06
Feb
11

Theory Building and Comedy

In philosophy, the name of the game is theory building, but to build a theory you have to first accumulate a list of things that are distinctive about the domain that needs to be theorized. So, if you want to try and say how a language works, you need to find some distinctive elements of language use.

Once you have a list of important aspects of the domain that needs theorizing, then you try to “cast a net” that “captures” or “traps” as many of the important items as possible. So arguments about a theory consists of two types of skirmishes. First, you can disagree about the items that a good theory should accommodate, either adding that an item should be added or that another one is not that important to “capture.” Then, there can be arguments about what theory DOES the best capturing of the items that one thinks is worth capturing.

As a side project, I sometimes think about what my going theory of humor should be. Toward that end, I keep a running list of important and distinctive items about humor that a good theory should explain.

One thing that is quickly becoming one of my fixed points that needs theorizing is the fact that most comedians have VERY sad early lives. There are many examples, Jim Carrey being a prime one. Today, I looked up the bio of George Lopez just because he seems so not funny, but yet he is a big hit. I thought, before I wikipediaed him “I bet his early life was tragic.” Sure enough, he was abandoned by BOTH parents at a young age.

There is something about comedy that is a reaction to extreme sadness. For that reason, I’ve always thought that it’s one of humankind’s most powerful psychic tools, because it TRANSMUTES sadness or unhappiness into joy, ease, and happiness. In effect, humor can defy the law that you can’t “make something out of nothing.” Humor allows precisely this, to take sadness and abuse and reverse it and give back happiness and ease.

 

 

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2 Responses to “Theory Building and Comedy”


  1. June 12, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    This is interesting. I have an intense interest in comedy, and…I did have quite the unfortunate, sad, and depressing upbringing.

    I think comedy is a fascinating thing to build theories about, primarily because there is really one important thing that is distinctive to the “domain” of comedy: laughter. If people laugh at it, it is comedy (or humor, if you prefer). Ultimately, that is the only rule of comedy. What a simple and useful anchor off of which to start building theories about comedy.

    • 2 questionbeggar
      June 16, 2011 at 1:59 am

      Thanks for this. Yea I think you’re right laughter is a basic fact about humor that is going to need to be explained, and its complicated in itself. What is laughter? Is it a physiological reaction of some kind, and what is its purpose in us? Scientists think dreams are a kind “defragmenting” that helps our brain stay working, and humor, to be pretty silly about it, might be a maintenance mechanism to allow our soul to keep working.

      You say if something is funny, its humor, and that seems right, but it might not be true. Nervous laughter might not be at something funny, and laughter at someone’s misfortune might not be funny.


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