What’s So Funny?

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Multi ethnic group of young people in the cinema or theater, watching, laughing.

If you are into understanding what ‘s humorous, i.e., what makes things funny, then you might want to connect to this report which was recently published.  In it, a researcher “reveals that misfortune is the key to a good gag.”

The report addresses the age-old question about humor, but I’m not sure it comes up with anything new. The authors posit an answer that is long and to me boring, which might be because I have seen many attempts like this before and this one seems repetitious and exceptionally tedious. The report includes generous portions of so-called video and print examples.

R. Barker Bausell, PhD, is one rightly skeptical scientist. In “Snake Oil Science” he cautions us that “the most dangerous words are studies show”.

I am recommending what I think comes closer to adding something new and different to the conversation: a 2005 report by Gervais and Wilson, who are looking for a unified theory of humor, and the work of McGraw & Warner in The Humor Code (2014).

As always, I find myself going back to a famous quote that has been variously attributed to E. B. White and Mark Twain. They compare analyzing or explaining humor to dissecting a frog. “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.” (White) And, “Explaining humor is a lot like dissecting a frog, you learn a lot in the process, but in the end you kill it.” (Twain)

These quotes neatly compliment what Dr. Robert Provine wisely advised in his encyclopedic 2001 book about the difficulty of understanding laughter scientifically –what it is, why humans do it, and what possible good it might do us. “Until the scientists get it all worked out, get all the laughter you can.” 

I’m taking Provine’s advice seriously. Frankly, I just want to enjoy jokes now and not always be thinking about why they’re funny.


   Steve Wilson, Cheerman of The            Bored

When you want to learn and understand what is known about the psychology of humor, the science of laughter, the experience of mirth, and Laughter Therapy, a great place to start or continue your education is World Laughter Tour. You will find the current workshop schedule and a treasure trove of resources.