Monday, June 18, 2007

Oh misery, you crack me up!

"He who cries has one sorrow. He who laughs, has many." - Anonymous

What makes humor funny?

Laughter is quite the mysterious thing. Its causes, like all of our other human reactions, are unknown. We hear or see something funny and we laugh. But what is funny? Is the only way we can define it in relation to what is unfunny? That still does not explain it. Even finding an adequate dictionary definition is mostly a Catch-22, where 'humor' is defined as something humorous or comical and 'comical' is defined as being humorous.

Here is however, one definition which doesn't take us back and forth: "Humor: that quality which appeals to a sense of the ludicrous or absurdly incongruous". So basically, something which all characteristics of are out of the ordinary and in a way, unacceptable. But aren't many other things this way too? Aren't violence and death 'ludicrous and absurdly incongruous'? But we don't laugh when those things happen.

From what I have deduced, it seems as though 'phenomenon' is really how it should be defined; under the general phenomenon of existence itself, with all the other sub-phenomena by its side. It is only simply that; that finding something "funny" and then proceeding to laugh at it is phenomenal.

Once it is known that something is absolutely unidentifiable and unexplainable, instead of hopelessly tossing it aside, it actually becomes much easier to study. It becomes easier because there is a much broader mental channel for any gathered information as opposed to something with a label and category, which limit the knowledge gathered for its study. In this situation however, there are no boundaries that come with pre-conceived notions.

With this in mind, we can venture into sub-components of humor. What recurring theme is present in successful jokes that are told? Most stand-up comedians go by the notion of familiarity, claiming that a funny joke wouldn't be funny if it didn't feel so familiar. When we hear a comedian mimic the way we he or she acts in an awkward situation it's hilarious to us. It's hilarious because we do the same exact thing. Psychologists say that laughter is a form of release. We laugh when we see the comedian acting out a familiar awkward situation because we at some level, are relieved that we are not the only ones who do that. Comedy is an extension of human relation and connection.

Another reason for the sense of release is the underlying general sadness caused by life. From little obstacles of living to the big losses and sorrow. The more misery an experience has the funnier it is when it's made fun of.

Now we've gone from knowing that humor is a phenomenon, to seeing humor as a measure of familiarity, and to finally seeing humor as relief. From here we can venture on to investigating whether or not humor can exist without one if its main fuels: misery.

The famous comedians that we have loved over the years have been quite miserable: Richard Pryor, Henny Youngman, Steve Wright, George Carlin, Denis Leary...the list goes on and on. Think of how mediocre these comedians would have been had they been happy in their lives. And we have all seen the happy comedians and how boring they are.

Misery, in the case of comedy, is a gift.