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It’s important to laugh.

It’s probably somewhere on the list of things that separate us from animals. Humour is the great leveller, the bridge between class and culture. And the great thing is that it stops nowhere: there’s no real barrier between what’s funny and what’s serious. Gallows humour is proof of that: they are the jokes people make on the way to the grave. They are how we laugh at death itself.

One of the scriptwriters of Yes, Minister once wrote an article about how everything is funny, and as proof he gave the story of his own father and his battle with cancer. His father was on his deathbed, a decaying corpse-in-waiting with tubes attached to every orifice. His family were gathered around him, trying to comfort him as he passed out of this life. As he shuddered and convulsed, his wife said to him, “is there anything I can do to make you more comfortable.”

With one of his last breaths, he replied, “any chance you could lick my balls?”

I get a little annoyed when people tell me that certain things aren’t funny and shouldn’t be laughed at. I believe in the transformative power of laughter, and I think that’s its most necessary in the places where it makes us uncomfortable. I love that Wilde’s last words were “Either the wallpaper goes, or I do”. I love that Spike Milligan’s gravestone says “I told you I was ill”.

Today, I sat for a few hours with an Algerian friend of mine. When we’re alone, we usually talk about Islam and politics. He likes to tell me that the main victims of Islamic fundamentalism are Muslims living in Muslim countries. New York, Madrid and London are mere blips, nice days out for the jihadists, compared to what he had to put up with.

Fundamentalists rule Algeria unofficially, and the compulsory national service means that every fundamentalist is a trained soldier. They genuinely terrorise the Algerians. If you stray off the reservation a little bit there and end up in a fundamentalist area, you’ll be killed for not following their strict Islamic code.

About twenty years ago, the fundamentalists started setting up road blocks. They completely look the part: they have uniforms and police cars and everything. The only difference from the offical police road blocks is that they are searching for contraventions of their strict Islamic law. If you are drunk, if you have an immodestly dressed woman, if you don’t have a beard, if you have a packet of cigarettes, they take you out of the car, kneel you down at the side of the road and slit your throat.

They’ve done this to a lot of people. More than the 50 people who died in London, the 350 who died in Madrid or the 3,000 who died in New York. 200,000 people have had their throats slit in Algeria. There is a record level of diabetes in Algeria, mainly caused by the stress of living in a country where you could be brutally murdered at any point.

So I was surprised when my Algerian friend started laughing and said, “in Algeria, we have a joke about this situation”. As liberal as I am about humour, I don’t see anything funny about a single throat-slitting, let alone 200,000 throat-slittings. But he laughs and he says:
“An Algerian guy gets really drunk and gets in his car. He’s driving along the road, and he gets pulled over at a checkpoint. He staggers out of his car, waves his hand at the officers, and says: “Okay, before you speak I want to say two things.

“If you are fundamentalists, then there is no god but Allah, Mohammed is his prophet, and death to the unbelievers.

“If you’re cops, pay no attention to me. I’m just really fucking drunk.”
You have to laugh. You really have to.