It’s Not Even Funny

“There’s no need to specify that it’s not funny,” said Sam. “In what situation would too much traffic be funny?”

It was 4 o’clock on a Saturday when my father decided to create an irreparable rift in the family.   

We were piled into a car that was slowly puffing its way to the grocery store across the street. There was no need to drive that distance, but I had recently gotten my learner’s license and was determined to prove myself capable. My family had increasingly been expressing uncertainty about my driving skills. “The only car I’d trust her in is a bumper car,” my mother murmured as the car coughed to life.  

“Every car can be a bumper car if you try hard enough,” I said, optimistically.

It was when we reached the main road that Appa said the words. The rest of the family was so focused on me that it was a wonder they heard him at all. For a few minutes, no one said anything, only my dog’s panting from the backseat filled the silence. Appa’s words coiled through the heavy atmosphere in the car and seemed on their way out the window when my sister caught them. Bait is nothing without fish.

“It’s not even funny how much traffic there is,” Appa said. When I look back, this isn’t a very provocative statement, and perhaps was never intended to be one. I didn’t think much of it at that moment either, focused as I was on changing gears without halting the car. It was my younger sister who took offence.

“Why would that be funny?” Came Sam’s reply.

“It’s not.” replied my father. “That’s why I said that it’s not funny,”

I spotted a speed bump a few seconds too late and hit the brake rather abruptly, causing everyone in the car to jerk forward. 

“Careful,” my mother snapped, fanning herself airily.

“There’s no need to specify that it’s not funny,” said Sam. “In what situation would too much traffic be funny?”

“It’s a saying,” my father said, placidly.

“And I’m just saying it doesn’t make any sense,” Sam replied. 

I checked the side mirrors as I switched lanes, catching a twitch in my father’s eye.

“What part of it doesn’t make sense?” my father asked.

“Don’t distract Gayathri,” said my mother. “Let her focus on driving.”

“Saying that it’s not even funny how much traffic there is,” my sister ignored her. “Implies that a certain amount of traffic would be funny.”  

“Ma, I can drive while other people in the car are chatting,” I said. “I’m twenty-two.”

 I tried not to feel self-conscious about the two cushions stacked on the seat under me, like a booster seat.

“You’re twenty-one,” said my mother.

“It’s not about… look, it’s a phrase you use when something is certifiably not funny,” My father had started bristling. “It’s a phrase you use in outrage. Like – hey, this isn’t funny! It’s… it’s not about whether a situation is actually funny…” His words were becoming garbled. 

“She’s twenty-two, Himanjali,” he said, changing tracks.

“I agree with Sam,” my mother said. “Let’s set up a scene. Say I was playing a prank on someone, and it got out of hand. Now in that situation, it might make sense to say ‘it’s not even funny’. But in a situation that was never intended to be funny to begin with…”

We were approaching a U-turn and so I started to cautiously inch the car to the rightmost lane, catching a glimpse of my father’s flustered face in the side mirror. I decided to take pity.

“I disagree,” I said. “I think that even in the worst of situations, there’s some humor to be found.”

“Oh, so you’re saying climate change could be funny.” said Sam, with the smugness of someone who had won an argument. “Also wait, when did you turn twenty-two?”

“I don’t think climate change is – what do you mean ‘when did I turn twenty-two’? Have you forgotten when my birthday is?” A yellow car suddenly passed me in a whoosh. . I stuck my head out of the window and yelled, “You think you can overtake me–you think you can push me around? Just because I’m a girl? That’s a stereotype, I’ll have you know.” The woman behind the wheel stared at me incredulously.

“She’s like this because she writes satire,” said my mother. “It makes you confuse irreverence with humour. Relax, Gayathri, we all know when your birthday is.”  

I stopped at the edge of the lane, looked left and right. I sighed, searching for an opening to join the impenetrable wall of cars before me, and a way out of the asinine debate being waged inside our car.

It’s not even funny. I mulled over the phrase.

“Even,” I said. “Even.” I eased my grip on the break and pressed down on the accelerator, my hand reaching for the gear stick. “It’s not even funny. That suggests the situation has nothing to offer, not even humour. The very least a bad situation can produce is a laugh, but this situation doesn’t even provide that.”

“Why clarify that?” asked my mother. “Like Sam said, no one suggested it had anything funny to offer in the first place.”   

I took the U-turn, finding myself in the midst of a new lane suffocating amidst a different set of cars. The argument too, had looped back to where it started.

“Crack one good joke about a traffic jam,” Sam said.

“That’s not relevant,” I said tetchily. “Don’t do it, Appa. So when’s my birthday then, Ma?”

“What do I eat with my traffic toast?” Appa asked.

I groaned – he had set us back by miles. 

“What is… traffic toast?” my sister asked icily. “Your birthday is in August, Gayathri.”

“The answer is –”

“No, we all know what the answer is, Appa,” I said. “The punchline wasn’t the problem here. When in August?” We were finally on the pot-holedroad outside the marketplace.  

“Gayathri’s on the right track though,” Appa said. He’s always admirably unruffled when his jokes fall flat, a skill built through years of experience. “See, an excessive situation is usually funny. But if a situation is so excessive that it surpasses humour, that’s when you use the phrase – it’s not even funny.”

“Like how excessively stupid this conversation was,” I grumbled, steeling myself to park the car.  

“Then why are you writing a satire piece on it?” Sam grumbled.


“You had that dumb glint in your eye, the one you have when you’re committing something to memory to write about later,” Sam said. “Please stop. I don’t want to feature in any of your stories.”

“If Ma gets my birthday right, I’ll let this whole thing go,” I said.

“August ninth?” my mother said weakly.