01
Jul
10

Humor again

I’ve been recently talking about humor (here and here), and that means that I’ve been thinking about it a lot too.

On the face of it, I find humor completely incredible, like the ability to talk, or to reason, or even to be conscious of our own thoughts, all of which cannot be satisfactorily explained yet by science.

So, I tried to gather some data points for ways that humor works and its distinctive characteristics. My conclusion is that humor is broad ranging and deep phenomenon. First, some humor is exaggerative or absurd, but then there’s humor that’s “funny because it’s true,” and some jokes are universal, like slapstick humor, and some is confined to a group because its an inside joke. Some psychologists classify all humor as a type of aggressiveness or reinforcement of social hierarchies (the boss gets to tell jokes at the meeting, but other people don’t. Also, in general women tell far less jokes.), but then there’s self-deprecating humor which people use to put others at ease. Also, humor can be self-referential, by which I mean that we can find it funny that someone finds something else funny. We laughingly say, “why do you think that’s funny?” Also, laughter is contagious and if we’re in a group of laughers, we’ll often go along with, even if we don’t know the joke. We’re mostly happy when we laugh, but we can laugh out of sadness, and sometimes even out of frustration or anger.

But most interesting of all to me though, is that humor can sometimes defy conceptual or linguistic representation. Someone can understand all the words or concepts in a joke but still not find it funny, and further explanation never helps (a joke explained is a joke destroyed). When someone doesn’t laugh at a joke they understand, they don’t “get it,” but what is it that they don’t get? It can’t be something representable in words, because they understood all those. What they don’t get I think is a type of appearance or perception that is specific to a way of life. For example, you may not get lawyer jokes until you’ve been a lawyer. This isn’t hard and fast rule, but my own point is that you have to have a life that in some way interacts with certain values to find certain things funny. That’s why different people find different jokes funny, because they live different lives.

Some people who’ve endured a lot of pain like sarcastic or dark humor — they “get it” in a very special and revealing way. And so humor performs a very special, and I’ll say it, magical, function. It allows us to speak to each other in unique or non-universal ways. When you understand someone’s sense of humor, you know how to tap into their way of life directly, through intuitions of humor, rather than conceptual representations of words. I can tell anyone who speaks english that the cat is on the mat, but I may only get certain people to laugh at certain jokes. This special and unique world perspective is known as a “sense of humor” and as we know, it varies from person to person. Friends share a special bond, and part of that bond is making each other laugh, and this is no surprise, because if my theory is right so far, friends share a certain type of life that is not accessible to others in the same way.

We say things like “only he can understand me” and this is on a par with the lover who, with a wide-eyed grin, says “she makes me laugh.”

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