason to hang around the family when I was a kid. My dad’s family laughed really loud. They would hee-haw with such abandon that it was fun to watch them. They liked jokes that were a little dirty and told them one after another. Sometimes after finishing a joke, they immediately reiterated the punch line, and all broke out laughing again. Telling jokes gave my family a cohesiveness that no other means of communication did. It was easy to see that they loved being together when they shared a laugh.

Shared laughter can bring all sorts of people together, even strangers. In an airport bathroom in France, another lady and I were washing our hands when a bearded young man came in, greeted us and went into a stall. We waited until we were outside and then burst into laughter together. Seeing this custom that is strange to us in America was more fun because we shared it. I never forgot it.

I had a friend who went into a nursing home with a joke book. She memorized a new joke every morning and told it to everyone she met in the halls and dining room. She said that she wanted people to look forward to seeing her every day and thought that a joke was just the thing to make it happen. I know she was right.

Here is a laugh that I will share with you: While working for an organization that delivers lunches to elderly shut-ins, I took my four-year-old daughter on my morning rounds. She was intrigued by the various accoutrements of old age—the canes, the walkers, the wheelchairs. One day I found her staring at a pair of false teeth soaking in a glass. As I braced myself for the inevitable barrage of questions, she merely turned and whispered, “The tooth fairy will never believe this!”

Tell us what you really know about our October topic: presidential campaigns. E-mail your essay of up to 400 words to Or mail it to What I Really Know, AARP Bulletin, 601 E St. NW, Washington, DC 20049. Please include your name, phone number and e-mail address. Deadline for October submissions: September 1, 2008.

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