Scientists have finally admitted that laughter was invented by apes (and not Charlie Chaplin, as some humans appear to believe). I once tried to explain this to a group of tourists on safari and they reacted with incredulity.
“What is there to laugh at in the jungle?” asked one of them.
“A baboon’s red bottom,” I replied.
They were forced to concede the point.
We gorillas are constantly laughing at stuff as a matter of fact – we chortle, we chuckle, we cackle, we guffaw. And it’s not just slapstick jokes like elephant-sex that we enjoy. The jungle is full of subtle little ironies that make us smirk – the forgetful frog; the confused snake; the bilious beetle. It’s difficult to keep a straight face with all these comedy acts going on around us.
But let’s get back to the scientists. After tickling some infant apes, they realised that humans had copied laughter from their hairy cousins. This having been established, they wondered whether it was safe to tickle gorillas. Now we gorillas are ticklish and enjoy it as much as the next ape, but you can’t just walk up and fiddle with us. If a stranger started prodding my belly, I would wonder what the devil he was up to and pull his nose until he stopped doing it. If you want to tickle a gorilla you’ve got to start by making polite conversation. Tell me your favourite colour; comment on the price of citrus fruit; discuss the likely ramifications of the El Niño weather phenomenon. Only after creating a friendly rapport should you ask permission to tweak the flesh in a decent area of the body. Try any naughty stuff and you’re going to get spanked.
I’m not a great tickler myself. My females laugh enough without it and the humans I encounter are too shy to bring up the subject. A woman did once ask me to tickle her in my circus days. She was agreeably fleshy, but I was not inclined to oblige her.
“Tickling is a blunt instrument only to be used when humour has failed,” I said. “Watch a comedy show instead.”
“But I don’t have a sense of humour,” she retorted.
“Nonsense!” I barked. “I’ll give you a free ticket to our next show so you can see my act with the clowns.”
So she came along to the circus and watched the show from start to finish. In all honesty, I was on top form. Our antics brought the house down, and never did a team of clowns leave a circus ring with buttocks so sore. I met the woman outside my trailer after the show.
“You were really funny but I just couldn’t laugh.” she said. “I told you I didn’t have a sense of humour.”
I stared at her grimly. Perhaps there was a defect in her brain that prevented her from reacting normally to the sight of clowns getting their arses repeatedly kicked.
“Very well,” I said dryly, “you leave me with no alternative but to employ cruder methods of stimulation.”
I invited her into my trailer, bound her hands and feet, and fingered her flesh methodically until she shrieked and squirmed convulsively. I carried on sadistically until she was begging for mercy, flushed, sweaty and exhausted.
“You may leave,” I said after untying her hands and feet. “Let that be a lesson to you. A sense of humour is a far kinder palliative than tickle torture. I suggest you visit a psychologist who might help you overcome your mental block.”
I ignored all her requests for further sessions.
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