What is Funny?

I was raised on The Three Stooges (the re-runs, thank you). I understand low brow humor, and I appreciate it for what it is. I personally prefer humor that makes me think. I like a sarcastic edge, double or even a hidden meaning. That is my taste, to each his own. 

It’s hard for me to imagine the origins of humor. It has been said that God must have had a sense of humor when he created man, but the oldest known collection of jokes (265 of them to be exact), is the Ancient Greek~ Philogelos, believed to have been compiled in the fourth century AD. 

This example taken from that collection shows that humor hasn’t really changed:

An intellectual came to check in on a friend who was seriously ill. When the man’s wife said that he had ‘departed’, the intellectual replied: “When he arrives back, will you tell him that I stopped by?”

Much thought has been invested in humor over the centuries. Sigmund Freud had his theories on humor in relation to the id, ego and superego. More recently, Dr. William F. Fry, a professor of Psychology at Stanford University, California, was the first scientist to suggest in 1964 that laughter was a suitable field of study and the study continues today. Gelotology~ (from the Greek gelos- meaning laughter) is the study of laughter and its effects on the body. 

Jiggling flesh, side stitches, bladder leakage, and in the case of dining interruptus, food traveling through the sinus cavity to find an exit via the nostrils are likely not the effects intended for the study with regards to laughter. 

What has been the focus of study are the more salubrious benefits of laughter, which are believed to include stress reduction, cardiac health, strengthening of the immune system, lessening pain, minimizing of depression, etc. 

In case you don’t know…

Laughter is a physical reaction in humans and some other species of primate, consisting typically of rhythmical, often audible contractions of the diaphragm and other parts of the respiratory system. It is a response to certain external or internal stimuli.

What makes laughter occur? Do not operate heavy machinery while perusing this next section.

Researchers use electroencephalograph to study brainwave patterns when subjects of the study respond to humorous material. The brain produces regular electrical waves that move through the cerebral cortex in response to humor, and if the wave takes a negative charge, laughter results Further details are provided below on which sections of the brain responded when analyzing a joke:

• The left side of the cortex— analyze the words and structure of the joke

• the brain’s large frontal lobe, which is responsible social emotional responses

• The right hemisphere of the cortex, using intellectual analysis required to “get” the joke.

• Brainwave activity then spread to the sensory processing area of the occipital lobe (the area at the back of the head that contains the cells that process visual signals)

• Simulation of the motor sections evoked physical responses to the joke. 

Yes, how fascinating…someone actually funds this kind of research. 

The science behind humor has me wondering, what this research is leading to? There is laughter therapy, laughter meditation, laughter yoga; my guess is that eventually, someone will develop an app that will simulate the effects listed above. Will health insurance cover this? Will admission to comedy clubs will be covered by a co-pay with a prescription?

Lets say no, and take more simplistic approach to humor. The question here, the one that could possibly cure illnesses, and as such lead to a Nobel prize with your name on it— What is funny? 

The problem with that question is that there is no right answer because humor is subjective. What is offensive to one is a cure for blood clots in another. 

One rule I find holds true is that if a joke has to be explained, it has failed. There are no subjects that are off limits, although if you find you have to apologize after telling a joke, perhaps you should consider the use of tools like allegory, metaphor, symbolism, innuendo…ambiguity can be key. Any topic can be a successful subject of humor, if you know your audience and know when to disguise the subject matter…but try not to over think this.

* artwork credit- BuzzFeed
The Daily Post, October 4, 2015, Daily Prompt: Too Soon? ~ Can anything be funny, or are some things off limits?<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/too-soon/”>Too Soon?</a><a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/too-soon/”>Too Soon?</a>


4 thoughts on “What is Funny?

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