Laughter. Such a beautiful thing. I came in to the gulag today miserable and wretched—every effort to think positive was thwarted by the cold, harsh light of the reality that I was descending into a hell of excessive air-conditioning, where I was going to be tormented by of piped music for the next twelve hours. Damnation without relief.

Yes, there is piped music. They put loudspeakers in our office. And we cannot switch them off. While we are trying to make Ofwono Opondo and Wafula Oguttu’s articles look elegant on the page, Sean Paul and Enya are busy shrieking over our shoulders. And did I mention that the air conditioning is always too high? Hell, I tell you.

Anyway, laughter. I didn’t think I would ever see joy again. But I did, in the form of my Evil Twin  dropping by. I was so happy. I laughed to myself. I’ve been worried about you, kid.

Oh, I was speaking about, laughter. I lost my thought. It is hard to concentrate in this room. All this piped music. I mean, what is that comma doing there?

Some people laugh, I have observed in my career as a social critic, as a reaction to something funny. For example, they hear a joke, they read something my witty friend Minty  said, or something my hilarious cousin Ivan wrote, or they see a cartoon animal slip on a banana peel. This is acceptable.

But there are other people who laugh when nothing amusing has occurred at all. In the course of a conversation they just think to themselves, “This would be a good point to insert laughter.” However, they cannot think of anything amusing at that particular time. The only thing they can come up with is probably dull and trite. What do they do, therefore?

They cannot sms “joke” and send it to MTN smcard services, because that costs too much and there is no guarantee that you will get value for money. Better off smsing “porn”. I have heard that there is no such thing as disappointing porn. I wouldn’t know, of course, because I am an upright and moral angel.

I don’t even know what porn is. Leave me alone.

Sorry. Wandered off again. Damn speakers.

What these people do is say the dull thing anyway, then, to indicate that they want you to laugh at it, begin to chuckle themselves, prompting you to follow suit.  Here is an example.

(In the midst of a discussion about the fucking loudspeakers going on all day long)

Fellow: …And then the computers are wretchedly slow. The internet is useless. I wish the speakers could be afflicted with whatever is causing the computers to freeze. I wish the speakers could freeze.
Harold: The computers are also too slow!
Fellow: Crawling like sludge, slow to the point of immobile.
Harold: It seems they are not Y2k compliant. Hah hah hah!

Harold does not realise that it too late to crack that joke. Eight years too late. However, it could have been worse. He could have tried to be current and said the computers are not “ready for CHOGM.”

It is very hard to laugh at that. Even to be polite. Especially when you are stuck in a freezing office with the air-conditioning giving you prickly heat and the speakers have started to play %^&$% YANNI!!

But you don’t want to offend Harold. The poor guy is just trying to be friendly. And it isn’t right to meet somebody’s well-intended and good natured, if stale, attempt at humour with sneers and spit. Reserve the sneers and the saliva for Red Pepper and Ekanya, and as for Harold, make an effort. Be nice.

This is what I recommend: Tilt your head back, push your tongue to the roof of your mouth and go, “Haarnk, haarnk haarnk!” Repeat this three times. He will think you are laughing and probably be satisfied.

If not, he will be too shocked to ever try to tell you a joke again.