One of the things I remember about studying Shakespeare at uni was the use of humour in Romeo & Juliet. The basic gist is that the play is a romantic comedy until the mid-point – where Mercutio dies – after which the humour dries up completely and we descend inevitably into tragedy.
The opening scenes of Baz Luhrman’s film adaptation are lovingly sprinkled with humour: the ridiculous set piece fight at the petrol station, Romeo’s whiny heartbreak over Rosamund, Harold Perrineau’s Mercutio and John Leguizamo’s Tybalt are both hilarious until one kills the other and darkness descends.
Put another way, Romeo & Juliet is basically Meet the Parents/Fockers where Ben Stiller kills Robert De Niro’s cat halfway through.
I have always been a bit of a fool. I used to infuriate my father at the dinner table by making my brother and sister laugh – through farting or funny faces or saying Grace as ‘rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub.’
In high school my Year 7 homeroom and English literature teacher (who introduced me to Shakespeare, coincidentally) once said to me in the playground ‘you know Riboldi, you’re a real smartarse’. I think she meant it as a rebuff, I took it as a compliment.
In Year 11 I reached the NSW State final of the Toastmasters International public speaking competition with a stand-up comedy routine. (The winner gave a very passionate speech about global warming – fair play to her.)
I call myself a fool rather than a clown because the traditional fool’s humour has a purpose. King Lear’s Fool, for example, is able to speak the truth to the exiled King and be heard in a way that his beloved daughter Cordelia was not.
Making people laugh is one of my favourite things to do. It can break tension, help give perspective and bring people together. I like making myself laugh, as much as possible, because I think about some things too much for it to be healthy otherwise.
Like truly listening to someone, humour is a gateway to human connection. And if we’re not trying to connect with people, what are we doing really?