Thoughts on Humor and Comedy: Instruments of Normalization

“Perhaps I know best why it is man alone who laughs; he alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche

What is humor? What makes this or that funny? Why do we laugh? Is it nervousness? Do people laugh because they are anxious? Because they cannot cope with contradiction, paradox, uncertainty, conflict?

Why do people laugh when others hurt? Why do we laugh at the absurd? Why do we find humor in other peoples suffering or misfortune? Why do people laugh when they are afraid, or get giddy when they are fearful or uncertain? What causes man to break out into a cackle, into a release of noise and air? Does humor provide us with an escape? Does laughter allow the body to breath, to unshackle itself from oppression, the tension holding us together, the seriousness infiltrating the conscious experience? Why does man seek comfort in the comedic, the funny?

Why are we entertained by the ridiculous? Why are we amused by the senseless, the crazy, the illogical, the idiotic, the inane, the irrational, the jokey, the ludicrous, the wacky, the silly, the stupid, the goofy?

Does comedy and humor and amusement provide an outlet for all the pressure? An opportunity to abandon the structure?

Why do children laugh so much? Why are they so funny? Is it because they live in a yet-to-be-established world, free of predictable structure and order? Is it because the little they do know has yet to be synthesized into a predictable experience?

I have intuitions about these things.

Does a culture become increasingly comedic in proportion to the oppression they feel? Is there a correlation between the prevalence and seriousness of societal norms and prejudices and a society’s humor?

Are the most easy going people the most humorous? What humor do they produce? Slap stick? Laugh at life? Bathroom?

Are the serious people most humorous? What humor do they produce? Dry? Dead pan? Sarcastic? High brow?

Are the weird people most humorous? What humor do they produce? Quirky? Witty?

What makes for good comedy and humor? Who are most often the targets of such humor?

It seems humor is characterized by absurdity, by contradiction. In ancient Greece, comedy always involved the targeting of gods and politicians, people possessing the most influence. This even occurred in the Elizebethan era, and still occurs today.  Why is this the case? Is it because comedy offered a release from the dominating influence? A chance to unveil and reveal the absurdity ruling their life? Comedy pokes fun at the leaders, the ideals, the norms, the rules and principles. It pokes fun at stereotypes and prejudices.

Comedy is irony. What is irony?  It is a sharp incongruity or discordance that goes being the evident and simple intention of the words or meaning. It is the use of words to convey meaning contrary or opposite from its literal meaning. The etymology of “irony” is from the Ancient Greek word eirōneía, meaning dissimulation or feigned ignorance. (Eirōneia, “irony, pretext”, from eirōn, “one who feigns ignorance”).  Why is irony a form of deception that conceals the truth? What is truth? What is being concealed?

It seems humor requires a juxtaposition. The context— involving the subjective speaker and referenced object— appears to determine the type of humor.


Why is humor so important for society?

I look around me, observe my culture and society, and note the location and subjects of our humor. Politics and politicians, all the people that demand to be taken seriously, take center stage. Stereotypes and societal conventions and norms are the next victim. The last are those who aren’t serious enough, the outcasts, the crazies, those on the fringe who don’t seem to follow lock step with everyone else.

Regarding children— I think there is something very revealing about the nature of humor that children can teach us. Why are they so giddy? Why is everything such a joke to them? Why are they so damn happy?

I believe it all revolves around the absurdity of normalization: the ridiculous nature of our expectations about reality. Expectations that, for the most part, we have been impressed with, trained to possess through conditioning.

When you have an open mind, when you are easy going, when you go with the flow: you find that life brightens. Life becomes a fluid exchange of emotional expression. Your mind breaths, it loosens its grip on certainty, on predictability, and everything melts into a plenum of feeling.

Who are the comedians? What type of person are they? Do they go to humor to cope with the otherwise debilitating demands of social pressure? What is their role in society? Are they there to remind us that it’s all a joke? That nothing is so serious that you need to stop feeling?

Can comedy be detrimental? Can it be injurious to society? Can it harm a mind? How so?

I imagine that comedy may lull the people into a state of complacency. The word “amuse” means “to divert attention, a suspension of thought”. What happens when a society prides itself on amusement? The danger, it seems, is a society failing to come to terms with its oppressive condition. That is, a society in denial. Does it matter if the oppression is internally imposed or externally imposed? Imposed by the self or imposed by others?

“A joke is an epigram on the death of a feeling.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche

Comedy— as Nietzsche poignantly articulated— is the death of a feeling. Perhaps it is healthy to feel? Perhaps those who are all jokes, all fun and games, are the most trapped, the most stifled, the most oppressed of all?

In order modern culture entertainment and amusement are the rule. I have to believe it has something to do with the denial of their condition, their sad sorry suffering state.

Think about the comedy in our culture. Think about the comedians in our culture. Which shows do you watch them in? In what circumstances and situations? Are they mocking a situation? A type of person? A situation or person that should be taken seriously? Think: Seinfeld, The Office, 30 Rock, Community, Parks & Recreation, Modern Family, Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Or: South park, Family Guy, the Simpsons. Or comedians: Zach Galifianakis, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Lewis C.K., Jon Stewart, Mitch Hedberg, Dave Chapelle, Chris Rock.

What do they all have in common? They expose the absurdity of our condition, of our seriousness, of our prejudices, of our monotony, of our slavishness,

What’s sad about all of these things? They create a false sense of comfort. They lead us to believe it’s alright, that everything’s O.K., that because we can talk about it, because it’s out in the air, it’s not a problem, not a threat, not something to worry about. That someone else is taking care of it.

That’s scary.

They poke fun at our condition, and we laugh at it, thinking “geeze, I’m glad someone got that out”, cause everyone feels it, but no one talks about it, no one expresses it.

Comedy is an instrument for normalizing the suffering. It allows us to embrace our condition.

When do we draw the line and stop laughing? When do we get serious about our circumstance and do something about it?

Man alone suffers so excruciatingly in the world that he was compelled to invent laughter.
– Friedrich Nietzsche


What is comedy? The word comedy is rooted in Ancient Greek “kōmōidia“, from kōmos, “revel, carousing” + either ōidē, “song” or aoidos, “singer, bard”, both from aeidō, “I sing”. Comedy is singing? Why is comedy singing? What does singing have to do with laughing? Does singing relate to expression? to the expression of feeling?

What is humor?  from Latin humor, correctly umor “moisture”, from humere, correctly umere “to be moist”. That’s not very telling. I just think of Hippocrates humours, meaning “liquid” to refer to bodily secretions like phlegm, blood, choler (yellow bile). My intuition would lead me to believe it has something to do with the tears from laughing? Alas.

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