Humor is to wellbeing as a tightened fist is to a lighthearted crotch-shot: they both leave you breathless, on your knees in a rejuvenating stupor (or in a red-rain of pain!), and eager to contribute to or reciprocate the joke (or low-blow) with giddy enthusiasm.
With this month being helmed by All Fools’ Day, we’ve never been more accepting of the hysteria that comes with being barraged in the funny bone; regrettably, history doesn’t share our excitement. While April 1 should evoke a mandatory grin followed by a, “By-the-pecs-of-Poseidon, what’s that mega-crap on your shirrr – made ya look,” the scrolls of time tell us there were people who and events that replaced the frivolous, laid-back attitude that April Fools’ Day is celebrated for with the motivation to be forever recognized within the highest echelon of killjoys.
Those people and events include…
The Pope Who Fooled the French
New Year’s Day was originally on April 1. No, really. Several ancient cultures, like the Romans and the Hindus, marked the now notorious day for practical tomfoolery as the beginning of the year because the date closely aligned with the Vernal Equinox, which is usually around March 20.
In 1582 Pope Gregory “Me So Fresh” XIII ordered the use of the new calendar. It placed New Year’s in January, and when the change was made, rumor says that many of the French were either unaware of or rebelling against the date change and continued to celebrate New Year’s on April 1. These traditionalists became one of the most rotund butts in the history of jokes, and April Fools’ Day was born.
The Volcano That Burst Forth (Probably Because It Took Offense to a Joke)
If we’ve learned a single piece of [mis]information from the science portion of our grade school education, it’s that a volcano’s ease to anger is only equaled by its unwillingness to be a comedic punch-line. You’ve at least witnessed parts of the eventful life cycle of a volcano on the Discovery Channel (before reality shows like Rise of the Stink People began oozing their irrelevance over the airwaves); its dome was seemingly sedated, calmly drooling its molten effluence down a thirty-degree grass patch at speeds that an infant in flame-retardant pajama bottoms could out-roll. Unexpectedly, like the quick snap of a sucker punch, the cameraman or the millionaire working pro bono as an expert in lava composition cracked a bad joke at the volcano’s expense, and all hell leaked, boiled, blew, and broke loose.
This might have been the case on April 1, 1793, when a collapsing lava dome — Mayu-yama from Mount Unzen, an active group of volcanoes on Japan’s Kyushu Island — triggered a landslide that rioted through Shimabara City and belly flopped into the Ariaka Sea, creating a pant-fertilizing megatsunami that reached the titanic heights of 330 ft., which combined with the land slide killed an estimated 15, 000 good humored citizens.
The man who offended the snoozing goliath with salty humor was never found (or existed), but if he was (or did exist), we’re assuming: (A) he was a white guy (because that’s provocative), and (B) he was a would-be galactic samurai, i.e. the megalomaniacal ancestor of Thomas Cruise Mapother IV (AKA Tom “The Pleasure” Cruise).
The Novelist Who Sneered at a Royal Suggestion
You don’t tell royalty no, unless, of course, you’re Jane Austen (or a free spirit dying to experience exile). On April 1, 1816, Austen responded to a letter from the Prince Regent regarding a suggestion to write a historic romance by saying, “I could not sit down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life.”
Maybe it was a joke: “Prince Regent, your story pitch is awful; I wouldn’t consider it unless my life was on the line… April fools!”
Claire Harman, author of “Jane’s Fame,” talked on NPR on March 25, 2010, about Austen’s personality in addition to her popularity, and it turns out everything you’d imagine Austen to be is probably true: she was witty, cynical, and judging by her response to the Prince Regent, a little bit headstrong.
Harman says that Austen’s fame was, in a way, rekindled by the biography written by her nephew. “James Edwards’ memoir of his aunt made her into a sort of sentimental object. You know, and people loved her as a person and as a character, as well as the books and sometimes instead of the books,” Harman said.
The idea, however, that Austen had a meek and mild personality would not be accurate. Who would have thought?
“She wasn’t necessarily a nice person at all. I mean there’s really nothing in the letters to suggest anything other than a very sharp-witted and at times rather acid-tongued woman,” Harman said.
So the whole “screw you Prince Regent” thing probably wasn’t a joke then. You go, girl!
The Theory That Big-Banged Science
Melodramatic male studs who claim ladies to be the ficklest of life’s challenges need to escort Science on a dinner date or two: During the appetizer (cheese sticks), Science would intimately observe your surface area to get an estimate of your internal composition. She’d alleviate your physical insecurities by assuring, “Your name’s Pluto? How cute! I hear that small planets are in touch with their emotional side.”
But the moment the dessert platter (Hazelnut Dacquoise with Chocolate Mousse served on an Astronaut’s face shield) lands on the table, she’d be all curled up on Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, bragging about how she recategorized you as a Dwarf Planet, Science’s way of catapulting you into the “friend zone.”
Science played the Steady State Theory in the same sort of way; prior to April 1, 1948, cosmological opinions were split between whether Steady State Theory or the Big Bang accurately described the origin and continuing development of the cosmos. But once the Big Bang Theory was officially proposed on the date listed by subjectively sexy, objectively brilliant geniuses Ralph Alpher and George Gamow in Physical Review through the essay “The Origins of Chemical Elements,” Big Bang began to gradually earn more favor within Science’s academic bedchambers. Science has been developing excuses to keep Steady State in the “friend zone” ever since.
The Revolution That Preferred Loss-of-Life over Laughter
Remember when McCarthyism was a thing? It was kind of a blip in American history. Luckily, China out did us. How often do you get to say that?
Roughly ten years after the red scare settled down in America, the Cultural Revolution in China became the cool new trend. Just by chance, the nationwide witch-hunt for capitalists started on April 1, 1966.
Admiration for market economies is no joke.
This was the era of Mao Zedong and communism was at its peak. Zedong feared the country was headed in the wrong direction, so he called on China’s youth to put the country’s political ideology back on the right – well, left track.
Nearly 1.5 million Chinese lost their lives and tons more felt the wrath of a large group of angsty, nationalistic teenagers. Take that, laws of supply and demand.
By Leviathan Robb & Ginger Jones