Humor Phenomenon

Humor Phenomenon There is a popular saying, “anyone can laugh at a good joke.” If one was to actually ask around, he/she would find that this is quite true. This is part of the magic of humor. Humor, as defined by The American Heritage Dictionary, is”the quality that makes something laughable.” Laughter can be defined as”the co-ordinated contraction of fifteen facial muscles (Koestler 29). However that definition tells how one laughs. The American Heritage Dictionary explains why we laugh by describing laughter as “the expression of delight or happiness.” So therefore, it seems pretty safe to conclude that humor is used to make someone happy. But, the phenomenon of humor is not that simple.

There are many different forms of humor used by most everyone on a daily basis. Also, it would be foolish to image that each person uses the device of humor for the same purpose or in the same manner. If this were true, everyone would find the same jokes as laughable, the same movies as comical and so forth. All types of people use humor in all walks of life, and that is the true magic of humor. The trick is knowing what type of humor is being used given situation, and for what reason.

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In this paper I plan to present and explain various types of humor (satire, witticism, etc), giving examples when necessary, by which I will also explain the different reasons and ways a person uses humor. Through this I intend to show that it is undeniable fact that humor plays in important role in the world today, and in each individuals daily life. As mentioned before there are various types of humor. The first that will be discussed is that of”puns.” Puns are one of the most basic forms of humor. A pun is commonly defined as a “play on words.” What this means is that there are two ideas connected with a word, and both ideas are used in the same expression (Swabey 5).

The expression “our spacemen are heading for the lunar bin,” is an example of a pun (Koestler 65). The word “lunar” is being “played on.” Lunar has the obvious connection with the term “spacemen”, as lunar is used to describe something associated with the moon. However, lunar also sounds quite similar to the term “loony”, meaning crazy. The expression “loony bin” is a comical way of describing an asylum for the mentally ill, or crudely, “crazy people.” Thus the double meaning is established, and the result comical. Comparatively, puns are a simplistic type of humor, and are therefore commonly used by children (Koestler 65).

Another type of humor often associated with puns is that of wit. As defined by The American Heritage Dictionary, with is “the ability to perceive and humorously express the relationship between seemingly incongruous [incompatible] things.” While the idea of wit is similar to that of puns, they both require the linkage of two different ideas; wit is by considered a much more intelligent type of humor. Wit will often make use of puns, but for a seemingly higher, more certain purpose. Swabey, author of Comic Laughter describes wit as “coldly intellectual, intentional, creative..” (69). He goes on to explain how “the real home of wit is the witty exchange of conversation” (Swabey 73). Wit could therefore be described as a social form of humor. Wit is often described as a sport where a witty expression is thrown out like a ball, and the other players must react with their own witty expressions to keep tossing the “ball” back and forth (Swabey 75).

The game of wit proves how “humor has always been a favorite pastime of intelligent people” (Reichmann 181). The next form of humor that will be discussed is that of impersonation. Impersonation, like wit, is a form of humor that requires an audience. Here, the impersonator is playing the role of two different people at the same time. If the result is degrading the audience will laugh (Koestler 68). The field of impersonation, with the aid of Walt Disney, has lately given way to the idea of animals impersonating the traits of people.

As Henri Bergson states “..the comic does not exist outside the pale of what is strictly human..You may laugh at an animal but only because you have detected in it some human attitude or expression”(62). Adults can easily find humor in the cartoon and animated movies. The notion of impersonation has also helped the development of character types (Koestler 68). Today, one can easily ask an impersonator at a nightclub to “do a drunk” or “do a bum”; the typical characteristics are already established. Another form of humor closely associated with impersonation is the timeless act of parody.

Parodies are the most aggressive forms of impersonation (Koestler 69). Parodies began with ancient Greeks who often would attack local heroes or politicians. Today when one mentions parodies movie directors such as Mel Brooks come to mind. His movies are “spoofs” of other movies, attacking the parts held most dear by the original creator, and what one would think are essential to the plot. Another very popular form of parody today is the political cartoon. Each morning in newspapers across the world one can find a new political cartoon attacking some recent political venture, or a politician himself. The exaggerate features and sometimes harsh attacks are done to serve a distinct purpose. Many people enjoy the political cartoons.

However, as Koestler states “The political cartoon, at its best, is a translation into visual imagery of a witty topical comment..” (70). Therefore, it would be correct to say that political cartoons can easily, logically, and correctly be compared with picture books created for children who can not yet read. They simplify the intellectual wit and translate into a language that can be understood by a greater audience. Another type of humor, terribly cruel, is that which is characterized as “The Misfit” or “The Outcast.” This sort of humor will very rarely be found in the todays society. This is where people are made fun of because of their deformities, physically or mentally, or other characteristics that make them “different.” In the age political correctness, this form of humor is not tolerated.

However it can still be found. Mostly, children who were not yet taught the consequence of such actions perform this type of humor. But, they can not be blamed, it is natural for one to shy away from, or ridicule someone or something which is out of the ordinary and therefore difficult to relate to (Koestler 74-75). The next two styles of humor that will be briefly discussed are those of Displacement and Coincidence. Displacement is simply when a person or thing is “displaced” in time or environment.

Although this is usually done to prove a serious or metaphysical point, the results are humorous (Swabey 78). Coincidences are an early division of humor are have been used often enough that the idea of a coincidence itself is humorous. For example, when an event occurs in a television show, movie, or novel and is blamed on a “strange coincidence” the audience is amused for two different reasons. The first is whatever the event itself is, and second is the use of the clich “strange coincidence.” The last type of humor that will be discussed is what is loosely termed as “nonsense humor.” Nonsense humor is, although also found elsewhere, a popular form of childrens literature. It consists of silly sayings, stories or ideas, but is quite effective if it is presented as making perfect logical sense (Koestler 79).

Nonsense humor is full of hyperbole, juxtapositions, and puns. Sometimes such nonsense humor presents valid themes, but they are hidden beneath the rhymes. Two authors of this sort of nonsense humor come to mind, Shel Silverstein and Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss). These two men write what seem to be nonsensical poems and stories for children.

However, each story or poem contains a lesson to be learned in a humorous way. For example, the story On Beyond Zebra by Dr. Seuss is about a boy who claims that the alphabet doesnt stop a Z(ebra), but rather goes on indefinitely. He creates letters with humorous names, and the story, as all Dr. Seuss stories, is told in rhyme. What is clearly an absurd notion is presented to show children the importance and limitlessness of imagination.

Nonsense humor, because of its hidden meanings borders closely to wit, which is the most intellectual type of humor. That in itself is humorous. Through the various forms of humor presented, one can easily see that humor is used by every type of people, for many different reasons. Humor, such as impersonations are presented to an audience to get laughs. Political cartoons and parodies illustrate satirical comments and feelings in a way that more people can understand. The comical devices of puns, displacement, and coincidences are used daily in movies, television shows, and typical conversations. Wit is a game played by intellectuals to show off, and nonsense humor is an easy way of showing important ideas.

It is also important to note some of the reasons why people use humor. For one reason, people use humor as an acceptable means of expressing controversial views such as in political cartoons. Other times, people use humor as a defense mechanism. It is easier to provide something humorous to a situation so you yourself will not be what is considered humorous. In the case of a circus clown, or an impersonator, humor is performed to provide a pleasing experience to the audience. Also humor is a very useful teaching tool to people of all ages. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, humor is a way of communication; everyone can appreciate a smile. “It is..a truly universal phenomenon” (Reichmann 183).

Bibliography Bergson, Henri. “Laughter.” New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1956. Geisel, Theodore. On Beyond Zebra! New York: Random House, 1983. Koestler, Arthur.

The Act of Creation. London: The Macmillan Company, 1969. Reichmann, James B. Philosophy of the Human Person. Chicago: Loyla Press, 1985. Swabey, Marie Collins.

Comic Laughter: A Philosophical Essay. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961.


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