It’s said that we laugh less as we get older. Sometimes it’s our changing values that alter how much we find funny, or a disconnect with the current generation as we age. Psychology Today suggests our changes in humor can even point back to conservatism—that we become more conservative as we age. One thing’s for sure, though: For better or worse, our sense of humor tends to change.
But, of course, you likely know some hilarious older people; there are great comedians who transcend generations to make us laugh today, and even more who will stick around for decades to come. So how do we keep our youthful wit as we get older? We can learn some valuable secrets to retaining our humor from longtime comedians Carol Burnett, Mel Brooks, and Betty White, who recently turned 99.
Stay true to yourself
Through the years, the greats have let their core personalities remain unchanged. An interview with Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz, Mel Brooks shared how, in school, he used to do impressions of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster, which was met with uproarious laughter when fully committing to the physicality of his performance. He says it was when he first knew he was funny, and then set his career on poking fun at iconic figures in history.
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For Carol Burnett, if something is genuinely funny, it will stand the test of time. “Funny is funny,” she said, also explaining how topical and edgy humor get easy laughs, but never felt classy to her. Staying true to herself and her comedy style awarded Burnett a long career in entertainment as a pioneer for women in comedy. And her humor is still funny to this day, as her new Netflix show, A Little Help With Carol Burnett, can show you.
Have funny friends
Funny people tend to flock together, like longtime friends Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, or Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall, or comedic actor Carl Reiner (known for the Dick Van Dyke Show) and writer, director, and comedy star Mel Brooks. As Reiner said, “If you have one good friend, you’re lucky…My Life is fuller because I’ve had Mel in my life.” Reiner lived to be 98, and aside from having funny friends to keep his sense of humor alive, he also lived with good company.
Don’t take yourself too seriously
“Those who have a sense of humor get through life more comfortably than those who don’t,” Reiner said, and as Betty White rounds her 99th birthday, we can remember her lifelong friendship with Golden Girls co-stars Beau Arthur, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty. White continues to live a life of laughs, like ‘dabbing’ in a popular 2016 Super Bowl commercial and saying she “taught Cam Newton everything he knows.”
As White told the Daily Mail, “Don’t take yourself too seriously. You can lie to others—not that I would—but you cannot lie to yourself.” She attributes her longevity to her sense of humor, and the comedy actor has the longest acting career in history, being on screen for more than eight decades. So stay positive, be true to yourself, and keep hanging out with your funny friends—you may live longer and hold onto that witty sense of humor, after all.