Sometimes when I listen to the radio I cannot help but become annoyed by the bad sense of humor many DJ’s seem to have. One day, when I heard the DJ crack another bad joke, I said to a friend of mine, “Damn, that guy has a seriously lame sense of humor“. My friend responded by saying that, “Who are you to say what is funny and what is not? I thought it was funny”. This made me think: why is it that people differ in their taste of what is funny and what is not? Why do some people interpret a joke to be a factual statement, while others appreciate the ironical undertone of it? And what actually is humor? Let’s take a look at that.
Believe it or not, but also the notion of humor has been intensively scrutinized by the philosophical loop. For many centuries philosophers have focused upon the question of what humor is and why it works the way it does. So let’s don’t do that. Let’s reflect upon what we consider to be funny and upon the reasons we consider things to be funny.
The first aspect that caught my eye is that humor seems to have a lot to do with fooling one’s expectations. That explains why Family Guy with its touch of randomness has become such a success. That’s also why many people I know of – including myself – do not enjoy watching 90% of the comedians. They are all chanting a mantra filled with deliberate laughter-breaks and tension-build-up moments. It is the manner in which the jokes are delivered, the robotic “look how good I’ve rehearsed my script” and “I am playing this show every evening” attitude, that spoils the fun. And when you notice this lack of spontaneity these comedians seem to have, it becomes fairly easy to see the next joke coming. And it is from this point on that you stop being surprised and that you stop finding the comedian and his jokes funny.
Humor might also have a lot do with intelligence. You have to be mentally challenged by a joke. You have to be taken on an imaginary journey you know you could not have experienced without the support of the comedian. You have to be fooled over and over again. And the more intelligent you are, the more difficult it might be to be mentally challenged. You might have a pretty lively imagination already, which makes you less easily swept of your feet by hearing a new joke.
The jokes that I find to be funny are the ones that are so bad that, while some people genuinely laugh at the joke, you simply have to laugh about the fact that the joke had the intention to be a very bad one. However, it can be very awkward to hear a comedian delivering a bad joke, with the intention of it being a good one, and to see the whole crowd laughing its ass off.
We now have at least a slight idea of what funniness consists of. The next (fundamental) question would be: why is there even such a thing as humor? The evolutionary benefits of emotions like anger and fear seem to be quite clear, but humor? What is the evolutionary benefit of laughing? Is it better to mate with a funny partner than with a non-funny partner? And if so, why would that be?
Maybe it is because humor is a manner by which to cover your mistakes in a not too harmful manner. Some situations might be very awkward, like shitting yourself while you are in the middle of a group of fellow species members, and can therefore lead to you avoiding likewise social situations in the future. And avoiding social situations might decrease your chances of finding a partner to mate with. In those cases, humor might loosen the social tension and show that you understand and respect your flaws or that you might even feel comfortable about having them. This might increase your level of attractiveness, as would explain why people are looking for a partner “with a good sense of humor”.
But still, it is unsure what the purpose of humor would be. Is it indeed an evolutionary tool to relax awkward situations or is it just another inexplicable feature of human life?
What do you think?