I’m sure you have met them – the people who will not be joked with. The serious members of society. The sober, dignified, correct people with whom it is virtue to neither laugh nor smile.
They may be found in all walks of life – it need not just be the local magistrate or headmaster. You can find them in most workplaces, and you’d be surprised at how often they are put in command of others. This is possibly because they are fittest or possibly just a lapse in judgement higher up the chain of command.
They are dangerous, not least to themselves. Their sober mien and serious dignity may be helpful in some situations but harmful in others. They exude little warmth, though they may be come passionate about their position and the deference due them. They can frequently make a bad situation worse, and become indignant that they are not respected for it.
All this said, I love them. They are the best of targets for humour. Of course it will not be appreciated by them – if even perceived – but if they repel it with the shiny armour of virtue, it can reflect to all those around them. And the laugh spreads outwards in shock waves.
If this seems a little mean, it is only because it is. And it can be converted to a lot mean with just a little more effort. Dignified people are often blinkered, and can see only one meaning to a word or to a behaviour. They can, like a blinkered horse, be led down an ever-narrowing pathway until they cannot turn around. Speak seriously with them, and as kindly as needs be, and you can get them a long way down that path.
Do they ever change? Only with the greatest effort or because of the greatest life episode. Marriage will often burst the bubble, and parenthood will prick anything. Some people’s dignity will survive hospitalisation, business failure, or public shame, but often this will derail it long enough for the mechanism of the human mind to reset. Then they might have a laugh on themselves.