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.

Soft Summer Songs

There is nothing so satisfying as an opulent ocean of redolent rays gleaming across the sublime summer sky.

Relationships: these interesting symbiotic syntheses of feelings and minds and circumstance. Two people, pulled by fate, like magnetic force, yield their defenses long enough for a daring gesture of interest to find its way into their intimate chambers, where their egos reside with the risible recantations of a wry world.

Two men exchange their thoughts, like young twins speaking their own tongue, referencing their experiences, in blissful agreement: “Yes, yes” and “yea”, “but of course” and “oh right!” These affirmations of love, spoken in frank response.

Write with freedom, with unrequited passion; the world will never return the favor with the same fervor. Never mind it. You are a model, a leader. As a writer, your words do more than etch new thoughts and moods among men. They reverberate through time. Their roots wrap and coil around future gardens of growth.

I need to journal more. What do I mean by journal? I mean, feel more deliberately. Writers experience life twice. Why would I want to deprive myself the experience of living life with any less feeling the second time? Full and fabulous.

I want to be a writer. I want to capture the human condition, to communicate existence with humanity, as a comfort, a beacon, that life is not a lone journey, but a universal struggle. The journeys are all different, but the struggle is all the same. The phenomenon of each journey may be irreconcilable with another’s, but the limitations are universal, uniform, consistent.

Writers are sensitive, acutely aware of details, of the incantations strewn by the senses throughout the consciousness.

When I write, I feel. I never write without feeling. The best thing one could do for oneself is be transparent with their thoughts and feelings. Thoughts should reflect feelings, so that when you feel intensely, thoughts follow with equal force and vigor.

When I write, I write through my states, through the moods moderating my memories and mind. Like a performer, my heart commands and my fingers obey, with precise form and clarity of expression. There is nothing wanting. The audience is a lone traveler, hungry and thirsty, searching for anything to quench their parched and pallid imagination. The routine of this journey weighs, and each step adds another circular chain to their load. Starving eyes, so eager to capture the faculties of imagination so they might dispel their locking illusions. They long to shed the weight. The writer offers this salvation.

Relationships. These are a peculiar breed of experiences. The man longs to be free, the woman longs to be secure. Each seek to liberate or enslave the other. In this way each relationship seems over before it has even begun. But this is precisely the bond that brings them together.

Everything persists by demand, and it is through this demand we experience a command, a resounding order abounding from the passions. To disobey is mutiny: a self sabotage.

There cannot be freedom without activity. To utilize humanity one must act. But activity must be chosen every moment. Routines develop into chains as circular habituations take hold of choice. We must attend our freedom like a fire, gently stoking its embers and fueling its flame. The inattentive watchman risks losing the fire, the light of his soul; or it bellows beyond control, consuming everything until there is nothing left to ravage. Either way the man is lost: losing his way or losing his life.

Passivity is slavery. Unreflective choice is slavery. Impulsive choice is slavery. Any thought or action that is not chosen via volition is inauthentic. Passivity encrusts the consciousness, it clouds and clutters and confuses. There is no I without action, no subjective perspective without freedom and action.

TV, advertisements, anything generated from a capitalist society that engenders humanity as a static condition of a whole, is an assault on freedom, on authentic living. Man cannot manifest his freedom by doing nothing. He cannot create ethics or values or tastes or preferences that reflect an original genesis of choice unless he acts through himself, for himself, as himself. Men should not be whipped with their past. Advertisements: propaganda that illuminates man as a predictable creature, as a rational creation, with no faculty of imagination, objectifies man and indoctrinates him with alien laws and limitations.

Civil Society

How do you help someone without enabling them? How do you teach someone to teach themselves?

I’ve grown more and more disenchanted with institutions and structures the longer I wade in their depths.

I believe we are living in oppressive times. I believe that education is the main culprit for facilitating this oppression, and following closely behind is advertising and the media. Students filled with curiosity walk into classrooms at an early age, an innocent age, and endure a torturous process of desensitization as their wonder is pulverized day after day. Regurgitate. “Do not pose questions; give answers. Our answers” as the school motto goes. If only schools taught students to think and ask questions, rather than to know and give answers.

By the time a student graduates secondary school they have been robbed near successfully of their ability critically engage with a world that is theirs. This sacrifice, however, is not without recompense. The rewards of this imitation, this regurgitation, is a place in the ranks of society where your life consists of a position admired by a host of other automatons. Additionally, the appetitive desires that have been baited and primed for so long by advertising and jealous lust can finally be realized with the meager allowance you receive for your time.

We are born into this world no sooner to be robbed of it. The only way for oppression to continue indefinitely is through consent. Recompense is the false generosity that serves only to perpetuate the system; luxuries that only serve to enslave.

Pills and medication assuages the anguish that festers as we deny ourselves. Civilization, its cold and hardened systemization, corrupts. It consolidates, standardizes, values, and devalues according to criteria cognized by a few according to their ends.

Paulo Freire’s book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Derrick Jensen’s book Walking on Water, and Adlous Huxley’s Brave New World illuminate this reality in a powerful way.

Eh. I think about these things, and then I think how critical I sound. Then I realize that being critical is good. It sharpens insight, outlines boundaries and traces over the margins dividing understanding with the unknown.

Perhaps government needs to be this way? No. I cannot let myself believe it. Must order come at the expense of freedom? Freedom is not ordered. Its pellucid intentions must be preserved. Man must allow no room for blinds that would otherwise stifle the contagious flame of freedom. It is humanity’s only beacon.

What is life? Did we decide what makes us happy? That car? That house? Those clothes? How do we spend our time? Plugged in to the net? To the tube? To the media? To the bottle?

I might be overgeneralizing a bit, and I believe I am, but there is something frustrating about a world where the great majority of people are empty. If the saying “A man is what he thinks about all day long” contains any inking of truth, then what does that say about the vast majority of people? Have they been robbed completely of the ability to create meaning and ends that are unique? Where is the original thought? Wholly original?

I’m still coming up with an alternative myself. Thinking, reading, talking about challenges and adventures and novel experience: are these any better? I should like to think so. Still, I may be wrong.

I suppose the system is such that, so long as you choose a path that has been already laid out, you can achieve a level of happiness. I am inclined to think that this contributes to a bad faith, a lack of responsibility so to speak, to the possibility of blazing a path of our own.

I may be a bit pessimistic. After all, I find myself amongst a swath of college students who indifferently drone on about how little they remember any class material, and all the while they seek escape in video games, TV programming, and intoxicating binges. To blunt a reality they are far too ill prepared to face? I really do wonder what people think when they find themselves solemn and still. I poke and pry with questions of my own and even with the closest of friends I find it astonishing how colorless their inner life appears. It might be they can’t articulate it, but if that were the case, I’d suspect that some evidence of this inner life would be found in their outer life as expressed through activity. On the contrary, there is none.

What excites you man? Tell me? What gets you passionate? Let’s talk about those things. Lets get into it together. Lets merge the minds and unhinge the doors of perception. Is there nothing that moves you that is wholly organic? I don’t want to hear the what or the who. Heck, I’ll settle with the how and when. But tell me, can you give me a why? Not people or things or events. I want ideas. Do you have any ideas? Lets let them germinate in open air. Don’t be timid about letting them soak up the new light. Lets see if these ideas of yours are sound and sturdy, novel and new.